I learned something about Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed in June: He’s a very gracious golfer. He also has a keen sense of his opponents’ weaknesses, and isn’t shy about attacking them.
Last month I played golf with Reed. I produced a story about the game, intended as a snapshot character study of a guy we rarely see in a relaxed setting.
In the spring of 2014. I’d heard about Reed’s annual golf tournament. I asked his then-spokesman, Carlos Campos, if Reed would consider doing nine holes with yours truly for a story. Campos was wary.
Campos had seen Reed explode at me a time or three on various occasions. (Reed’s explosions are very measured, not incendiary in the classic sense. But they are unmistakable and the stuff of legend among Atlanta news folk.) “I’m not gonna pitch that to him. You have to do it yourself next time you see him,” Campos said.
I saw Reed in an agreeable setting a few weeks later. He was dedicating a rec center, surrounded by adoring constituents. I approached him with a photog about an unrelated issue and he handled the questions cleanly. Afterward, I pitched the golf shoot, and he immediately said yes. “We’ll do it before the end of summer,” I recall him saying. I was surprised and pumped.
Four days before our scheduled match in September, I broke my wrist and had to cancel. Earlier this year, I pitched the story again. He agreed again.
My secret desire was to see the mayor overcoming adversity. Like myself, I’d heard Reed was not a particularly good golfer. I figured he’d spend lots of time in the weeds, the rough, the sand, the trees. That’s how I roll, golf-wise. I was pumped to watch him handle that stuff and to potentially heckle, and be heckled by him. I’m a fan of quality heckling.
Reed wanted to play at Brown’s Bridge, a course off Cleveland Ave. SE. I brought a ringer, Ayanna Habeel, a fifteen year old girl whose golf stroke had drawn the attention of the course manager, who recommended her when I asked for a young participant.
Reed unexpectedly brought two guys. He also showed up some 40 minutes late, and of course had a midday appointment he needed to keep.
I went over ground rules. Mulligans? Yeah, we each get two. Strict scoring? Check. I pitched a mercy rule: After nine strokes on one hole, we bail. He suggested eight.
We teed off. Reed’s first tee shot was great. Mine was decent. The other players hit nice shots too. We boarded golf carts, then Reed announced: We’re playing best ball, the same rule used in his tournament.
Best ball means each golfer shoots from the position of the ball that lands closest to the tee by whichever player. It means that one good golfer can keep guys like Reed and me out of the weeds, the sand, the trees and the rough. It means that if I hit a shot into an adjacent fairway, it magically disappears and I play a ball that somebody else skillfully hit on target.
It wrung all the adversity out of the match. Reed and I probably hit equal numbers of crappy shots, but we never had to dig them out of pine straw, briar patches, woodpiles and / or creek beds for subsequent shots. I have much experience in such stuff, golfwise. The practice hasn’t helped.
At one point, after I hit a lousy shot, I invited Reed to heckle me. He declined. Our tough-guy mayor is a real gent on the golf course when playing a best-ball match in front of TV cameras. My own semi-rehearsed heckles (“wow, you hooked that shot like a fire chief with an anti-gay book”) never left my mouth.
He did heckle me, but it had nothing to do with golf. I was chatting with Anne Torres, Reed’s communications director. In a moment of weakness, I guessed her age and botched it. Anne is a lovely young woman who brushed off my gaffe. Reed, on the other hand, spent the better part of two holes cackling about my absence of tact as a reporter and human being.
It was quality abuse, and I deserved every word of it. I was embarrassed and a bit unnerved.
I would have used the material in the piece, but it would have required too much setup. Because the piece ran at 6pm, a half-hour newscast, I had 1:45 to distill nearly two hours of material shot by two talented WXIA photographers, Stephen Boissy and Luke Carter.
So it turned out the character study was less about Reed than it was about me. Conclusion: I’m a terrible person, not to mention, a shitty golfer.
But I already knew that.