PINEHURST (AP) — John Derr, who reported from the Masters a record 62 times and broadcast from the 15th green when it first was on television, died of an apparent heart attack, his daughter said Sunday. He was 97.
Cricket Gentry said her father watched American Pharoah win the Belmont Stakes to capture the Triple Crown. She went to his house after the race Saturday evening and found him in his chair in front of the TV.
“It was like he had stood up and said, ‘Hooray!’ and then fell over,” said Gentry, a paramedic for 40 years.
The manner of his death in some respects defined his life. Derr was there for so many big moments, starting with his first Masters in 1935. His life spanned all 12 of the Triple Crown winners.
According to Golf Digest, he was a 17-year-old reporter for the Gaston Gazette when he went to a college football game and sat next to O.B. Keeler, who suggested he attend a spring tournament at Augusta National hosted by Bobby Jones.
Derr went to the 1935 Masters, the year Gene Sarazen made his famous albatross on the par-5 15th hole, a shot that put the Masters on the map. He was working for CBS Radio went he went to Carnoustie in 1953 as Ben Hogan won his only British Open to complete the Grand Slam.
Along the way, he forged relationships with some of golf’s giants — Hogan, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson — along with running into the likes of Mahatma Ghandi, Albert Einstein and Henry Ford. He wrote about his encounters his third book, “My Place at the Table.”
Derr was interviewed by Golf Digest four years ago when he told of seeing Einstein taking his daily walk along the golf course at Princeton. He asked Einstein if he had ever played the game and the genius told him, “I tried once. Too complicated.”
Derr was part of the CBS team when the Masters was televised for the first time in 1956. He broadcast from the 15th green and kept that job through 1982.
His daughter said Derr suffered a major heart attack while working the Greater Greensboro Open in 1969, and then another heart attack while hospitalized.
“He had a near death experience,” she said. “They revived him and he told me, ‘I have no fear of death. I’ve been there and back, and it’s beautiful.’”
A veteran of World War II, Derr moved to Pinehurst in 1973. Gentry said her father wrote his own obituary a few years ago. He was actively working on an audio version of some of his books.
A memorial service was pending. She said her father will be buried in the family plot in Charlotte.