“We have to get out and play golf soon.”
Those were the last words Jim Huber ever said to me, part of an ongoing refrain between us. We always planned another round in the distant mist of someday. But we both knew it wouldn’t happen. Given our schedules, we would have been lucky to grab a cup of coffee together in the next six months. That didn’t stop him from offering. And there is no doubt that if I’d ever called him on a Saturday, he would have dropped everything and grabbed his clubs.
The man loved his golf, and was quite good at it, narrowing the gap between his age and his scores every year. Competitive and congenial, he would grind to make a putt to beat you and then pat you on the back and tell a story on the way to the next tee.
The stories were bountiful, always told in the same soothing baritone that drew sports fan to the television for decades. There was the one about the recent round at Atlanta Athletic Club with former Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Reeves. “Dan’s temper is like a hundred-car freight train: it starts slow, but once it gets moving, you better get out of the way.” Or the one about his recent conversations with Tom Watson, “So, I asked, ‘What were you thinking as you stood over the approach shot into 18 at Troon?’ And he said, ‘I was thinking I needed to hit it on the green.’” Then Jim laughed and said, “Ask a stupid question…”
Golf was not his only sport, or even his first. Jim called basketball, covered hockey, reported from NFL training camps and interviewed NASCAR drivers. As one of the first sports personalities at CNN and TNT, he did it all. But there was no doubt about his true love.
The first time I met him in legendary producer Bill MacPhail’s office at CNN, Jim made small talk for a second before asking, “What do you think of that Tiger Woods kid?” Tiger had just won the U.S. Amateur and would turn pro before the end of the week.
“He looks pretty good,” I said. “But they all look pretty good as amateurs. Remember what they said about Bobby Clampett?”
Jim smiled, shook his head and said, “I think the kid might win the Masters.” Since that Masters was what Bill and I were discussing, we batted the idea around for a second before dismissing it. Jim reminded me for a decade that he was right.
Whether it was standing on the first tee at East Lake announcing the groups for the Tour Championship, or interviewing players in front of the TNT backdrop at the PGA Championship, Jim could never hide his enthusiasm for golf. “Worked in sports for more than 40 years, but never work a day when it’s golf,” he said.
When Augusta National built its new driving range, he gave me a tour, pointing out every feature like a teenager showing off a new car. “You’ve got to see the new television compound,” he said. When I assured him that I did not, he said, “No, really, it’s the most incredible thing you’ll ever see: state of the art and they make it look like it’s been here a hundred years.”
It was no wonder Augusta National had Jim write and narrate their video essays. The guy could make a satellite plug-in sound like the greatest invention since the titanium driver.
Thankfully, I was able to return a small favor by encouraging him and answering questions during his foray into literature. His book, “Four Days in July,” about the 2009 British Open reads the way Jim lived: heartfelt, kind, and infectiously optimistic.
The majors won’t be the same next year, especially the post-round interview areas where Jim could always lighten the mood. The players will miss him, as will the fans. But his friends, of which I was blessed to me one, will never find another one like him.
Sports journalism is a tough business filled with outsized egos and over-the-top personalities. In that environment, Jim Huber never spoke an unkind word or had one spoken toward him. That alone makes him one of a kind.
I look forward to eventually taking Jim up on his offer and playing that long-missed round of golf, as long as my friend will save me a spot on Heaven’s first tee. Until then, God speed friend. Hit ‘em straight.