One stellar advocate, one shoddy swing
Golf Canada mercifully looks past Sun writer Brad Ziemer’s gameplay in selecting him for its Distinguished Service Award
Vancouver Sun sportswriter Brad Ziemer has an audience as he drives off the first tee at Northview Gold Course in 2001.
Photograph by: Ian Smith, Vancouver Sun files
VANCOUVER — Typically, we reserve the honour of devoting a column to a newspaper colleague only posthumously, as this streamlines the interview process and makes it difficult for the subject to complain later they were misquoted.
But Brad Ziemer’s golf swing died a grotesque death a long time ago, so we won’t quibble about the fact the man is very much alive and healthy and planning to remain so for as long as he can lash golf balls low and left.
Brad, of course, is my partner on the Vancouver Canucks’ beat for The Vancouver Sun. But when he’s not writing two or three hockey stories a day, he will find unpaid time during the fall, winter and spring to write about his true passion: golf. In summer, Brad actually is paid to do this.
Golf and Brad have not had a healthy relationship, and I feel sometimes like the enabler of his ongoing abuse at the hands of the game.
I keep wondering if Brad is all right when he reverse-pivots over the ball, raises the club vertically above his head as if searching for lightning, hesitates briefly, then casts the club at the ball, which although stationary remains perpetually difficult for him to strike. There is no motion in nature remotely similar to Brad’s golf swing, which at least repeats.
That fact that he lately has been beating me on the course with this primal swat is hardly redeeming.
Brad loves golf, but it doesn’t love him. No wonder he bowled when he was younger.
But somehow — and I’m guessing it has more to do with his golf writing than his golf playing — Golf Canada has decided to bestow upon Brad its prestigious Distinguished Service Award.
Delta resident Anne Peabody, a past B.C. Golf Association president and lifelong golf volunteer in this province, is also being honoured when Golf Canada stages an awards dinner Saturday in Vancouver.
And for this flimsy reason alone, Brad will be unable to cover the Canucks’ game against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena, leaving me to do so and unable to attend Golf Canada’s dinner and try to deduce what in the world they were thinking.
But I asked around.
“Without somebody dedicated to helping tell the story, golf gets lost,” Golf Canada director of communications Dan Pino said when asked of Brad’s worthiness for an award. “It gets lost against hockey and other sports. Our best golf writers are important to the grassroots growth of the game.
“I’ve been doing this for 12 years and going back to my very first event in Victoria, Brad was the go-to guy to help tell a story. Brad’s been writing about Eugene Wong since he was 13 years old. He has been telling Adam Hadwin stories since Adam was competing in junior events. People know who Adam Hadwin is because Brad Ziemer helped tell his story.”
Wong, from North Vancouver, is a Canadian Tour player who just wrapped up an illustrious college career at the University of Oregon. Abbotsford’s Hadwin, who nearly won the Canadian Open at Shaughnessy a couple of years ago, is a promising player on the Web.com Tour.
Here is what Hadwin had to say: “Brad has covered me since the start. It was very important for me, absolutely, just to have my name out there. You can get forgotten pretty quickly when you go through spells where you’re not playing as well. So it’s nice to have at least one person who’s always interested in you, always wants to get the story right and not just assume things. I’ve always felt that Brad has kind of had my back. Anytime he wants a quote or needs a story, he’s got my cellphone.”
Goodness, Brad uses it. He regularly pesters golfers, golf administrators, course owners, club professionals, agents and architects. If anything is happening in golf in B.C. or if anyone from this province is doing something noteworthy anywhere in golf, Brad seems to know about it. And he’ll make time to write about it and get it in the newspaper, no matter what else he is doing, because he cares passionately about golf and the people in it.
Brad is not just a reporter of golf, he is an advocate. In better times, newspapers reported what editors and writers believed the readers needed to know, rather than merely what the papers thought they wanted to hear.
Brad reports what he thinks people in golf should know. He is the same way on hockey or anything else.
“He always seems to know when something is up,” Howard Normann, the Vancouver Parks Board’s supervisor of golf, said. “He’ll call me and say: ‘I just sort of heard this’ or ‘somebody told me this.’ And I’m thinking: How does he know this stuff?
“Guys like Brad who cover golf, they’re kind of disappearing. He understands about agronomy and turf conditions and the weather. For some reason, we (in society) focus on the shiny toy. But people are still golf crazy in this country. People still love to play golf and they still love to read about golf. And not just when it’s Tiger Woods with a sand wedge in his SUV. There’s so much more to golf than that.”
Brad has been covering golf for The Sun since 1995, when he pounced on the beat at Arv Olson’s retirement party. Brad was sports editor at the time, and I’m pretty sure he encouraged Arv to retire so the golf beat would become available. Arv was honoured by Golf Canada in 2005. Brad is the only the second B.C. golf writer to be so acknowledged.
“Brad covers all aspects of the game, not just the scores,” B.C. Golf executive director Kris Jonasson said. “It’s almost more investigative in nature than just reporting. Quite honestly, I’m not really upset when a reporter writes something critical about what we’re doing because if they only wrote positive stories, we’d miss some of our problems. He has a deep understanding of what the sport is and what it means to different people at different levels.”
That’s all very nice, but have these guys seen Brad swing a club? Actually, they have.
I’ve seen it thousands of times. Often we can’t stop laughing on the course — once the despondency subsides — and not because of our swings. Every time I prepare to throw up on a putt, Brad will observe out loud the distance between the ball and hole. When I remark on his game, his standard reply is: “Don’t try to get inside my head.”
When my wife was expecting our first child, I was halfway up a fairway when I received a call from an ER doctor telling me she was in labour. As I turned to make a beeline for the parking lot, Brad, his phone in hand, and about 10 other guys on the tee box nearly wet themselves laughing.
Last summer, as I concentrated on missing another short putt, Brad casually caught my attention with a nod and directed my gaze to the farm field across the street. It was so windy, a bull had blown up on top of a cow, which mooed. We still had tears in our eyes when Brad stepped on the next tee and nearly aced a par-three.
“You know,” Pino said of the Distinguished Service Award, “this is the highest honour we have short of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame.”
Don’t even go there.
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