Jack Nicklaus played a round of golf at the Old Works in Anaconda in the summer of 1997.
A crowd of more than 3,000 followed as the Golden Bear talked about golf and the decisions behind designing each hole of the course that covered the old Superfund site.
“Who’s that carrying his clubs,” someone asked a couple holes into the round.
Carrying Nicklaus’ giant golf bag was a big job. The bag was almost as big as the poor guy tasked with lugging it around on the hot summer day.
“I don’t know his name,” another man answered. “I guess he’s the best sportswriter in the state. That’s why he gets to be Jack’s caddy.”
Bruce Sayler and I looked at each other.
“I beg to differ,” I said.
Bruce was the best sportswriter in the state. I thought that then, and I still think that now.
He and I were covering the event for the Standard. I was an part-time summer hand about to begin my last semester at the University of Montana, while Bruce was the veteran scribe.
I thought I was the next Mike Lupica, so I was pretty sure I was a better writer than the caddy, too, even though I had yet to read a word he wrote.
Plus, that caddy/writer just seemed a little full of himself. He probably thought he was better than other people.
If being the best sportswriter in the state was the criteria for carrying the Golden Bear’s clubs, this guy should have been at least third in line, I figured.
In the years following Jack’s round at the Old Works, I got to know the caddy fairly well. It turns he was a little full of himself, but he was a nice guy.
He was a pretty darn good sportswriter, too. I am not sure he was good enough to carry the clubs of the second-greatest golfer of all time, but he was pretty good.
If he was worthy of that Nicklaus caddy assignment, however, then Scott Mansch should have been playing alongside the Golden Bear.
Mansch retired last week after a long, distinguished career writing about sports for The Great Falls Tribune.
When hearing the news, which is good for Scott but bad for sports fans, I thought of that story for some reason. It was not Scott carrying Nicklaus’ clubs because that was not his style. But it still made me think of him.
I have long been a fan of Mansch and his writing. Back before every paper was on the internet, I would go to the journalism school library at the University of Montana to check out papers around the country.
There, I would read about the Bears in The Chicago Tribune, and Lupica in The New York Daily News. Before I left, I would always check out the Great Falls paper and look for Mansch.
Scott was never flashy like Lupica, but that is what I admired about him. He always had a great, low-key style that told me that he understood that the game was always bigger than the writer.
For more than 30 years, Mansch stood in the shadows and helped shine the spotlight on the best of sports around the state.
Whether it was the Big Sky Conference, the Frontier Conference, the rodeo, the Great Falls Bison or the Great Falls Russell Rustlers, Mansch always gave his all to the teams and athletes he was covering.
He also gave his best to the teams that were playing the teams he was covering.
Scott’s pieces were must-read. He covered athletes from all corners of the state, and no athlete — no matter how big — would dare pass up the chance to be part of his Sunday conversations in the Tribune.
Colt Anderson, Dave Dickinson, Marc Mariani and all the Montana greats sat down to talk to Scott, who always treats everybody like a star.
Following the Montana-Montana State football game one year, I introduced myself to Scott at the postgame press conference.
“Hi Scott, I’m Bill Foley,” I said.
I was honored when Scott cut me off and said that he knew who I was. Before I could tell him how big of a fan of his I was, he talked about how much he liked my writing.
A couple of years ago, I took my son to a Great Falls Voyagers game in Great Falls. We were in town for an All-Star Little League tournament, and I sent Scott a text to see if he was covering the game.
I figured I might drop by the press box to say hi.
Instead, Scott came down to the third-base line and sat with my son and me as the Voyagers played the Billings Mustangs.
We talked for an hour about everything except the game. It was a night that I will never forget, and every time I’ve talked to Scott since he asks about my son and his baseball career.
The father of three and grandfather of four always goes out of his way to wish my family the best.
As great as he has been at writing sports all these years, Mansch is an even better person. That is saying a lot because his name has long been mentioned when talking about the all-time great sportswriters in the state.
In his true humble style, Mansch would scoff at such a claim. He never seemed to like the attention to be on him.
That is why you would never see Scott carrying a golf bag as a reward for being the best. Unless, that is, he had a chance to carry the clubs for the great Brett Favre.
Mansch was always a huge Favre fan, probably because the quarterback was a lunch-pail player much in the same way Scott was a lunch-pail sports writer. He is the Brett Favre of sports writing.
Year after year and story after story, the hard-working Mansch proved that he was as good as it gets. He is a pro’s pro.
Sports fans in Montana will miss him, and the Tribune will never be able to fill those humble shoes.
I, for one, will greatly miss Scott. I will miss reading his work, and I will miss catching up with him at sporting events.
Here’s hoping Scott enjoys his retirement, and here’s hoping we get the chance to read his writing again somewhere along the line.
If he ever gets the chance to play that round with Nicklaus, I just hope I will be considered good enough to carry his clubs.
— Bill Foley, the next Mike Lupica, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.