Nick Seitz, 82, passed away this week and took a piece of me with him. He was my boss, the editor of Golf Digest, when I was hired as an intern 45 years ago. He interviewed me in the Pan Am terminal at JFK as he was flying to an exotic location like Dayton, Ohio for the Bogie Busters Celebrity Tournament. I asked how I would recognize him, and his longtime assistant, Pat Richards, said, “You know him. He has a funny little mustache. I found it right away.
We got on well and my education began immediately. I was introduced to a group of siblings who became my golfing family. He had assembled an eccentric editorial team reminiscent of the old TV show, McHale’s Navy, with Nick as Ernest Borgnine. I swear there was even an illegal moonshine in the mail room. Nick’s editor and right-hand man was a former sportswriter for a rival Kansas newspaper, Jay Simon. When Nick was traveling the world, Jay kept the magazine on schedule. Then Nick would go back to an empty office the following weekend and completely change the lineup, rewrite the headlines, and make every story in the next issue better for Jay to understand on the Monday morning while Nick was away in Napa, California, to write a profile on Johnny Miller inventing the plaid pants and white belt.
Nick joined Golf Digest in 1967, was editor from 1973 to 1982, then editorial director of Golf Digest and Golf World – what he always called “The Weekly” – until his retirement in 1999. He was one of the most gifted sportswriters in the country and naturally attracted a stable of extraordinary writers to the magazine, such as Dan Jenkins, Peter Dobereiner, Henry Longhurst, Herbert Warren Wind, Gary Cartwright, Brennan Quinn and Peter Andrews. Rather a fan of hockey, Nick took up golf although he was never a great golfer. He belonged to a random course in Connecticut called Silvermine, but he had a unique style of playing it cross-country. I must have accompanied him on two dozen rounds there, but we never started on the first hole. We started somewhere in the middle and circled around the property shooting unoccupied greens in the distance. After a few hours, the tour was over. I remember he did a hole in one once, but it was unclear what the hole number was or even if it was a par 3.
He had a special talent for writing what writers call “ledes”. That is, the first paragraph or two of a story that puts the hook in a reader’s mouth and keeps you going. I remember one in particular for an article on Jack Nicklaus in which the opening paragraph explained that when Nick put the paper in the typewriter to start composing there was a commotion outside caused by fire truck sirens at a neighbor on his street. Nick pointed out that if Nicklaus was writing the story, he wouldn’t have noticed, such was the man’s immense focus.
It’s always hard to say what an artist’s best work is, but in Nick’s case, his best subject was Ben Hogan. He did at least two lengthy interviews for Golf Digest with the game’s most famous recluse, but the profile he penned in September 1970 is even more memorable. For the magazine’s 70th anniversary, I reintroduced it, noting, “The chemistry between Hogan and Seitz led to the outburst that revealed this extraordinary portrayal of an American hero nearing the end of his playing career.” Seitz shared with the elder Hogan a deep interest in art, often visiting museums and galleries in New York, and his writings about Hogan’s artwork and home decor are told in compelling detail. Seitz, who later became Tom Watson’s pedagogical collaborator, always had a fascination with technique, which he deepens here with the game’s ultimate mechanics. And Seitz does not spare the reader Hogan’s political conservatism, revealing if not surprising. . I won’t spoil the pleasure of reading Nick Seitz first-hand any further, so here’s the link if your interest is piqued enough.
But before we go, a few more words about Nick. Perhaps a romantic at heart, he was a ruthless copy editor – the manuscripts when he was done with them looked like Christmas trees, they had so many red marks. He never hesitated to tear up an issue at the close if he made a better magazine. He read about 25 newspapers a day, back when they were piled up in newsprint in every corner of his office and home. He preferred the mysteries of Robert B. Parker and John le Carré. He liked to listen to jazz in remote places in New York. He liked to go to expensive restaurants, especially when the company was paying him. He enjoyed commentating on television, but was best known for his golf spot on CBS Radio, delivered with a distinctive bass voice in the G-7 range, so he could whisper to you next to the first tee at Augusta National and be heard by Amen Corner. He was a good husband to Velma and the father of her two sons, Brad and Greg, both hockey players turned golfers. He was a good friend to me and all the editors who later stood on his shoulders. And he taught us everything we know.