By Jack Chesnutt, Producer, NBC News
(Tucson, AZ) After millions of words are written, hours of analysis by golf commentators, and a few suggestions from their caddies, there is one last voice pro golfers Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Ernie Els hear before hitting the shot that could lead to a one point four million dollar purse: Dick Fitzgerald. Dick who? That's Dick Fitzgerald, the 59-year old Tucson real estate broker, amateur golfer, and starting tee announcer. As Tiger waits to tee off, golf announcers fall silent, and there is Dick's voice. No microphone, no amplifier, please.
"From the United States, Tiger Woods!" The crowd goes wild. Fitzgerald knows it's not for him, but that's okay. Only a few seconds later, Tiger hammers another picture-perfect drive down the fairway. Fitzgerald is within 10 feet of his backswing.
"Proximity, that's what is so cool. It's great to really see these guys up close." Anfod, he is close. He shakes hands with all the players and most of the caddies. He can hear the whispered questions and conversation between golfer and caddie. And, he has had the best seat in the house at the Accenture Match Play Championship for the last 10 years to take note of who is edgy, "most come to the tee with nerves, butterflies, some even pace." And, who is in their own world. "Tiger. He has such focus!"
"I've been introduced to Tiger a couple of times," says Fitzgerald in a quiet moment on the first tee, "But when he walks out here, he doesn't interact. It's as if he doesn't hear anything. I had to tell him something about the course a few years ago. He didn't look at me. Tiger is so focused, he will look right through you."
And, after his introductions, Fitzgerald knows to let the players have those few precious seconds to concentrate on the shot, "I don't talk."
At 9:20 am mountain standard time, Fitzgerald is preparing for the first group of the day to tee off. He consults with a pair of young observers - guests of the PGA tour or the sponsors who are allowed to walk with the players. It's a great gig if you have the connections, and they get their names announced by Dick Fitzgerald. But, the trickiest part of the job is getting the pronunciation correct for all the names.
"We have had some first time foreign players out here who do not speak English. So, I sometimes ask the caddies how to pronounce the names, which is fine, unless the caddies have trouble with English, too!" The court of last resort for questionable pronunciations is the PGA tour.
On this day, Fitzgerald is on the first tee from 9am to 1pm. It's a bit shorter work day than Wednesday, when groups were teeing off from 7:30a to 12:30pm. And, no, he does not take a restroom break as long as players are teeing off. "I take care of that afterward, there is a lot to be done between groups teeing off and I just couldn't leave the tee area while players are still starting!"
The starting tee announcer at the British Open, Ivor Robson, has achieved some fame for his distinctive voice but more renown for refraining from taking a restroom break through an entire day at the first tee. He was even the subject of a part of a golf documentary on the Open Championship. He gave long and detailed answers on how he controlled his fluid intake, 'no coffee or tea!"
Fitzgerald pauses when I ask about his control technique, and an official standing nearby chimed in with the answer, "he doesn't drink! Anything.. At least during the day!" That drew a chuckle from Fitzgerald. "Let's just say I have my system." He not eager to discuss bodily functions. Television coverage of golf tournaments is saturated with commercials for bladder control medications, but I resist the temptation to ask Fitzgerald if he's getting any help from drugs. I'm not even sure I should have written that, but hey.. Inquiring minds want to know!
As Phil Mickelson briefly chats with former Master's champion Zach Johnson, Mickelson's caddy asks Fitzgerald the time and how long before the official start. Mickelson is into his own countdown, "Phil wants to know one minute out," says Fitzgerald. Mickelson paces a bit and looks down the fairway, and says "I think a three-wood." - selecting his first club. At the stroke of 9:30, Fitzgerald speaks in a loud clear voice, "From the United States, Phil Mickelson!" The crowd erupts. "And, from the United States, Zach Johnson." More applause, but a bit less than Mickelson, who lived for years in Arizona - he's considered a bit of a home-state favorite.
In a few seconds, it's amazingly quiet. About 500 people in grandstands and crowded around the first tee are totally silent. You can clearly hear the 'whoosh' of Mickelson's practice swing. The words of the announcer are long gone. The focus is on the ball. The sun is getting up in the sky. It will be 90 degrees today. Fitzgerald is wearing a jaunty cap, black slacks, a white shirt and red tie with a black sweater vest. You can't help but think this must be one of the hottest jobs in Tucson today. But, Fitzgerald is wearing sunscreen "SPF 45, applied 4 or five times a day." And the job is cool, "You get to see the best golfers in the world up close … really close."
Mickelson rips a great drive down the middle of what looks like a very narrow fairway. Huge cheers. Johnson does the same and they are gone. In about 5 hours, Fitzgerald can step into the shade, take off the sweater, wash the dust and sunscreen from his eyes… And, yes, find that critical desert oasis: a restroom.