By Martin Kaufmann
Most evenings you can find Bret Baier sitting in the anchor’s chair of Fox News’ “Special Report,” which dominates the 6 p.m. Eastern time slot in the cable-news ratings. Last week Baier took a break to play in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Baier, a college golfer who still maintains a 7 handicap, made the cut in his first attempt. He answered a few questions via email from Golfweek as he was rushing back to Washington to anchor Fox News’ coverage of the State of the Union address.
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Is your game sharp or are you still shaking off the winter rust?
Baier: That was the theme for the week: “My game is rusty. It needs work.” But, I saw some flashes of the old days – some sticking irons shots, some big drives, and some draining putts. On Saturday, at Monterey Peninsula Country Club, we were 12 under on 14 tee. I said to my pro, 2004 British Open champion Todd Hamilton, "All right pro, let's make this happen!" And he said, "Let's go 5 under on the last 5."
Hamilton birdied our 14th hole (the fifth hole at MPCC – we are now 13 under) – then I hit a booming drive on the par 5, decide to go for the green and push it into the bushes. I hit a shot up and over the bushes – almost lands on the green, falls into the trap. I get up and down for a 5/4 with a stroke. (We are 14 under.) Next hole I get a shot. I hit one to 20 feet, make the putt and have a birdie/eagle. (We are 16 under.) I killed my drive on the par 4 down the middle, hit an 8 iron to 3 feet and drained the putt with a shot for another birdie/eagle. (So we're 18 under.) I hit my shot left on 18, a par 3, into the trap. I lip out a sand shot. Todd hits his shot to 15 feet and he lips out a putt for 19 under.
We made the cut on cards just barely. We beat out Dustin Johnson and Wayne Gretzky – The Great One! Our score on Pebble the day before was better than was theirs, which was crazy! Anyway, there was some doubt whether we had made it in. In fact, the scorer from the PGA Tour thought we had missed it and my brother, Tim, in Charlotte, was texting me saying he thought we were in. So I went to the hospitality tent and saw the main guy there and he said, “Congratulations, you're in!” I said, “Are you sure?” He said, "Yep, you are in!" Then I knew I had reached a bucket-list item: playing Sunday at the Pro-Am at Pebble Beach!
My game needs a little work. I had flashes of really good golf. My shot on 17 at Pebble Friday was tight – under pressure with TV camera and crowds –and I hit some really good iron shots into par 3s, which made me feel good. But I also hit some low dart-left drives that put me in bad places and wasted holes where I was getting a shot. My putting was a little rusty too – but not bad overall, considering.
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You've reported from war zones and interviewed some of the world's most famous people. How does teeing it up at the Pro-Am and hitting a few shots on TV compare?
Baier: I can speak to millions and millions of people when the red light on the camera goes on. But when you have to physically perform and turn on a little white ball, it's a different matter entirely. The best or worst is that when all goes bad (like when I parked one OB right on 18 tee) you can put it in your pocket and say, "You're hole, pro!" Problem is when your pro has problems. On the short par-4 fourth at Pebble on Friday, both Todd and I carded a 7! A triple bogey. We fought back from that to make the cut. Without that we would have been at 26 under par.
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What sorts of things did you and your playing partners talk about while you were playing?
Baier: Todd Hamilton is an amazing guy and a fantastic pro. We talked about a lot of things over the four days, but what surprised me most is when this mild-mannered, fairly quiet guy would suddenly come forward with a great, hilarious joke out of the blue! He was great! He was also a complete pro all the way around. He missed a very short putt for par on 18 and instead of getting mad and walking off or sulking, he came and read my putt. He also worked with me on the range for about an hour after the second round. He didn't make the pro cut, but was a tremendous pro about dealing with me. We even had to play in the last twosome just because we were literally the last group to make the cut, and we had fun!
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Gary McCord mentioned on the air that he had dinner with you this week. Did you get a word in edgewise?
Baier: I had dinner with Gary McCord and a bunch of other folks from Whisper Rock in Arizona – an amazing place and home club to a lot of pros. McCord is hilarious – a real character.
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What are one or two of your most memorable moments from the week?
Baier: I gave you a couple of memorable moments, but another one was I birdied 15 on Sunday. That is the hole where they put the American flag pin handled by the service men and women. After making the sliding putt for birdie I went over with Todd and shook every one of their hands to thank them for their service to the country. I got to the end of the line and one of the men there, I think a Marine, said, "Sir, I just want you to know – and we're not really supposed to talk much – but you're only the third birdie we've seen all day here. Nice job, sir!"
And I said, “Wow, thank you!” That was a really cool moment and I said that enhanced what was already an amazing Sunday afternoon walk.
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Anything else to add?
Baier: People don't realize how good these pros are sometimes. They are really spectacular. The way they can control a ball flight, the things they can do to make the ball move – it's pretty amazing. I played college golf – Division III at DePauw University – but I have the ultimate respect for these guys who are grinding out here week after week and trying to make it. Todd Hamilton is a great guy and I hope he gets into the PGA tournament in Puerto Rico. He's trying to make that. He's a solid player and any given day one of these guys can go low. Any given Sunday, but the trick is, you have to make it to Sunday.
I have respect for what they do and how they do it. The other thing I will note is that it takes a lot to put on one of these tournaments – a lot of volunteers, a lot of organization, and the AT&T Pro-Am does a fantastic job of running the whole show from top to bottom. Because you have some serious heat here – from business titans, to Hollywood celebs, to PGA tour stars – it's quite a week. All I can say is, I am still trying to soak it in as I pack up and head back to D.C.
It's been an amazing experience. I hope I'll be back. To make the cut the first year I played is something special. I think Ray Romano said he wanted to shower with his umbrella that says, "I made the cut." Well, I am with you, Ray. It may be showing up on the Special Report panel when it's a little misty in the studio!
Golf – an amazing game! Now I head back to D.C. and the cold. And the State of the Union address on Tuesday. That's nothing compared to the first tee at Pebble after hearing, "Mr. Hamilton's playing partner, Bret Baier!"