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New age and new job title can’t take away memories

Somewhere in the stacks of microfilm tucked into a corner of The Charlotte Observer newsroom, there can be found a three paragraph item in The Charlotte News detailing the results of the Friday night races at Starlite Speedway in Monroe more than 40 years ago.

The News is gone, like almost every other afternoon newspaper, and the race track was plowed under years ago to make room for an industrial plant.

That was my first story in a newspaper, a journalistic crumb tossed to me by my father, then the News’ sports editor, early one Saturday when I’d gone to work with him to see how a sports section came to life. The newsroom was filled with now-foreign sounds – the clacking of typewriters and the incessant chatter of the wire machine spitting out stories from across the country – and it captivated me.

It still does, though newsrooms are much quieter now.

For the past 22-plus years, the Observer newsroom has been my second home. If I haven’t always been inside the building, I’ve been attached to it by a phone line, a computer cord or the feeling you have when you work someplace special with co-workers who make you better.

And now I’m leaving.

On Monday, I will start my job as senior writer for Global Golf Post, a weekly online golf magazine that is delivered into email baskets around the world early each Monday. There is no printed version. It exists in cyberspace and it is thriving, thanks to iPads, smartphones and a visionary approach.

In my new position, I will write about professional golf, traveling to 20 or so PGA Tour events each year. It means spending my days at golf courses, watching the game’s best players and writing about what I see and hear and feel.

Some people call it work. I’m not one of them and I intend to have the golfer’s tan to prove it.

My passion for golf was handed down from my father, Ron Sr., who has covered 58 consecutive Masters tournaments and whose stories about the things he saw and people he met helped lead me to where I am today.

That’s the best part of doing what I’ve done at the Observer – the moments and the people that stay with you and often have little or nothing to do with the outcome of a game or tournament.

It’s riding the Wilkes County roads with former NASCAR star Junior Johnson as he tells stories about his moonshining days, noticing how carefully he drives and wishing he would have taken me to one of the stills he said was in operation not far from where we were.

It’s spending 30 minutes inside the Quail Hollow Club locker room talking to golfer Tiger Woods about his father and Charlotte and whatever happened to former Carolina Panther Rae Carruth.

It’s hearing Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski’s voice catch when he talks about the ledger his mother kept with the result of every game he coached.

It’s sitting at a stoplight with late NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. and seeing a little girl inside a car one lane over show him three fingers.

It’s seeing quarterback Jake Delhomme’s face 10 minutes after the Panthers lost the 2004 Super Bowl.

It’s the quiet that enveloped Payne Stewart on the 18th green at Pinehurst No. 2 in 1999 an instant before he won the U.S. Open.

It’s listening to Panthers coach Ron Rivera tell stories about being a member of the 1985 Chicago Bears.

It’s sitting inside Tar Heels men’s basketball coach Roy Williams’ office at Kansas, a photo of Grandfather Mountain behind him, and listening to him talk through tears about why he turned down the North Carolina job the first time.

It’s golfer Phil Mickelson phoning to offer a private thank you.

It’s the press rooms an hour before a game, big or small, filled with stories and laughter. Sometimes it’s better than the games.

And it’s the feeling that comes with picking up the paper in the morning, understanding what went into getting it there and knowing the good people whose names aren’t there but whose fingerprints and passion and wisdom are.

All of that and much more goes with me from the Observer.

I carry it with a smile.

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