This first week of April will be bittersweet in Augusta – a Masters Tournament without legendary sports columnist Furman Bisher.
He was looking forward to returning to Augusta this spring for what would have been, by our count, his 63rd visit to the Masters. It wasn’t to be. Bisher died Sunday of a heart attack at age 93.
Bisher was a living bridge that spanned decades of sports. How many writers today can claim to have interviewed Ty Cobb or to have played golf with Bobby Jones?
It was Bisher, in 1949, who scored the first interview in 30 years with “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, the historic baseball player whose name became permanently entangled with the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal.
It was Bisher, as a charter member of the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium Authority, who helped bring professional sports to Atlanta in the 1960s.
It was Bisher, as a student reporter at the University of North Carolina, who gave Byron Nelson his nickname of “Lord Byron” while covering the inaugural Greater Greensboro Open in 1938.
That was the first golf tourney he ever attended, and the first golf story Bisher ever wrote. That explains as clearly as anything his natural gift as a sports writer. His ability to cultivate the story behind the story places him unforgettably among the best sports columnists.
One of his favorite golf stories came from covering the Masters in 1954, when amateur Billy Joe Patton came within a stroke of beating Sam Snead to win the green jacket. In his entire writing career, Bisher said his favorite golf quote came from Patton after the loss: “I could have handled the fame, I could have handled the money. But I doubt if I could have handled the women.”
Sports writers we know are reminiscing about Bisher, and many of their stories share a common theme – usually about the first time they met Bisher, often in a stadium press box, and about how Bisher unfailingly took the time to befriend them.
But that was Bisher – amiable, humble and always a Southern gentleman.
Bisher wrote his last column for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the same Royal typewriter he used for his first story for The Atlanta Journal in 1950. But don’t think that attachment to old technology kept him from cyberspace. He kept up a blog since 2008 and was chatting with friends just days ago on his Facebook page.
His welcome presence online offered Southern sports fans an echo of the days when skipping a Bisher column after a big game was as unheard-of as skipping grits for breakfast.
Sports journalism has lost a genuine giant.
As Bisher would say: Selah.