“I turned down a round with Tiger”
He was nearly fired, had an on-air dressing down from Greg Norman and bailed on nine holes with Woods... David Livingstone reflects on 25 memorable years at the helm of Sky Sports Golf
David Livingstone said his final farewell to broadcasting at the end of this year’s Ryder Cup at Le Golf National, 25 years after he first began presenting golf for Sky Sports. He’s one of just a handful of men who have been there since Sky’s inception, and Butch Harmon led the tributes to his colleague, saying, “There is no presenter in the world better than you my friend.”
And yet what many don’t know, is that ‘Livo’ never wanted to be in front of the camera. His career began after he replied to a newspaper advert for a trainee journalism scheme on a whim – the first and only job he’s ever applied for before or since, he tells me as we sit in the clubhouse of the Western Gailes Golf Club. “I worked all over the place, and it was great training,” he said.
He progressed into a career as a news and crime reporter, but when Robert Maxwell took over the Mirror Group, Livingstone began to look for a way out. It would end up leading him away from newspapers and into life on screen. “You shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but he was an absolute ogre and I just thought I can’t work anymore for that organisation. I managed to get out and I started at Scottish Television through a friend who was high up and he took me on as a script writer for news and sport.”
And he was soon sent on a course that changed everything. “They sent me on a BBC course in Elstree where you had to do everything – producing, directing, sound, and you had to do presenting, so they said, ‘You’re quite reasonable at that, why don’t you give it a go?’ Honestly, I really never wanted to do it.
“It was embarrassing for the first few years because I was really terrible. It was embarrassing to go on TV every night and make a fool of yourself but that’s what you had to do – there’s no other way of training for TV. It did burn my ego quite a bit, but somehow, if you’re lucky, people persevere with you.”
He soon moved with a friend of his to what was then BSB and Sky, working mainly as a football reporter. But one miserable Friday night, while covering a Stoke City v Port Vale match, his boss told him they had done a deal with golf in America
– and if he wanted the presenting role, the job was his. “I’m standing there with the rain pouring all over me,
mud was lapping over my shoes and I was thinking about Hawaii, California and Florida... I thought this is not going to take long to say yes to!
“I started the day after my 40th birthday, so when people talk about life begins at 40, they don’t know how true that is.”
Starting at Sky
It was a really tough time. Ken Brown and I were in London and we took in the first event from the season in America. It was the blind leading the blind. Ken’s looking to me for leadership. I didn’t have any. I didn’t know what I was doing! I didn’t have any of the golf language. Ken, of course, knew plenty about golf, but nothing about TV, so we were in no-man’s land and it was a real struggle for three months. We were getting through, but it wasn’t good – and the bosses were quick to tell us.
The studio back then…
We had two chairs and a little coffee table. It was lit nicely, but there was nothing elaborate. We had a big screen behind us where they were feeding in ‘as-live’ pictures of the golf course. We felt a million miles away and we’d never experienced anything like American commercial breaks – and we had no production facility to cover any of that. I didn’t even know how to lead in and out of breaks, and it was really embarrassing. The studio looked pretty grim and Ken and I definitely looked grim. After three months I went in to see the head of Sky Sports, David Hill, thinking I was going to sneak in a new contract. I caught him at the wrong time and he said “do you want the truth or the
First time I met Tiger Woods
I interviewed Tiger at the 1996 US Open in Oakland Hills. Butch was with me in the studio and because he was coaching Tiger, he was happy to come in. Just as they were about to bring him in, a USGA media official told me that it was the first time he’d made a cut in a Major. So away we go, and I said, “Tiger, you must be very proud, this is the first time you’ve made a cut in a major”. He stopped me and said, “No, I made the cut in the Masters this year”. I couldn’t blame anyone else, it was my own stupid fault, but that was awkward because Tiger even at that age is a detail guy. It wasn’t a great start. BS?” He said, “Look, you’re useless” – it wasn’t quite as clean as that – “and if you don’t improve I’m going to have to let you go.” He told me about this constant ‘ehh’ and ‘umm’. He said, “You’ve got a week to eradicate that from your vocabulary or you’re history.” I was seeing a sports psychologist the next day to interview him about what he did for sports people and he explained a technique to me – he didn’t know anything about my problem – for players who had a recurring problem. I employed it the next week. I watched the whole lot back and didn’t ‘eh’ or ‘um’ once. I got a new contract the following Monday.
The first tournament he went to
It was the Air France Cannes Open. Sky had sent me to Dunhill in London to be kitted out; I’d never had clothes like that – £500 blazers and shirts that cost £100. So on the first morning I put on my best outfit, get dropped off in the car park and there’s a storm. The producer looks at me and says, “You look fantastic, but completely inappropriate for what we have here”. So I’m standing in the rain trying to do links in this outfit... preposterous. The first guy I interviewed was David Feherty, and I think Sam Torrance came in. Two guys from my sort of background. They were so nice and welcoming and you put the two of them together and it was brilliant.
The best afternoon of his life…
The first proper outside broadcast we did (in America) was at the 1994 US Open at Oakmont. It was 108 degrees, brutal. We had no resources, the entire commentary team was Ewen Murray, Bruce Critchley and me. We didn’t have a studio, we had a couple of little plastic chairs underneath a tree by the clubhouse. But it was right next to the scorers’ area, so I just asked every player who came past if I could do an interview. I got the lot. That was probably the best afternoon of my life. It was Arnold Palmer’s last US Open; Jack Nicklaus was still competing; Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Hale Irwin, Lee Trevino… every golfer I’d ever watched, admired and respected came and sat in my little plastic chair. It was driving the host broadcaster ABC nuts because I was delaying their route to their studio.
Special relationship with Butch
When we first met, I didn’t know him. I was in a strop leaving the US Open at Shinnecock in 1995 because we’d had a long day. I picked up a beer as I was leaving the course and two guys said, “Sir, you can’t take that with you”. I was furious, threw it into the bin and stormed off, saying to my colleagues, “What do you make of this country? You can walk down the street with a gun in your hand but not with a beer!” This guy overheard and said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about” in an American accent. I wheeled round and wasn’t too polite. I just told him where to go and then stormed off. In the car Bruce Critchley said, “Do you know who you’ve just insulted?” I said, “No and I don’t care”. He said, “Greg Norman’s coach, Butch Harmon”. I put my head in my hands and worried about it for weeks.
‘THAT WAS PROBABLY THE BEST AFTERNOON OF MY LIFE. EVERY GOLFER I’D EVER WATCHED, ADMIRED AND RESPECTED CAME AND SAT IN MY LITTLE PLASTIC CHAIR’ ➔
Grilling Paul Mcginley at The Players.