By Don Rhodes | Photos courtesy of Lee Sheridan (AKA Corky Lynn)
92-Year-Old Lee Sheridan, Master of Masters’ TV coverage, still lives by his philosophy: ‘You take what you get and work with it’
Augusta television legend Lee Sheridan, who turned 92 last June, vividly remembers a special request former First Lady Mamie Doud Eisenhower had during one of her many visits to the Augusta National Golf Course after her husband, five-star Army general and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, died in 1969.
“Mrs. Eisenhower would still come back to the tournament and visit the club from time to time even after the general passed away,” the former WRDW-TV broadcaster and operations manager related. “Phil Wahl, the club manager who was a good friend of mine, called me one time and said, ‘Mrs. Eisenhower wants very desperately to see this golf tournament.’
“The Bob Hope Classic wasn’t being broadcast in Augusta, because the NBC network wasn’t available here,” Sheridan continued. “We only had ABC (WJBF) and CBS (WRDW) in Augusta. The tournament was on NBC and out of California. But we set up a closed-circuit broadcast strictly for Mrs. Eisenhower.
“She came to our studio [in North Augusta, South Carolina], and we put her in the conference room, and we had the broadcast piped in so she could watch it. She wrote us a nice letter afterward; a very gracious lady.”
Did she want to see Bob Hope? That seems the next natural question knowing how the President and the First Lady were close to many famous conservative-minded entertainers.
Sheridan laughed and replied, “No, she wanted to see Arnold Palmer who was playing in that tournament. He had supported a lot of things like the Eisenhower Foundation;” referring to the non-profit organization formed in 1945 after World War II to create a memorial to General Eisenhower.
The Foundation brought about the opening of “The Boyhood Home” in 1947, the Eisenhower Museum opened in 1954 and the Eisenhower Presidential Library opening in 1962 all in Abilene, Kansas.
Eisenhower had joined the Augusta National in 1948 before he won the 1952 and 1956 presidential elections. The club built “Mamie’s Cabin” for the couple in 1953 near the 10th tee with a room in the basement for his Secret Service protectors.
It was about 75 years ago that the life of Sheridan Lee Lynn changed forever in the small town of Sumter, South Carolina, in the middle of the state, east of Columbia.
He was 17 years old and was the star pitcher on the local American Legion Junior baseball team. Lynn was a likeable guy known by his nickname of “Corky.”
“Nobody knew me anything but Corky when I was growing up,” he recalled. His older brother had started calling him Corky after a character in the immensely popular “Gasoline Alley” newspaper comic strip about life a small town.
Corky Wallet, son of main characters Walt and Phyllis Wallet, had been born in 1928, the same year as Corky Lynn. His stepbrother, Allison “Skeezix” Wallet, had been found abandoned on the Wallet’s doorstep and would grow up to run the Gasoline Alley filling station.
Two weeks after Corky Lynn graduated from Sumter High School with dreams of playing baseball for the American Legion’s minor league team, Lynn was diagnosed with infantile paralysis; more commonly known as polio.
America’s most famous victim of the disease, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, had died just three months earlier with Vice President Harry S Truman succeeding him.
On the night of Friday, July 20, 1945, the Sumter American Legion Junior baseball team played a double header against the Florence (South Carolina) team at the local municipal park with the evening being billed as “Corky Lynn Night.”
The local newspaper noted, “Young Lynn, infantile paralysis victim, will be the beneficiary of the two games. No admission will be charged, but a collection will be taken up and all proceeds will be turned over to medical treatment for him.”
He would spend two weeks in a hospital in Columbia, South Carolina, in isolation undergoing the “Sister Kenny treatment” of hot compresses placed on his legs; a method devised by a self-taught Australian nurse named Elizabeth Kenny.
You can imagine what a depressing and scary time it was for a teenager fresh out of high school.
“I was known as the ‘ace pitcher.’ I was supposed to be No 1 for our team,” Sheridan related. “But, you take what you get and work with it. That’s all I can say.”
It was Sumter’s American Legion post commander George Levy, later to serve as the South Carolina state commander, who asked Lynn what he planned to do with his life. The teenager then was running a small bowling alley for a friend at the time.
Lynn thought, with his background playing baseball and football, and love of people in general that maybe radio broadcasting might be something to pursue.
The Legion commander knew Doug Youngblood, the owner and manager, of Sumter’s 250 watts AM station WFIG (World Famous Iris Gardens) and agreed to recommend Lynn for employment.
That’s when Sheridan Lee “Corky” Lynn became Lee Sheridan.
“I told Doug Youngblood that I didn’t want to be Corky Lynn on the air in case I screwed up. I didn’t want all of my friends to know. So he said, ‘Why not make it Lee Sheridan?’”
It was a friend named Hank Pointel who made the connection to WRDW-AM radio station in Augusta which then was broadcasting from the old Masonic Building at the corner of Broad and Eighth Streets where the Dyer Building had existed before the 1916 fire.
Pointel, whose mother was living in Augusta, was going back and forth working in Sumter and Augusta and in 1950 recommended “Lee Sheridan” be hired for WRDW as a staff announcer and sports director.
“My first vision of television came right here in the Augusta area,” Sheridan later would tell an Augusta civic club. “My program director at WRDW bought a TV set, and we watched Atlanta play Charlotte in a baseball game.”
Between 1952 and 1955, Sheridan was lured away to WDOD-AM radio station in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as sports director. He returned to his hometown of Sumter and back on WFIG radio for a year until returning to Augusta in 1956; this time to work for WRDW television station which had gone on the air Valentine’s Day of 1954.
WRDW radio and television stations then were owned by The Augusta Chronicle. The full page advertisement on Christmas Day of 1956 wishing its readers seasonal greetings from the employees not only listed Sheridan’s name but also that of WRDW on-air stars Jim Davis (later to jump ship to WJBF-TV) and Bill Tennent as well as Chronicle key folks such as administrators William S. Morris and William S. “Billy” Morris III, TV and radio columnist Don Shepherd and General Manager J.W. West.
Many of the Chronicle and Augusta Herald’s sports writers such as Robert Eubanks, Al Ludwick, Bill Baab and Johnny Hendrix became good friends of Sheridan as well as mentors.
“All of those people were very, very kind to me when I was just starting out in television,” he said. “They always were very helpful. I got my own experience by paying attention to what they were doing, and that was really good for me.”
Because television coverage of the Masters’ Tournament was in its infancy on the CBS network affiliated with WRDW, Sheridan immediately as sports director began developing the station’s hallmark, classic, in-depth coverage which continues to this day.
And in doing so Sheridan became close friends with club general manager Phil Wahl, ANGC co-founder Clifford Roberts and many of the Green Jacket champions.
It was Wahl, club manager from 1961 until his death in a car accident in 1978 near the Augusta National, who recommended that Sheridan work with the late Reginald B. Wells on the production of the official Masters’ highlight films now seen on the Golf Channel.
“I did that for about five years flying to New York City to work as an editor on those movies,” Sheridan said.
His close relationship with the Augusta National Golf Course would continue in later years when Sheridan served as operations and program manager of WRDW (1966-1977), general manager of WATU television station (NBC, Channel 26, 1977-1980) and vice president and station manager of WAGT television station (NBC, Channel 26, 1980-1991).
The same year of 1956 that Sheridan joined WRDW television was the same year that CBS began televising the Masters covering only the final four holes with six cameras.
You would think that the network would love to have their local affiliate work with the out-of-town crew, but Sheridan said that wasn’t the case in the early years.
“The network really didn’t work with us that much. They had their own agenda of what they wanted to do,” Sheridan remarked. “There were only two stations doing anything with much Masters coverage in Augusta (WJBF and WRDW, and I just knew we could be competitive. The whole thing turned out well.”
Although Sheridan came to admire most of the champions, he still ran into at least one (whom he did not name) who was less than cooperative.
“Not everybody is gracious,” he said. “They all are not a Palmer or a Player and not a Nicklaus or a Chi Chi Rodriguez. Not everybody is willing to take the time and do what they say they will do.”
Sheridan watched key winners undergo public image transformations from just being top golfers to becoming media icons as the sport grew in world-wide popularity and the winners began being courted by Madison Avenue advertisers.
“Nicklaus changed his image totally. He was a bit overweight and some people called him ugly names like ‘Fat Jack.’ He got blonde hair, went on a diet and became the Golden Bear. That certainly was a big step in his popularity. You think of Nicklaus as the Golden Bear, and you think of Palmer with his colorful umbrella logo and Gary Player as the Black Knight.”
Sheridan saw media coverage of the Masters tournaments go from a couple of hundred print and electronic representatives to several thousand.
“The business has changed so much. The players don’t have time to do everything individually with all of the local stations.”
It certainly wasn’t like that when Sheridan and Chronicle Sports Editor Jim Martin each year would take Nicklaus out to dinner at the Town Tavern restaurant on Seventh Street near Reynolds when he came the week before the Masters for practice rounds. That was when the champion would stay over a day after the Masters so he could play at least 18 holes with General Eisenhower, Sheridan said.
Sheridan retired from WAGT television in 1991. He turned 92 on June 4, 2020, and his wife, Harriet, turned 91 on June 21. They live in North Augusta where Sheridan served as a term as president of the Chamber of Commerce and has been inducted into the North Augusta Sports Hall of Fame.
They love spending time with their children (Danny, a retired South Carolina state trooper; Marjorie, Pat and Keith) and their grandchildren.
“Most of the time, I’m fairly coherent,” Sheridan said with a laugh. “Occasionally, when I’m athletically inclined and want to move around or do some things exercise wise, I can’t do that.
“But I’ve always said that if I can keep my mind going, I’ll be happy. I’ve got my iPhone, my iPad, my computer and cell phone and various things that I enjoy. And if I can keep up doing with that, then I can keep up with what’s going on.
“I told my wife that we just have got to be more cognizant of what’s happening. I like to keep up with the news even though I don’t LIKE the news.”
That seems like a fair enough evaluation from someone who both made the news and covered the news for more than 40 years.
You just know that the good folks back in Sumter, South Carolina, are mighty proud of their former ace American Legion baseball pitcher Corky Lynn.
Appears in the November 2020 issue of Augusta Magazine.