The ‘Drummer’ Marched to a Different Beat
He was bigger than the Road Hole bunker at St. Andrews, louder than the crowd noise blasting through the pines at Augusta National and as colorful as the Bloody Mary you might have found in his hand.
He was known for his biting wit and his sharp truths, which probably were only transitions to one of his other abilities: He found it easy to irritate, as if he were rubbing a wedge squarely against your forehead.
Bob Drum didn’t play professional golf, he just talked about it and wrote about it for more than 50 years. And when he died recently at 78 of heart failure in Pinehurst, N.C., golf lost one of its genuine characters.
Drum might not have been all that well known to the public at large, but he was one of a kind, having come to his craft when sportswriting was an innocent pursuit, not contentious, and the people who engaged in it were as interesting as those they wrote about.
As the golf writer for the Pittsburgh Press, Drum became familiar with a skinny golfer from nearby Latrobe High School and started writing about him. That kid was Arnold Palmer.
“The guy who invented Arnold Palmer,” Dan Jenkins called Drum. Of course, Palmer had something to do with it, but Drum was right there at the beginning.
Palmer said he had lost a good friend when told of Drum’s death.
Drum, in fact, might not have received adequate credit for influencing Palmer in one of his greatest moments. Palmer trailed Mike Souchak by seven shots after three rounds of the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills. Before the last round, Palmer asked Drum what would happen if he could shoot a 65.
“Nothing,” Drum snapped. “You’re out of it.”
This wasn’t exactly the response Palmer wanted to hear. He was incensed. He also was motivated. Palmer went out and drove the first green, birdied six of the first seven holes, shot his 65 and won his only U.S. Open.
After working at the Press for 20 years, Drum became the sports information director and golf coach at Virginia Military Institute, then a public relations executive and then a freelance writer.
He probably achieved his greatest fame, at least in the public’s eye, as a commentator on CBS golf telecasts in the mid 1980s. His segment was sort of an Andy Rooney-type piece called “The Drummer’s Beat.” One of his features was on course designer Pete Dye, who was noted for using railroad ties in his architecture.
Drum called Dye “the only guy who builds golf courses that can burn down.”
Drum’s television career was such a success, he received an Emmy nomination--and got fired by CBS the same day.
Dick Taylor, Drum’s friend for 40 years, had been out celebrating the Emmy nomination with Drum and his wife, M.J.
“Apparently, the Drummer made somebody mad upstairs at CBS,” Taylor said. “He certainly had that ability.”
Drum also had the ability to entertain and charm. At the 1955 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club, Drum knew who was going to miss the cut, so he stood by the locker room door after the second round and collected food and drink coupons from the players who weren’t going to be around for the weekend, then passed out the drink coupons to his buddies.
Bill Hall, general manager of the Ritz-Carlton in Pasadena, knew Drum for nearly 30 years. He even hired him once to be the public relations chief at Pinehurst, where Hall was general manager.
“One of a kind,” Hall said.
Hall remembered the time he and Drum were having breakfast at the counter of a hotel coffee shop in Orlando. Drum asked for orange juice. The waitress said there wasn’t any.
“Wait here,” Drum told Hall.
Drum walked two blocks to a produce stand, bought two bags of oranges, walked back into the coffee shop and handed the oranges to the waitress.
“He told her to squeeze them, then give the juice to everybody in the place,” Hall said.
Sometimes Drum liked a slightly stronger drink. Dick Mudry of Golfweek sat beside Drum in the press room at a U.S. Senior Open at Pinehurst when Drum was on assignment for the magazine. Mudry said he couldn’t help but notice when Drum opened his shaving kit.
“There must have been a dozen little airplane bottles of vodka that fell out,” Mudry said.
There is also the story about the time Drum appeared at a ritzy hotel brunch one Sunday morning in his pajamas, went through the line, ordered a Bloody Mary and carried everything back to his room.
“He probably thought, ‘Well, hell, it’s a bed and breakfast,’ ” Taylor said.
Drum’s last appearance before a large group was at a meeting of the Golf Writers Assn. of America during the Masters. Drum had been president of the group in 1959 and 1960. He asked to address the meeting and he had a hard time pulling himself out of his chair.
Drum’s message was to remember the early writers in the organization. Don’t forget them, he said.
“They’re all dead except for me,” said Drum, who paused before delivering one more punch line: “And I’m half dead.”
A memorial service for Drum was held Wednesday at Pinehurst. Hall, Jenkins, Jack Whittaker and Pat Summerall eulogized Drum, who certainly will be missed, but not quickly forgotten.
The oldest running Southern California golfing group celebrated its 70th anniversary last week with its 840th consecutive monthly tournament, a streak that began in 1926. The Terrible Twenty Tournaments, made up of 36 golfers from 13 country clubs playing monthly events, celebrated its anniversary at Lakeside Golf Club in Toluca Lake. The group got its name in the 1920s when one player was asked how he was playing and said, “Terrible.”
Tom Kite, Bob Tway, Dave Stockton, Dave Stockton Jr., Tom Weiskopf, Lee Elder and Dick Rhyan are participating in “Strokes Against Strokes.” For each birdie they make in May, Bayer aspirin will donate $500 to the American Heart Assn. Before this weekend, the total was $37,000. . . . The Malibu-Lost Hills Community golf classic will be played June 3 at Sunset Hills Country Club. The event benefits Children’s Hospital. Details: (818) 878-1808.
The silver anniversary edition of the Queen Mary Open will be played May 29-June 1 at Lakewood Country Club. The tournament is a Golden State Tour event. . . . The Southern California Public Links Golf Assn. will hold an open public town hall meeting at 1 p.m. May 29 at Alondra Park golf course. The county golf system will be the topic. Details: (213) 738-2951. . . . Applications are available at all public golf courses for the 71st U.S. Amateur Public Links tournament, which will be held July 15-20 at Wailua golf course on Kauai. Four pre-qualifying rounds will be held to reduce the field to 104 players who will compete in the 36-hole qualifying at Brookside on June 25. Details: (818) 336-1082.
To receive applications for practice-round tickets for the 1997 Masters, telephone (706) 667-6700. Completed applications must be postmarked by July 15. . . . Tom Flores’ golf classic will be held June 27-29 in Reno, Nev. The event benefits the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo graphic communication department. Details: (805) 253-301.