I’m frequently asked how I got into commentary and media work. It wasn’t ever anything I aspired to or had considered – it sort of, well, just happened.
In the 1990s I was immersed in playing on the Ladies’ European Tour, consumed completely by trying to become the best player I could be. It was against this background, in the spring of 1997, that I received a phone call from Rob Nothman, then the golf producer on Radio Five Live and one of the best broadcasters there is, asking if I’d like to be part of the team to cover the Open that year at Troon. After checking that we had no tournament on that week (yes, I really did) I said “yes”. And so the door to a completely new and different world opened to me and that 1997 Open was the first of 20 consecutive Opens I covered for the BBC.
I had never to my knowledge heard golf on the radio before but Rob sent through some cassettes (remember them?) of the Ryder Cup for me to listen to in order to give me an idea of how things worked. And there ended my training…..!
I was reasonably familiar with the Old Course at Troon having played it many times but, nonetheless, on arrival, I jumped at the chance when Alex Hay invited me to join him and Ken Brown in walking the course. Alex was working for BBC television and Ken, like me, was part of the Five Live team. I decided this would be an ideal opportunity to learn from two of the best, so resolved simply to walk and listen. This was how the conversation went down the first:-
Ken: “Down the left here, Alex?”
Alex: “Aye, Ken, down the left.”
Ken: “Down the left here, Alex?”
Alex: “Aye, I think so, Ken. Down the left.”
I have to confess to being rather perplexed here because both holes, in my opinion, favoured the player coming in from the right. However, I held to my resolve to listen and learn.
Ken: “From the left again, I think, Alex?”
Alex: “Aye, absolutely, Ken, absolutely.”
I could contain myself no longer. “Why would you come in from the left? Surely you’d have a much better angle of attack coming in from the right?”
By the time I’d finished my questions both Alex and Ken had stopped walking and were staring at me with disbelief. Finally, Alex spoke.
“Och Maureen,” he said. “It may have escaped your notice, but you’re not actually playing in the Open. You’re merely commentating. These are commentary positions we’re discussing.”
Clearly, I had a lot to learn.
Over the next twenty years I have had the privilege of working with many great broadcasters including Tony Adamson, John Inverdale, Iain Carter, Gary Lineker, Matt Adams, John Maginnes, Brian Katrek and, of course, the incomparable Peter Alliss.
It was a big day for me the first time I was in the commentary box with Ken and Peter. This formidable duo were rostered on to take care of the first segment after lunch and I resolved to stay in the box, headphones off and learn as much as I could. Five minutes in, Alliss starts gesturing at me with his mike. After a little initial confusion it dawned on me he was actually bringing me in to the commentary. The great man believed I had something of value to add and I could feel my chest swelling with pride as I fumbled to get my headset on.
A few minutes later I was distracted by a gentle rumbling sound from the corner. I looked over to see Peter, eyes closed, hands folded across his tummy, indulging in a small post lunch siesta. So much for my value!
Ken and I carried on.
And I never stopped learning.