David Westin of The Augusta Chronicle
Here’s a bold statement to begin this Ghost story: No one has written more about the Masters Tournament than David Westin, the longtime golf writer for The Augusta Chronicle. Certainly, no caddie has written as profoundly.
First, the caddie years because it’s a little-known aspect of Westin’s career. In the late 1980s, the Augusta National Golf Club quietly reached out in the Augusta community to fill a void in its daily caddie corps. A friend let Westin know and a decade into his writing career at the Chronicle, the Masters beat writer was moonlighting as a caddie. During 2½ years working on his days off, mornings and weekends, Westin shagged balls on the range, caddied for the CEO of Exxon, saw Secret Service guns protruding from a golf bag in Augusta National member and then-U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz’s group and befriended old National caddies Leon McCladdie and Leroy Schultz. He even had an in on early interviews of Masters participants, once cornering Masters rookie Dave Rummells outside the golf shop the week before the Masters. “Where is everybody?,” was Rummells’ first response back at Westin, who was wearing his white caddie jump suit.
“I guess it was a little advantage I had,” Westin, 62, said. “But that whole experience helped me learn how to play the holes and the breaks on the greens that only the old caddies could help you with. “
Eventually, he was spotted. Billy Morris, the longtime publisher of The Augusta Chronicle and an Augusta National member, saw David near the Augusta National golf shop and approached. Uh-oh. “But he just shook my hand,” Westin recounted, “and said, ‘I think this is great, so industrious of you.’ “
That ability to learn from the inside has led to more by-lines on the Masters than anyone. An unscientific estimate includes multiple stories daily during Masters week, an annual count in the mid-teens for the heavyweight Masters special section and news away from Masters prep and coverage – all equaling at least 1,500 Masters-centric stories during his 40-year career. The most impressive figure may be the current string of writing the lead story for every competitive round since Larry Mize’s chip-in in 1987, a run of 124 consecutive Masters rounds entering 2018.
Appropriately, Westin will be presented with the Masters Major Achievement Award, an Augusta National honor for those who have covered 40 or more Masters “in recognition and appreciation of the hard work and dedication of these individuals who have helped make the Masters one of the top sporting events in the world.” The Golf Writers Association of America dinner Wednesday night of Masters week will feature multiple player and writing award winners, including Westin as the 25th Major Achievement Award recipient. He will receive a plaque handmade from a hickory tree that once stood beside the second tee at Augusta National and a reserved parking spot near the Press Building.
The most important variable may be the way Westin has carried himself since joining the Chronicle in the summer of 1978, fresh out of the University of Georgia. The avid walker – he has run or walked 1,000-plus miles in each of the last two years, mostly with his dogs and/or his wife, Traci – is an expert on the Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan, “The Patch” golf course and anything green that is associated with the Masters. Westin’s first Masters visit came in the early 1960s when Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus were making Augusta famous.
During March ventures to Florida for 32 years to gather stories leading into the Masters, Nick Price once called Westin “the face of spring” and Seve Ballesteros greeted him with, “So good to see you again, my friend.”
His nickname purveys all you need to know about his style. In the mid-1980s while covering Clemson football, Westin would sneak away to file his stories in order to “keep a low profile, get my work done, not get involved in a lot of chit-chat.” A Chronicle associate, Robert Naddra, saw his stories appear on the Chronicle edit desk computer screen and accused Westin of “being some type of ghost.” That nickname stuck. Even at the Masters, it’s not unusual to find Westin away from his assigned seat, pecking away on a story in seclusion.
That method has worked.
Westin’s first Masters by-line, on April 3, 1979, came when he interviewed Masters participants Andy Bean and Mark McCumber as they were making the turn of a practice round on the Monday before Masters week. He captured a GWAA writing award in 1996 for his story on Greg Norman’s collapse and Nick Faldo’s win. “The demons of Masters past showed up to haunt Greg Norman again …” the Dickens-like first paragraph began.
“I guess I never got sick, never got pulled off that beat,” Westin said. “I kept the quality up or someone would have told me I didn’t. I have gained so much knowledge and that continues. It’s still fun.”
Ward Clayton has been involved with golf communications for 30-plus years, including stints with The Augusta Chronicle (sports editor, 1991-2000), PGA Tour and currently with Signature Group and Clayton Communications. He lives in St. Johns, Fla.
Article appears in the April 2018 issue of Augusta Magazine.