Young Friends

In our old days we know what it means to have them

By Bill Fields

There is a beauty in friends that you’ve had since childhood, generational peers with whom you’ve darted around a basketball court, consumed too much beer and sweated out the college boards. These friends know what it is like to go gray or bald, to wish for a WD-40 for creaky knees, to see a parent decline and pass away.

In the last couple of years, I’ve discovered the pleasure of a different kind of friend, someone young enough to be my son.

I’ve always tended to have older friends. There were a couple of reasons. One was the influence of my sisters, who are 12 1/2 and 14 1/2 years older than me. I pored over their copies of the Lance, the East Southern Pines High School yearbook, well before I got to Pinecrest. After I immersed myself in golf, I played with plenty of folks who could have been older siblings or benevolent uncles and will always be grateful for those relationships. The rounds and practice-range sessions with these older friends were as enjoyable, and likely more meaningful, than all the hours with contemporaries who were searching for the secret, too.

When I began to freelance for NBC Sports in 2017 as a researcher/statistician in the main booth, eventually traveling to a dozen or so golf tournaments a year for the network, I was thrust into a new and hectic world. I’d done lots of media tasks over the decades — reporting, editing, photography, on-camera appearances talking about golf history — but TV production was a different beast and took some acclimation.

My friend Harrison, who will turn 30 this year, already was an old hand. He comes from a family with a history in sports television going back to his grandfather being instrumental in the development of ESPN. As I discovered, lots of golf TV folks start out as runners on the crew, working long hours helping everyone else get their jobs done. It is invaluable experience, and for those who are motivated and talented, can be the gateway to bigger things. NBC producer Tommy Roy, who has won dozens of Emmys, started as a runner, and so did quite a few of our colleagues.

Harrison began as a runner and has been a scorer/statistician for a handful of years, usually working with tower announcer Gary Koch. He knew the ropes I was trying to learn, but not long after he had helped me find the right trailer or truck — and trust me, there are a lot of them — we started spending time together outside the TV compound.

I have three nephews — another tragically passed away when he was 27 — and while we certainly get along, geography doesn’t help foster relationships when you live hundreds of miles apart. Harrison and I have become good friends in part because we regularly spend time together when we’re on the road.

We’ve shared fantastic cheesesteaks in Philadelphia and mediocre Indian food in the Chicago suburbs, sipped bourbon on an Orlando hotel balcony, played golf on a legendary Texas public course, Lions Muny in Austin. I chipped in at dusk on the 18th to win our match, then we went to a barbecue joint with another colleague, Mike, to chow down on ribs and brisket.

Harrison and I have broad conversations. He has seen a lot of the world and has traveled much more than I had by my late 20s. We talk a lot about work, as people do, but our talks cover plenty of ground. It has been refreshing to get the perspective of a smart person half my age. When I had to leave a tournament early to travel to see my ill mother in her last months, Harrison was a supportive sounding board over a meal before I went to the airport for my cross-country, red-eye flight.

We kid each other in the easy way that happens between good friends. I forgave him after he called my driving “soft” as I cautiously turned left onto an Atlanta freeway ramp. Sometimes, he even listens to me. When Harrison showed me the footage of a toast he offered at his sister’s wedding, I was pleased that he had followed my advice: Be brief and use humor.

On a table by the water in a Connecticut park last year, Harrison, his mom (whom I hadn’t met) and I ate pizza and salad and drank pinot grigio out of paper cups as the sun went down. There was a long week ahead for the two of us at the U.S. Open, but the takeout meal in a scenic spot was a perfect calm before the storm.

When we aren’t working together anymore — when we aren’t comparing airline upgrades or grading the telecasts — I have no doubt Harrison and I will keep in touch. Life throws you curve balls when you get older, some of them mean, but our friendship has been one of the good surprises, and I’m grateful for it.  PS

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent.

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