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  • Alistair Tait

Remembering James Achenbach

There’s a good chance James Achenbach is still standing at the Pearly Gates talking to St Peter about the shaft he has in his driver. If St Peter is looking for a replacement to gain a few extra yards, then my former colleague is the right person. There was nothing the man most of us fondly called “Auchie” didn’t know about golf equipment.

Achenbach, who died 15 April aged 78, spent his entire career devouring information about golf equipment. Not just equipment: Golf was Auchie’s life.

Many of you reading this won’t have heard of James Achenbach. True golf aficionados, especially American ones, certainly knew Auchie. How well respected was he? In 2010, Augusta National gave him his own Masters parking spot in perpetuity.

Other former colleagues Jason Lusk and David Dusek have penned brilliant pieces that capture the true essence of the man. Give them a read, you’ll appreciate just how respected Auchie was in this game.

As Peter Dobereiner once said:

“It is customary when saluting the departed to lay on the virtue with a trowel.”

It will seem like that here too, but believe me when I say there was nothing Auchie didn’t know about this game of golf. And if there was, then Auchie would conduct exhaustive research until he did. He knew the minutiae of shaft components, golf club heads, grips, hosels, kick points, degree of bounce required for different playing surfaces, you name it, he knew it. He’d tried more golf gadgets than any other golf journalist alive, probably had a vast collection of them stored in his homes in Orlando, Oregon and California.

He loved to play too, often and quickly, which certainly appealed to me. Every time I played with him he had a new piece of equipment in his bag, whether it was from a main stream manufacturer or some obscure company no one had heard of. No one except Auchie.

I first met him in 1995 when we teed it up at Carnoustie with fellow colleagues Jeff Rude and Dave Seanor. Rude and I against Seanor and Auchie. After nine holes, Rude and I had an unassaible lead because Seanor was struggling with his driver to the point where Auchie said in his laconic drawl:

“Dave, you need to get some help!”

My initial impression of Auchie wasn’t favourable because he welched on our four-ball bet because his partner couldn’t hit a fairway that day (sorry Dave).

However, it didn’t take long for me to realise I’d found a kindred spirit. We shared the same cynical attitude to the professional game, but loved the other side of golf – the amateur game, rules of golf, shared a respect for the lot of club professionals, for stories that see little light in these days of page views and clicks.

I consider myself a massive lover of this game, a bit of a geek, but I don’t think my love for this game of gowf was greater than Auchie’s. He lived and breathed it. It consumed him.

Auchie wasn’t a typical golf writer. He trod his own path, took that fork in the road less travelled. I remember covering an Open Championship and being told Auchie had arrived the previous Sunday. I didn’t see him until Thursday morning. I enquired if he’d been ill, hence his absence. He told me he’s been at the course every day at 6am. He’d been doing his own thing. Sure enough, at the end of the week he turned in another great story, one only he could have written.

At the 2003 Open Championship at Royal St George’s, I got up about 4am to spend a penny. Auchie’s door was slightly ajar as I walked past his room. There was Auchie, in his pyjamas, sat on the floor with his back against the bed, notes all around him typing away on his laptop. He didn’t even notice me, so absorbed was he in the story he was writing, in the game of golf, in his life’s work.

My favourite Auchie moment came en route to the PGA Tour Qualifying School at Orange County National just outside Orlando. We were passing a new subdivision and Auchie said:

“Look at all those new houses. Square boxes. Aren’t they depressing?”

There was one of Auchie’s significant pauses before he continued.

“I live in a house like that.”

Another pause.

“Still, I don’t suppose any of my neighbours have a driving net in their living room.”

I still have visions of Auchie standing in his pyjamas at 4am in his living room hitting balls into his driving net, trying out another new swing thought.

Somewhat different, somewhat eccentric, but very special was James Achenbach.

R.I.P. Auchie. By the way, I relinquish you of that Carnoustie bet. You more than made up for it in the years we spent talking golf. I learned much. Hopefully I taught a few things too.

#JustSaying: “Golf is … a game of considerable passion, either of the explosive type or that which burns inwardly and sears the soul."

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