Bisher was co-worker, mentor, friend and more

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Masters Chairman Billy Payne presents Furman Bisher with an award in 2007. Bisher covered the Masters for six decades.
March 19, 2012
PGA TOUR staff

Note: Stan Awtrey, a PGATOUR.COM contributor, worked with Furman Bisher at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and wrote this column after the passing of Bisher on Sunday at the age of 93.

Atlanta was a two-newspaper town when I was a kid. The Constitution was the morning paper and the Journal was the afternoon newspaper. The Awtreys were a Journal family. And every day when my father came home from work, he'd summon me to do two things: pull off his shoes and bring him the newspaper so he could read Furman Bisher's column.

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And while my father has done a lot of great things for me over the years, one of the best was introducing me to Furman Bisher. I had no reason to believe at that time that I would one day be blessed with the opportunity to work at the same newspaper, sit next to this great man at many events and call him a friend.

Furman Bisher, the South's most prominent and honored sports writer and columnist, died on Sunday at 93.The list of his achievements are endless, but include the Red Smith Award for sports journalism, the William D. Richard Richardson Award from the Golf Writers Association of America, and induction into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame, Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame.

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Today's click-here generation will never likely be able to understand the influence that Furman Bisher yielded as sports editor of the Atlanta Journal. He helped broker major league sports into the Deep South, paving the way for the Braves and the Falcons to make Atlanta a big-time city. His opinions held sway in areas from college football (legendary Georgia Tech coach Bobby Dodd was a great friend) to baseball (he rode the rails to cover the minor-league Atlanta Crackers) to car racing (he was at the first NASCAR race).

He loved horse racing and covered the Kentucky Derby for 50 years. He ran with Hollywood celebrities (Bing Crosby and Bob Hope), wrote about Hall of Famers (Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron) and about those scorned by society (Shoeless Joe Jackson).

But the one sport that Furman Bisher loved more than any other was golf. His self-professed favorite event was the Masters. He loved every drop of green paint, every azalea bloom, every genteel tradition at the place. He even owned and proudly wore a green sports coat, just a shade off from the one earned by the champion each year. Even though he officially retired from the newspaper in 2009, he continued to write columns from the Masters. This would have been his 62nd spring at Augusta National.

He knew all the greats of the game and counted many of them as personal friends. During Arnold Palmer's first retirement tour at Augusta, he saw Furman walking along the ropes, strolled over, slapped him on the back and said, "I'm just glad to see somebody out here as old as I am." Palmer said Monday, "Furman Bisher was a great guy and an old friend. He was a real credit to the game of golf."

Stories about what Furman did and said are legendary. One of the best took place at the Masters several years ago. Jack Nicklaus was in the middle of answering a question at a news conference when Bisher stood up and began to walk out. Nicklaus stopped and said, "Furman, don't you want to hear the rest of my answer?" Bisher replied, "Jack, when you get to be my age, you have to listen to your kidneys."

Although he was abroad when reached with Bisher's death, the Golden Bear took time to remember.

"Over the past five decades that I have been going to Augusta National, there have been certain staples and traditions that have always reminded me that I am at the Masters. One of those has been Furman Bisher," Nicklaus said. "Furman has been an institution in journalism, to sports� not only in the Southeast but globally -- and, of course, the Masters. Barbara and I have considered Furman as much a friend as a terrific writer.

"We always cherished his sense of humor and down-to-earth wit that made such an easy transition from his every-day personality to his writing. We appreciated Furman's professionalism and integrity, and his ability to do his job -- well, I should emphasize -- without sacrificing fairness. Furman recognized what was important in the sports he covered and what was important to the readers who for decades embraced him.

"A couple of years ago, I was asked to comment on Furman writing his last column for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I said then that I found it hard to believe that Furman will ever stop writing, and that while he might be turning in his last column for the newspaper, he will never stop sharing his words or his opinion -- an opinion that is very well respected and enjoyed by many. We will always have the words of Furman Bisher to recall and the memories of a true Southern gentleman to cherish."

Whether at Augusta National or Oakmont or Winged Foot or the K Club, many of the greats of the games -- players, broadcasters and writers -- took the opportunity to come by and say hello. Always a Southern gentleman, Furman would stop what he was doing, exchange pleasantries and make that visitor feel special.

He did that for me on many occasions, sometimes with a phone call, other times with an email, but never more than he did with a voice mail that was left on my cell phone. It was the Sunday prior to the 2006 Masters and I missed the call while stopping for lunch. The message said, "I don't know if anyone has told you, but I wanted to tell you what a good job you're doing as our golf writer. You make me proud of you and I'll see you in Augusta."

Every 90 days that message will play. It's followed by a computer prompt that says, "To erase this message, press 7. To keep this message in the archive, press 9."

By now the white letters on the "9" key have been worn down to a nub.