This story was first published on May 23, 2019.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK | In case the surroundings of his study don’t give the game away – the big map of golf courses in the north of Scotland on the wall behind his desk, the pile of golf books to the left of where he works, the cartoons on another wall – then how about this for a definition of a man besotted by golf: Most people buy a house and find a golf course nearby to join. Maury Povich, the host of a series of well-known television shows, having fallen in love with a golf course, then buys a house nearby to indulge his passion for the old game.
Povich, laughing, said: “That’s true. My wife believes that. We did that in New Jersey. I found a course I had known years earlier. It’s called Hollywood and it’s a (Walter) Travis design. Friends of mine had been members when I was in college. I didn’t play much then but I knew it and loved it. When we came to New York, I went and joined the club and soon I was saying: ‘This is too much of a long drive to the course. Why don’t we find a home here close to the course?’”
He might be forgiven for doing that once. To do it twice marks him down as an exceptional golf enthusiast by any standards. As he explained the story, Povich laughed. He laughs a lot.
“Years later I joined a spectacular Coore/Crenshaw course in Massachusetts called Old Sandwich. My wife and I were afraid we were going to lose our son to Montana because we have a home there. So I pointed her toward the club on Cape Cod and we bought a home there.”
Talk to Peter Kostis, the golf instructor and TV commentator, about these demonstrations of Povich’s passion for golf and Kostis nods knowingly.
“I’ve got one of my own,” Kostis said. “Listen to this: His wife, Connie Chung, called me and said ‘I want to give you to my husband for a weekend for his 50th birthday.’ I didn’t quite know what she meant by that. That was the second time she called. The first time I hung up on her because I thought it was somebody playing a prank.
“(The weekend in question) Maury had to be in London to interview Sammy Davis Jr. for an episode of his show that was called A Current Affair. Connie met me at Newark airport Friday night to pick me up because we were going to Hollywood Golf Club in New Jersey. Connie said Maury will be here by noon. What she failed to tell me was that he got on the Concorde in London, flew to New York, chartered a helicopter and made it to Hollywood in time wearing a suit and tie and still in makeup from the set.”
It should be clear by now that Povich is keen on golf. That’s obvious. You might as well say that golf courses are played out on grass. He took up the game when he was young, really got stuck into it when he was 50 and became very good at it. Now, in his 82nd year, he is as enthusiastic about it as he could possibly be.
He plays it a lot, talks about it a lot, thinks about it a lot and reads about it a lot. Who knows, he probably dreams about it. And the older he gets, the more he realises there is an eternal truth about the game. It can and does infuriate, entrap, irritate, beguile and annoy but it can and does give back. He is a star-crossed lover of the game but the enthusiasm he shows for golf is not unrequited.
“Who would have thought I’d have as much enthusiasm if not more for golf today, when I’m 80, as I had when I was 50?” he said. “I am shocked but so appreciative. I still have this notion I can get better (laughter) – and yet I have a handicap that is probably between 3 and 4 and I can remember when I had a handicap that was close to scratch. It doesn’t show that I’m getting better but I think I am getting better.”
He is reminded of the famous statement about golf and St Andrews made by Bobby Jones, the great amateur: “I could take out of my life everything but my experiences here in St Andrews and I would still have had a rich and full life.” Hearing that, Povich nodded vigorously. Jones’ words rang true.
“I’d be fine (if everything except golf was taken out of his life). Terrific. Since my experiences of golf occurred later in life those memories are so sharp. Because of my profession I have met a lot of people and my closest friends are the people I play golf with after the age of 50 or 60. When you look back at life it is very difficult to make friends when you are 70 years old. Golf has enabled me to do that, which is why there is so much more than just playing the game.”
As he was talking his phone rang. And the moment he answered a booming voice filled the room chiding him because he wasn’t available to play golf in Florida in the sometimes fruity way very old friends can do to one another without causing offence. Povich held the phone away from his ear, and laughed as the friendly abuse continued. Hanging up, he said: “See what I mean?
“Equipment has been spectacular for people like me,” Povich continued. “I would be very discouraged if it wasn’t for equipment. I would be hitting persimmon clubs, balata balls. I couldn’t play 6,400-yard courses at the age of 80. I have learned within the last three or four years to play it forward and now I do. I think it’s great. There are some courses where I definitely play the senior tees. I leave the pin in.”
Povich is one of those rare people who was able to improve his golf as he got older. He was playing his best golf in his 50s and early 60s. In 2000, he qualified for the US Senior Amateur and finished in the top 20 in medal play.
He likes to play quickly, too, and on a trip to Scotland discovered a way of playing golf that really appealed to him.
“An eye-opener was the first time I played Muirfield, Scotland, where several times a week they play foursomes. The man who is going to hit the fairway shot after the last putt is halfway down the fairway and his partner is on the tee and I’m going, ‘Wow, no wonder they play in two and a half hours.’ I was so impressed. We would never do it here.”
Povich is one of those rare people who was able to improve his golf as he got older. He was playing his best golf in his 50s and early 60s. In 2000, he qualified for the US Senior Amateur and finished in the top 20 in medal play which earned him a place in the match play stages for the leading 64 qualifiers. “I lost 5 and 3,” he said, laughing.
He and Kostis get together for a week after the Masters, and work on Povich’s game at other times of the year as well; perhaps six times every 12 months. “Maury is a very driven person and he won’t take no for an answer,” Kostis said. “As he gets older he is fighting it as best he can. He wants to maintain his golf game. He was a scratch player for a long time and now he is probably a 2 or 2.5 and he doesn’t want to give up. He reluctantly moved from the back tees to the next set of tees when he was 75. He’s a battler, a fighter. He is very competitive.
“I sometimes have to rein him in because he tries too hard because he loves it so passionately. Trying hard is not a virtue; trying correctly is. Two visits ago in Scottsdale we worked on some things with his golf swing and we got his clubhead speed up to 96 mph. Ninety-six mph at 80 years old. That is pretty damn good. We never recorded him 25 years ago because we didn’t have launch monitors. He still hits it very very well – and not (just) well for somebody who is 80: he hits it well for anybody of any age. He can carry his driver 230 and roll it out past 250. I think for somebody who is 80 years old that is pretty spectacular.”
Povich is the son of the late, great sportswriter Shirley Povich of the Washington Post. Lynn, his sister, worked for Newsweek for years and wrote The Good Girls Revolt. Lynn, Maury and their brother David jointly edited a book of their father’s columns – All Those Mornings … At The Post.
Clearly then theirs is a family in which printer’s ink runs deep. Maury started, and thought up the name of, a weekly paper in Montana where he has a home. (Naturally the home is near good golf courses.) The weekly bears the magical name of The Flathead Beacon.
Recently he was told of a comment about golf made by Dan Jenkins, the late golf writer: “The devoted golfer is an anguished soul who has learned a lot about putting, just as an avalanche victim learned a lot about snow.” He was also told of a saying by another late sportswriting great, Jim Murray: “For those who know golf, no explanation is necessary. For those who don’t, no explanation is possible.”
Povich, a devoted golfer and one who knows golf if ever there were one, replied by e-mail: “Murray always thought of my Dad as his older brother. And Dan was Dan. Perfect! Great stuff!”
Television personality Maury Povich took up golf when he was young, and is as enthusiastic about the game as he has ever been. Photo: Greg Lindstrom, The Flathead Beacon
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