An excerpt from my latest column for Poynter.
The Dallas Morning News initially hadn’t planned to staff this week’s U.S. Open in Seattle. However, its golf writer Bill Nichols is on hand because of one reason: Jordan Spieth.
Spieth, the newly-minted Masters champion, presents the Morning News with quite a dilemma. Despite limited resources, the paper is trying to figure out how to cover a local product who is the hottest young star in golf.
“Jordan has been an interesting test case in the new world for us,” said sports editor Garry Leavell.
Leavell says his travel budget is roughly a third of what it was 5 or 6 years ago. As a result, the Morning News stopped covering golf’s majors after the Masters in 2011.
“It’s all about economics,” Leavell said.
The Morning News hardly is alone, as other newspapers have cut back on staffing majors. However, this is a huge departure for a golf-obsessed sports section that once had national golf writers staffing 15-20 tournaments per year. I can recall the Morning News had three seats in the Augusta National press room during my days covering golf for the Chicago Tribune. I was told the Morning News was “grandfathered in” when the club denied our request for a third seat for the Tribune.
The Morning News, though, wasn’t at the Masters in April when the 21-year-old Spieth donned the green jacket with a stunning performance. Leavell says he considered sending a reporter to Augusta during the weekend after Spieth jumped out to an early lead. However, the cost was prohibitive for a full-priced airfare.
Leavell went with Plan B to chronicle Spieth’s historic victory. Nichols wrote a 1-A story based on watching the tournament on TV with members at Spieth’s Dallas club. Kevin Sherrington and Barry Horn contributed columns. Leavell also hired former Washington Post golf writer, Len Shapiro, to file a story from Augusta. Add a picture page, and the Morning News had 17 columns dedicated to Spieth.
Leavell said it was an impressive package, but he knew something was missing.
“For those of us who have been around here a long time, it was painful [for a Morning News reporter or columnist] not to be there,” Leavell said. “It goes against your instincts. The writers were asking questions about it. It’s a very difficult call.”