May 1, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
Even after former UGA golfer Bubba Watson won the Masters last month, Golf Channel broadcaster Charlie Rymer would not let sleeping – or winning – dogs lie.
This is what a Georgia Tech man does: he tweaks mutts with Tweets.
“We have a strong Twitter following, and just about everyone in golf is on there. About three times a week I throw a, ‘To Hell with Georgia,’ on there, totally unrelated to anything,” Rymer said. “I get hammered on it, but I keep doing it.”
At no point did Rymer zing Watson directly, and in fact there is much about Bubba that he admires. The two men share a certain appreciation for the abstract. Theirs are off-the-cuff approaches in a sporting atmosphere where that is far, far from the norm.
A principled man must stick to core beliefs and practices. “I worry that it might do something with my employer,” Rymer said. “But sometimes you just got to take a stand.”
Rymer’s been at the Golf Channel, where he serves chiefly as a studio analyst and spends time at bigger tournaments, since 2009 after working for 11 years with ESPN.
Before that, he was a pro golfer of modest acumen in the early and mid-90s after a sterling career at Tech.
Even as he ambled toward the finish line of his pro career, which came to include teaching duties at Reynolds Plantation out east of Atlanta, he wasn’t sure what he would do next with his life. He sure was intrigued by the guys behind the microphones.
So, “I talked with Gary McCord from CBS and he suggested I give TV a try,” Rymer once told the Athens Banner-Herald. “I told him I wasn’t qualified because I didn’t know anything about television production. He said, ‘You’re an idiot, so that qualifies you to do golf on TV.’ “
Self-deprecation is a staple in Rymer’s what-you-see-or-hear-is-what-you-get world.
Unlike the sport in which he lives, there’s not much pretense around this man. Lack of the same draws him to Watson as well.
Born outside of Chattanooga, Rymer grew up in Rock Hill, S.C., won the U.S. Junior Amateur in ’85, and went to co-anchor an era of golf at Tech that cemented the Jackets’ foundation on the way to becoming one of the nation’s top programs.
The big guy (he’s 6-feet-4) won five tournaments as a Jacket, was third-team All-America in ’88, honorable mention AA in ’89 and All-ACC both years. He and Tech teammate Tripp Isenhour – who also works for the Golf Channel – had several teammates at Tech that have factored largely in the sport. Check out these guys:
Michael Clark II won the PGA’s John Deere Classic in 2000, Chan Reeves is the PGA Director of Instruction at the Atlanta Athletic Club, and Tom Shaw is now the head coach at Vanderbilt.
Bill McDonald is the head coach at South Carolina (under USC “director of golf” Puggy Blackmon, who was their coach at Tech), and David Duval – who was a freshman when Rymer and Isenhour were seniors – was a four-time All-American and has won 13 times on the PGA Tour.
Don’t forget that Duval won the 2001 British Open, and was ranked No. 1 in the world.
So Rymer’s kept company over the years, some of it . . . Gasp! . . . red and black.
Later in his teaching days at Reynolds Plantation, he and his wife went looking for a school for their two boys. They settled on a place up the road, a little north of Reynolds – Athens Academy.
That’s in, you guessed it, the devil’s craw. Rymer loved living there for several years before moving to Orlando (home of the Golf Channel) in ’09. “It’s a great community in spite of the University of Georgia,” he said of Athens.
Family took him there, and then to Orlando. His ESPN travel schedule was brutal, and when the opportunity came to be a studio analyst in Orlando – and leave home far less frequently – it was too good to pass up.
The Rymer boys are now teenagers, and they occupy him if not so much as to change his personality.
At this moment, on the phone, he’s distracted. Rymer’s out and about with the family dog, apparently visiting a pooch barber. Someone just got a haircut. There are a few chuckles on the line. “Sorry, I’m distracted,” he says. “Looks like a giant rat.”
That’s not unlike the view this former Jacket – who was inducted into the Tech Hall of Fame in 2000 – takes toward the Bulldogs in general.
It’s not a heavy hatred he bears, but part of his DNA nonetheless.
Don’t mistake this for the idea that Rymer cannot see in some Dogs a bit of himself.
Depending on how you frame it, there can be an argument made that there are by the nature of the type of student-athletes that Tech coaches have to recruit (for academic reasons) some genetic differences between most Jacket and Dog golfers – and, by extrapolation — in most student-athletes at the two schools.
Mega science and math . . . they’re dietary requirements on The Flats.
Bubba Watson may not know who Einstein was, nor of a hypotenuse. I could be wrong on that, and I don’t mean that in the negative way it comes off, but as sure as cotton is white there is a contrast between brainwaves in Athens and on The Flats.
A Bulldog is far, far more likely to be a grip-it-and-rip-it golfer than is a Jacket.
At Tech, thinking caps are almost always on. Sometimes, they’re tight.
Watson, who has gained great acclaim not only for never having had a golf lesson but for winging it in so much of what he does – like that Masters-winning shot out of trouble on the second playoff hole last month – does not think the game. He just plays it.
This is not to say, and Rymer isn’t suggesting, that Watson’s is the way for all to play.
Unless, that is, you boil all of this down to a finer point and suggest that the right way is your way.
Watson knows his way and doesn’t run from it. Rymer doesn’t run, either. If he did, do you think he’d keep Tweeting the way he does?
“There’s always been an argument in golf that you either have to be really, really smart or really, really dumb,” he said. “There’s a strong argument for that. Right now you see an interesting mix of successful professionals that are scientific about their training, nutrition, travel with a chef, always in touch with swing gurus, their massage therapists.
“One of the things that has really impressed me about Bubba Watson is that he stays away from all that. He knows what he is, who he is, and he’s not going to worry about all that other stuff like some guys do.”
These would be golfers who play by plan, who are less likely to improvise, who might be more risk-averse and more likely to over-think a situation – and to apply more of their own pressure.
Then, there are guys like Watson (and he’s not the only one), who Rymer says, “laugh at all that.” Bubba crushes the ball. He doesn’t do it blindly, but he’s not busting out any algorithms in his head, either.
“It’s home-made, self-taught golfers who just play. The type of student-athlete at Georgia Tech is going to be a little more analytical, a little more scientific in approach,” Rymer pontificates.
“Where you get in trouble with golfers is when you get a player that needs to just go play – they call it ‘Caveman golf’ – and . . . you try to make them scientific or analytical. Then, you have problems, and vice-versa.”
As in so many things, there is no one right way, not a single one-size-fits-all approach to winning golf or perhaps anything. Rymer wants to point this out.
Then again, perhaps there is a proper approach to this Dogs-Jackets thing.
In Charlie Rymer’s world, it is right to respect and maybe even admire the enemy, but right as well to tweak the others just because they’re the bad guys, and pump the good guys because they’re your own.
“I stay in contact with Puggy; we’re real good friends. I try to touch base with [current coach] Bruce [Heppler]. It’s challenging, but I try to get to a football game now and then, and I’ve gotten friendly with coach [Paul] Johnson. When you’re a studio analyst . . . you have to create content as opposed to reacting to what’s happening in front of you.
“It’s more challenging, but more creative. That’s the part I enjoy the most. They get sick of me talking about the Georgia Tech guys. I have no issues with pointing out that Cameron Tringale or Bryce Molder are Tech guys. I push it often and hard. When they give me a hard time, I give them the Wiki-link for, ‘Good, Old-fashioned Hate.’ “
Talking to Rymer was every bit as fun as I hope it appeared to be in this story. If you want to follow him on Twitter, his handle is @CharlieRymerGC. The Golf Channel’s TV numbers are riding a rocket, and he’s a big part of the reason why. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.