By Peter Yoon
Keith Jackson is best known for announcing college football, but to say golf is an important part of his life would be an understatement.
Yes, Jackson covered some golf during his Emmy-winning broadcast career and sure, he’s played with coaches, athletes, actors, politicians and even astronauts. None of that, however, compares to what the sport has meant in his personal life.
Jackson and his wife, Turi Ann, met on a golf course in 1951 and have been married since 1952. They have three grown children and two grandchildren, and as members of The Los Angeles Country Club, play a round together about once a week.
Jackson, who used his “rumblin’, stumblin’ fumblin’” style to become synonymous with college football, also covered 11 World Series, 10 Olympics and a host of other sports, including golf. He didn’t like covering golf much, but today, retired and 81, said it’s the most significant sport in his life.
Why is golf so important to you?
All of our lives together, Turi Ann and I have tried to play together every Monday. It’s our day together. When you’re raising a family, you know you’ll have that day. It’s been very important in our life. We happen to think it’s a very good way for a husband and wife to learn how to get along. And as the years go by, it becomes more fun.
What do you like about it?
Well, two things: It’s the ultimate challenge and you can play it all your life. Every time you take a swing on a course, it’s an invitation to failure, but, at the same time, it’s an invitation to something exciting and that’s why we play it. The psychology of the bloody game fascinates me. My head and my hands are transcontinental — they are on different sides of the continent sometimes. You can’t always transfer what your mind wants through your body. I don’t know why that is, but it is. It’s the most frustrating, debilitating aggravation in the world of sports. But the best part about it is the time you get to spend with people whose company you enjoy.
So the 19th hole is as good as the first 18?
Oh yeah. You’re sitting around the table drinking beer after you’ve embarrassed yourself and you’re trying to make yourself feel better. Never have so many spent so much to sit in comfort so they can brag about their failures.
Any similarities between football and golf?
I don’t see anything carrying over between the two. I see them as utterly disparate. The only football player that had success as a professional golfer is Hale Irwin, a defensive back. A lot of football players pick it up after they retire and the game of football is long gone from them. Baseball players can go right out and play. Hockey players, too. But you don’t see many football players that are any good at golf during their careers.
What about football coaches?
Some are pretty good, but some are not as good as they claim. Steve Spurrier was a pretty good player, and Darrell Royal. Frank Broyles is still pretty good. He’s about 82 and he can still get around under 80. Rick Neuheisel isn’t a bad player. Lloyd Carr is decent.
How is your game these days?
Well, for an old man, it isn’t so bad. Hell, I can see 81 right around the corner here so when you’re that old, you ought not whine. Just to stand on top of the grass ought to be thrill enough.
What is your handicap?
I’m 11 on the South Course, 12 or 13 on the North. I’ve shot my age every year since I turned 69.
How long have you been playing?
I suppose I bopped it around when I was 10 or 11 down in West Georgia, where I grew up. I didn’t live too far from where Louise Suggs and Doug Sanders came from. I know Bobby Jones is the celebrated and heralded fella from Georgia, but he was one of those rich boys up in Atlanta so nobody where we were paid a hell of a lot of attention to him.
What’s your best round?
It was 66 on a meaningful course: The Temple Course in England. Then at Bel Air. The lowest handicap I ever had was a 3 or 4. I’ve only had one hole-in-one. I’d done everything — hit the hole, hit the pin — everything you can imagine, but only one of them stayed in the damn hole. It was an 8-iron on the 17th hole of South Course in 1994. Fortunately, I got to see it. My wife had one before I did. She made one up at Whistler. I didn’t think I was ever going to have one.
Did you like covering golf on TV?
I did golf for nine years on ABC — it was alright. I got involved in the football schedule and NBA basketball and I realized that golf takes too long. It sucks all your energy and doesn’t leave you time to do anything else. So when I got involved with all the ball games, I pretty much quit.
Ever say “Woah Nellie!” on a golf telecast?
I actually never used that much. My colleagues used it more than I did. Bob Greise and those guys were always yelling that “Woah Nellie!” I don’t know how all that started, frankly. I guess I said it somewhere along the way — I must have.