By Stan Awtrey
Loran Smith is known throughout the world because of his connections with the Georgia Bulldogs. He was known for years the on-the-field reporter who answered whenever Larry Munson’s gravely voice would query, “Loran, whatcha got?” He still works for the school’s communications department and at age 81 shows little signs for slowing down.
Smith is also an accomplished journalist. He began as a reporter for the school newspaper, the Red and Black, when he was a student at Georgia (Class of 1962), and has never stopped. He’s written many books, including “50 Great Moments in Georgia Football History” and, most recently, “A Letter to Larry: And Other Memories of Georgia’s Legendary Announcer.”
But Smith knows his way around the golf course, too, formerly as a player and still as a journalist. He often writes about the sport for his syndicated column that appears in more than 20 newspapers throughout the state. He has covered the all the major championships and played many of the world’s best courses, including all those used in the Open Championship rota.
He was especially charmed by the Masters, which he began to cover in the 1960s, and became a quick enrollee in Arnie’s Army. His first time was 1960, when Arnold Palmer caught Ken Venturi on the last two holes and won his second Masters.
“I’ve never been blow away quite like I’ve been by that particular tournament,” he said.
He never made a hole-in-one, but he can claim a 78 as his personal best score. The fact it came at the Old Course at St. Andrews makes it even more special. His handicap was as low as an eight a couple of summers when he was playing a lot of golf. Smith remains a member at Athens Country Club, but his playing days were ended several years ago by a fractured shoulder.
“I had a really good time when I played,” Smith said. “Now I couldn’t hit it across the street.”
When Smith went abroad for the British Open each year, he would make sure to visit the course scheduled to host the next championship. He would take copious notes for his articles and columns.
He especially enjoyed Ballybunion, Lahinch, Portrush and Portmarnock. He walked the fairways at Hoylake and imaged the shots that Jones made when he was chasing history – and tried to replay many of them..
“I’ve always been a dreamer,” he said.
He’s met many of golf’s greatest champions and some of the game’s non-celebrities that bring color to the sport.
He spent time in South Africa interviewing Bobby Locke, the four-time winner of the British Open. He had a memorable time talking with Harry Bradshaw, a 10-time winner of the Irish PGA Championship, who lost a playoff to Locke in the 1949 Open Championship.
“Harry Bradshaw had the greatest attitude,” Smith said. “He lost to Bobby Locke by a shot and they walked arm-in-arm to the bar. He said, ‘I gave it me best.’”
He visited Australia and spoke with Jack Newton after the tragic accident that nearly took his life.
He followed the late Seve Ballesteros many times at Augusta National.
He had a phone interview with Ben Hogan and found him to be friendly and charming. “He was terrific,” Smith said.
He enjoyed a delightful breakfast in Dallas one morning with Lee Trevino.
He interviewed the man who caddied for Bobby Jones when he won the Grand Slam in Philadelphia.
“I’ve got a lot of great recordings of interviews,” Smith said. “The only real regret I have is having never made an effort to see Bobby Jones. I would love to have a recording of Jones.”
He has become personal friends with Jack and Barbara Nicklaus, whose daughter Nan played volleyball at Georgia. Loran and his wife Myrna have hosted the Nicklauses and have been guests in the Nicklaus home.
“Jack became a good personal friend,” Smith said. “His kids all came to Georgia, if not to enroll then to party. My house would become Checkpoint Charlie. … It was a wonderful life experience.”
When asked to name three University of Georgia partners for a dream foursome, Smith quickly named Billy Payne (who played for Vince Dooley, brought the 1996 Olympics to Atlanta and was chairman of Augusta National) and Bill Griffin (a UGA graduate and managing director of Fidelity). He chose Nicklaus as his other member, considering “The Golden Bear” to be an honorary Bulldog through their years of friendship.