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Len Ziehm On Golf

A nice gesture from the Missouri School of Journalism

The University of Missouri School of Journalism honored me in its Profiles of Success in June, 2012.

http://journalism.missouri.edu/alum/len-ziehm/

LEN ZIEHM

Sportswriter (Retired)
at Chicago Sun-Times

Degree(s): BJ ’65
Whereabouts: Chicago, Illinois, United States

What do you do?
Retired from the Chicago Sun-Times in June 2010 after 41 years in the sports department, I’ve stepped up my freelance writing and am coordinating my writing projects through the website, lenziehmongolf.com. In retirement. I’ve continued to do some writing for the Sun-Times. I’m also doing a weekly golf column for the Daily Herald chain of Chicago suburban newspapers, weekly columns and features for Chicago District Golfer newspapers. I’ve also been a regular contributor for the Chicago District Golfer magazine and report on the Chicago Fire soccer team for the Comcast SportsNet Chicago website. Those were somewhat extensions off my Sun-Times days, but I’m also working to develop myself in travel writing. In addition to some pieces in print publications, I’ve been highlighting these projects on my website and my four website partners.

How did you get your job?
The freelance work started when I was still at the Sun-Times, where my beats also included collegiate sports (11 years), the Chicago Blackhawks (nine years), tennis (five years) and the Chicago Marathon, which I’ve covered for about 25 years.

What is the best professional lesson you learned at the J-School?
You need to be resourceful and versatile. (Don’t know that the latter is as much a requirement now as it was when I came out of J-School.)

What advice do you have for current students?
Explore all phases of journalism. When I was in school I wanted (and got involved in) newspaper work. Now the options aren’t as limited as they were then.

What is your favorite J-School memory?
In college I was also on the cross country team and, at least twice, I went to road meets with the cross country team, ran in a Saturday morning race, left the team to cover an afternoon football team and then drove back to Columbia with my sports-writing partner. Ah, those were the days!

Any parting comments?
Just stopped back in Columbia in May and was pleasantly surprised to see how the town and campus have changed. It was always a happy, festive place for me and conjured good memories. I’d only been back in town twice since leaving in 1967. The facilities for both the Missourian and Columbia Tribune (where I held a part-time job while in graduate school) have improved greatly.

Ziehm looks back at 41 years at Sun-Times

An interview with Crain’s Chicago Business columnist Ed Sherman, former Chicago Tribune golf writer.

It hardly is accurate to say Len Ziehm is retiring.

Technically, Mr. Ziehm is leaving the Sun-Times this week after 41 years. But the idea that he will stop working? Yeah, right.

We’ve all seen days when Mr. Ziehm covered a golf tournament, worked the phones for the latest on the Northwestern quarterback,and then headed over to write about a Chicago Fire game at night. He’s a machine.

Mr. Ziehm, 66, says he still is going to continue to write for several publications, including contributing to the Sun-Times.That’s great because the pressroom wouldn’t be the same without his distinctive cackle.

I asked one of the all time greats to share his memories of covering sports in Chicago for the Sun-Times.

When did you start at the Sun-Times? What was your first assignment?

Mr. Ziehm: Well, my starting date was May 11, 1969. I know the first stories I wrote were features on the Chicago Owls and Lake County Rifles’ football teams. Neither lasted all that long. The Rifles had a quarterback from Illinois, Fred Custardo, who put up great semi-pro numbers before suffering a tragic death in a fall during his offseason.

The first live event I covered was, of all things, a pro wrestling show at Comiskey Park in which Chet Coppock was the PR guy. I got all dressed up in a new madras sport coat that I thought was very cool, and Chet had me seated ringside and mentioned on the centerfield scoreboard. Then the matches started and one of the wrestlers faked an injury. Blood (actually ketchup) got splattered on that sport coat. That was my welcome to the big leagues of Chicago journalism.

Writing assignments were few and far between in those early years. It was mostly deskwork until I got the golf beat in either late 1970 or early 1971.

What were your most memorable events to cover?

I really have had a ton of them. My first U.S. Open was Johnny Miller’s 63 at Oakmont in 1973. My first Masters was Jack Nicklaus’ last win in 1986. It doesn’t get better than that.

I really enjoyed covering the World Cup soccer tournament in 1994 because it was such a different thing, with so many different cultures involved. While golf has been my biggest deal (27 U.S. Open, 10 Masters, 16 PGAs, the last 34 Western Opens), I do appreciate other events. I was in the lead vehicle of the Chicago Marathon when Steve Jones set a world record. I saw a longtime-bad Northwestern basketball team upset Michigan’s Fab Five in the last game of the regular season to earn an NIT bid. I still savor Northwestern’s shocking run to the Rose Bowl and the Fire sweeping the MLS and U.S. Open Cups in its first season of existence.

I was around for four minor league championship runs by the Wolves and a good chunk of the Blackhawks’ recent Stanley Cup run. I was DePaul’s beat man when the Demons went 27-3 in the late ’80s (that’s significant because it was the first year the Tribune and Sun-Times started covering all their games on the road. Before that it had pretty much been just home games). All three of the soccer teams I’ve covered (Sting, Power, Fire) won championships. Guess I’m kind of babbling on here, but I’ve certainly been fortunate in covering a lot of exciting stuff.

Who were some of the most memorable athletes/executives you’ve covered?

The most fun was Karl-Heinz Granitza, the soccer player. He had his issues, but you couldn’t help but laughing when he was around. Northwestern had some athletes that were really good guys when I was on that beat:Kevin Rankin, Kip Kirkpatrick, Steve Schnurr, Pat Fitzgerald, Richard Buchanan. The football coaches were both ex-Missouri guys (my alma mater) in Francis Peay and Gary Barnett, so you now they had to be the best.

In the hockey world, my favorites were Jocelyn Thibault, Scotty Nichol, Marty Lapointe, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Dustin Byfuglien and Ben Eager (sorry the last two were traded). Dale Tallon was a GM who was really easy to get along with. On the Wolves’ front, John Anderson and Steve Maltais were good people, to say nothing of the owner, Don Levin. What he’s done with that team is terrific.

Cary Pinkowski, the Chicago Marathon boss, and Frank Klopas, who I’ve known as both a soccer player and executive, are longtime friends. Golf, of course, is filled with nice people starting with the Jemseks. I hate to get into listing them because I’d leave somebody out. Again, I’m babbling, but I’ve come in contact with a lot of good people.

What memories do you have of some of the outstanding sportswriters you worked with at the Sun-Times? You worked with some outstanding people.

Bill Gleason and Jack Griffin were veterans when I arrived at 26 years old. They were mentors, but Ron Rapoport was a really good friend over a long period of time. There were great writers and beat people on both sides of the street as well as at the Herald (Tim Sassone may be the best hockey writer around). I enjoyed the company of lots of S-T columnists, including Jay Mariotti.

My link with Rick Morrissey was more when he was at the Tribune. We had a weird time covering a DePaul game at Saint Louis U. one day — but I digress. Bill Jauss, Neil Milbert and I were rival-colleagues for years on a variety of beats. Bob Verdi is one of my favorite people, as well. I’ll always cherish our times together. Covering golf with Reid Hanley, Gary Reinmuth, Teddy Greenstein, Ed Shermanand Tim Cronin has been a lot of fun.

Again, I hate to leave anybody out. Obviously I’m partial to my Sun-Times teammates —Herb Gould, Toni Ginnetti, Joe Goddard, Taylor Bell, Dave Manthey, Albert Dickens, Elliot Harris, Ralph Greenslade, Bob Mazzoni, Jeff Agrest. (Some of those are on the desk/editing side of the business). We’ve been through a lot together.

What are the biggest changes in the industry between 1969 and now?

Obviously, the technological changes were the biggest thing. When I started, writers would phone in their stories, dictating them to guys on the copy desk. Women weren’t part of the action until many years later.

In some ways, things were better back then. Everything was more personal, between writers and athletes, coaches, etc. You really got to know the people you were covering.

Looking back, I have misgivings about a trend that started in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when newspapers in general started pushing for longer, “in depth”stories at the expense many times of covering hard news, the nitty gritty stuff that readers would never get via radio or TV. I still think that’s something that requires ongoing scrutiny by the people putting out newspapers in print or online. Opinion, analysis stuff, frequently crowds out solid reporting, and that’s not a good thing.

Anything else?

Just a general thought, for perspective purposes. When I started at the Sun-Times, Chicago had four newspapers. Now it’s down to two, though the Herald has increased its profile considerably since the early 1970s. In any business there’s been a lot of changes over the last 41 years, but I’m not so sure there hasn’t been more in journalism than anything else. A lot of the changes represent progress, to be sure, but we shouldn’t forget about the past. We can learn from it, just as we do from history books. End of lecture.

Interview With Len Ziehm, Golf Writer at the Chicago Sun-Times

A Light Hearted Golf Q & A Interview
By Golf Wisconsin’s Brian Weis

Below is an interview with Len Ziehm who is officially retired after 41 years at the Chicago Sun-Times, but still the paper’s golf writer. He also does a weekly column for the Daily Herald and monthly columns and features for Chicago Area Golf newspaper. In addition, he regularly contributes to the Chicago District Golfer magazine and Illinois PGA website. The following are a few traditional and non traditional golf centric questions that I love to ask influential people in the golf industry.

When did you start golfing and who introduced you do the game?
I was 11, and my mother took me out – first to a PGA tournament and then to play at Mission Hills course.

What is your current home course?
Stonehenge, in Barrington, IL.

To date, what is your proudest golf accomplishment?
Breaking par for the only time – 1-under 34 for nine holes at Chicago Park District’s Columbus Park course.

What is your biggest golf pet peeve on or off the course?
On the course it’s certainly slow play. That drives me crazy.

What is your favorite golf destination?
I’ve been to lots of goods ones, but Eagle Ridge and Grand Geneva are always excellent.

What course is on your bucket list that you have not played yet?
Brickyard Crossing in Indianapolis – played it just after it opened, but don’t remember it. I’m kind of in the mindset of going back to old favorites these days, and that one tops the list.

If you woke up tomorrow and could play one course you played before, where would you play?
Blackwolf Run, River course.

If you could change one aspect, rule or thing about golf, what would it be and why?
I’d upgrade the impression of nine-hole rounds and nine-hole courses. Fun golf doesn’t have to 18 holes on an 18-hole course. There are plenty of great nine-holers.

Dream foursome (living)?
Herb Gould, Gary D’Amato, Larry Williams, Barry Cronin.

Dream foursome (living or dead)?
All dead, I’m afraid – Reid Hanley, Phil Kosin, my Dad and my brother Rich.

18 Rapid Fire, Off The Cuff Questions

1) Hitting Long Drive OR Sinking Long Putt?
Long putt.

2) Having Round of Life OR Hole in One?
Round of my life.

3) Golfing at the crack of dawn OR twilight?
Twilight.

4) Hit a power fade OR power draw?
Power fade.

5) Beverage cart OR halfway house?
Halfway house.

6) Bathroom OR bushes?
Bathroom.

7) Hot dog OR wrap?
Hot dog, for sure.

8) Around the green, being in sand OR thick rough?
Thick rough.

9) Walking OR riding?
Walking.

10) Do you carry traditional 3 iron OR hybrid?
Hybrid.

11) Do you prefer long par 3 OR long par 5?
Long par 3.

12) Pants OR Shorts?
Pants

13) Palmer OR Nicklaus?
Palmer.

14) Beatles OR Elvis?
Elvis.

15) Play for fun OR play for money?
Fun, definitely.

16) Bump and run OR flop shot?
Bump and run.

17) Lay up OR gamble?
Lay up.

18) 18 holes OR 36?
18 nowadays.

5 Questions With… Sun-Times Len Ziehm

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of Communications
CSNChicago.com Contributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the city’s most popular personalities on the spot with everyone’s favorite weekly local celeb feature entitled “5 Questions with…”

Every Wednesday exclusively on CSNChicago.com, it’s our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This week – a man who defines the term “veteran sports journalist” – he’s been a fixture in the sports pages of the Chicago Sun-Times for over 40 years who has recently covered the Blackhawks and now the Fire, plus, his favorite passion – the sport of golf — for more years than he cares to mention – here are “5 Questions with LEN ZIEHM!”

BIO: Len Ziehm has been a member of the Chicago Sun-Times sports department since 1969 covering hundreds upon hundreds of local and national sporting events, including the Chicago Blackhawks, soccer and, of course, golf. He was an assistant sports editor for eight years and combined writing with editing duties until going full-time as a writer in 1985. In addition, he’s been the Sun-Times beat man on Northwestern University sports (11 years), tennis (5 years), running and fitness (ongoing, covered the Chicago Marathon for 25 consecutive years, 1979-2004) and Illinois college sports for five years.

1) CSNChicago.com: Len, with golf’s crown jewel, The Masters, coming up this weekend, the entire world will no doubt be focused on the return of Tiger Woods. It goes without saying the enormous amount of pressure he will be under, but it has been stated one of the reasons he’s choosing his return to golf to take place at The Masters is the “controlled” atmosphere at Augusta National. Can you explain to us how this “controlled” environment at The Masters differs from other PGA Tournaments?

Ziehm: The big thing is the ticket policy there. The same people go year after year. It’s the toughest ticket in sports because so many tickets are passed on from generation to generation. That minimizes the number of fans who might create a disturbance. Masters crowds are also known for behaving themselves (at least to a large degree). The security at Augusta National has been fine-tuned over the years as well, so anybody who acts up gets removed from the grounds pretty quickly. It was clearly the best place for Woods to return to the tournament scene.

From the “pure golf fan” standpoint, though, it’s unfortunate that the year’s first major tournament will turn into a Tiger sideshow. I take strong issue with those sports fans (including some of our local columnists) who have contended golf is boring without Tiger. It isn’t. He grows the sport’s fan base, to be sure, much like John Daly has. If you’re really into the sport of golf, though — and I am — watching a PGA tournament is enjoyable and entertaining with or without Tiger playing.

2) CSNChicago.com: Speaking of Tiger, if he doesn’t perform well at The Masters and, even worse for him, fails to make the cut, do you think this will destroy his personal & professional state of mind going forward and “a follow-up question” if he does win this thing, do you think it will make the whole lurid sex scandal thing finally go away?

Ziehm: Nothing will make the “sex scandal” issue go away, ever. That’s now a sad but significant part of his history, a part that won’t be forgotten. In some circles, it’ll overwhelm the big victories he’s had and the extensive charity work he has done. That’s unfortunate, but that’s just the way it is. I don’t expect him to miss the cut or play poorly at Augusta. His concentration level is extraordinary — very much like Michael Jordan’s in his glory years with the Bulls — and Woods NEVER plays when he doesn’t feel completely well prepared. That is a big reason he’s competed as well as he has over the years; he ONLY plays when he’s prepared to win. The fact that he hasn’t played in any tournaments to get himself back in a competitive mode is a valid consideration when assessing his chances of winning but, in his case, it’s probably an overrated consideration. I don’t think, in the long run, that it’ll matter much that he hasn’t played in a tournament since 2009. Then again, I predict he WON’T win at Augusta, just compete well and get his golf career moving again.

3) CSNChicago.com: Let’s talk Blackhawks for a moment. Is it safe to say you would rank this year’s team, at least to this point, as the greatest Blackhawks team you’ve ever covered? If not, tell us which Blackhawks season you would rank at the top and why.

Ziehm: The way the current Hawks are playing since the Olympic break, I’d say last year’s team was better. It finished strong and played really well in the playoffs — much better than I and most others would have predicted. Time will tell whether the current Hawks regroup in time for a postseason run. At the moment, though, I think the emotion spent in the Winter Olympics by all those Hawks who participated has damaged the team’s chances as far as the Stanley Cup goes.

Overall, I’ve covered the Hawks for nine seasons. The first team (2001-02) had a great regular season, but was banged up when the playoffs started and was quickly eliminated. After that came some really sorry seasons and a lockout to boot. So, these last two seasons have really been invigorating. As for the Hawks’ chances in the upcoming playoffs, I’m not nearly as optimistic as I was before the Winter Olympics. In my mind, the goaltending question has never been resolved. Antti Niemi may look the better option now, but he is still a rookie without postseason experience. That’s going to be a factor down the road, I’m afraid. It’s also interesting to me how much the Hawks seem to miss Brian Campbell. He hasn’t been fully appreciated since signing his big contract with the Hawks, but they’d be much better off now if he was still on the ice.

4) CSNChicago.com: You’re now on the MLS/Chicago Fire beat for the Sun-Times. What are your thoughts on this year’s team and does the absence of an international superstar like Cuauhtemoc Blanco hurt the Fire come playoff time?

Ziehm: The Fire have done some interesting things over the years, and the recent decision to go with two VERY young, inexperienced goaltenders ranks right up there with those I’d question. Unless it was purely a salary question (which the club won’t admit to), the decision to drop Jon Busch less than a week before the season started doesn’t make any sense. The Fire should be able to replace Blanco from the competitive side. Chemistry goes a long way in soccer, and Frank Klopas should be able to put together a lineup that can win eventually. It might not be as entertaining without a superstar, though, and right now the Fire doesn’t have one (Brian McBride certainly was one in his prime, but he’s 37 now and could well be playing his last season).

I like the addition of Collins John. He’s going to score a lot of goals. I also like the new coach, Carlos de los Cobos. I’m amazed at how quickly he’s learned English. When he was first hired, I wondered what the Fire management was thinking. The head coach has to be a communicator with the media and fans, as well as his players, and that’d be awfully hard to do in Major League Soccer without being conversant in English. De los Cobos comes from a different background than virtually every other coach in MLS, having been successful in the Mexican league first and with the El Salvador national team more recently. He has some adjustments to make in coming to MLS, which is much different than other leagues around the world for a wide variety of reasons. My suspicion is it’ll take a good portion of the season for him to get his team (and himself) tuned in to the task of winning. I expect a slow start but, hopefully, a strong finish that will get the Fire into the playoffs. Hiring de los Cobos was, in many ways, a risky move and dropping the proven, popular Busch was as well. Under a recent rule change (announced last week) the Fire can now sign as many as three designated players — top stars whose acquisitions won’t severely affect the MLS salary cap. If the Fire, without a designated player since Blanco left, moves in that direction my prognosis of the season ahead could change quickly.

5) CSNChicago.com: As mentioned earlier, you truly define the term “veteran sports journalist” for your four-plus decades of rock solid local sports coverage. With that said, now that traditional sports journalism is changing in this new digital age, what adjustments, if any, have you made in events you cover for the Sun-Times?

Ziehm: Interesting question. In many ways, things are much better now. Information gets out more quickly and comes from a broader array of sources. While print space in newspapers is shrinking, space to pass on information, analysis and opinion via the Internet is unlimited. All that’s a good thing. I do feel the personal touch in journalism is getting lost, and that’s not good. One-on-one interviews aren’t as frequent or as fruitful as they once were. So, in some ways the job has become easier, but in some ways it’s become harder as well. I guess, to give you a more concise, specific answer, we’re now more into notebooks and columns than we are into straight game reports. That varies from sport to sport and event to event, though. It’s an interesting transition period that we’re all going through.

BONUS QUESTION CSNChicago.com: Back to golf a two-part question: who’s the most famous person you’ve ever golfed with and what’s your personal best 18-hole score to date?

Ziehm: OUCH! Best golf score was 83 many, many years ago at the Bonnie Dundee course in Carpentersville. I’ve been within a stroke one way or the other of a 19 handicap for years, so that tells you my abilities as a player. But I have had a hole-in-one (not many can say that) and have three career eagles spread over a 48-year period. I guess — if nothing else — that shows my interest in golf hasn’t been of a fleeting nature. I’ve played in a lot of pro-ams over the years and, without question, the best player I’ve played with was Kenny Perry at the 2007 BMW Championship at Cog Hill. He was a very nice guy, as well. A few years back I played a couple of informal rounds with Michael Jordan at Lakeshore Country Club. So, he was probably the most famous person I played with. I’m just grateful for the chances I’ve had to play with lots of interesting people, famous or not so famous, over my years on the golf beat.

Golf, as well as beat coverage of it, has changed dramatically over the years. I remember covering my first Western Open, at Olympia Fields in 1968, we’d conduct interviews over a small table with Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer having a beer or cigarette while fielding questions from five or six reporters. I recall another time, not at a tournament, when Sam Snead held court for a few of us at Beverly Country Club and offered one interesting anecdote after another — some of them of an off-color nature. Now, to put it mildly, interviews with the big-name players are much more crowded, chaotic affairs that I’m sure will reach new heights now that Tiger Woods is back in action.