The Pro’s Pro

Rosaforte arrives at the Golf Writers Association of America Awards dinner prior to the start of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia.

When golf journalist Tim Rosaforte ’77 became just the 12th person ever to be awarded honorary PGA of America membership, no one was surprised. Rosaforte retired from a brilliant and influential career in 2019, when he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Rosaforte’s legacy includes a URI scholarship to help students studying neuroscience, the result of a team effort by his friends and colleagues, who will tell you that his real legacy is kindness, integrity, and trustworthiness.

By T.J. Auclair ’02

If there were a Mount Rushmore of modern-day golf journalists, Tim Rosaforte ’77 would be on it.

A giant in the world of golf journalism, Rosaforte earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and played on the University of Rhode Island football team.

Jaime Diaz, an awarding-winning golf writer and friend of Rosaforte, notes that there are parallels between Rosaforte’s football-playing days and his writing. He describes a phone call with Dave Campo, former Dallas Cowboys head coach and assistant football coach at University of Bridgeport (Conn.), where Rosaforte was a player in his first year of college, before he transferred to URI.

Rosaforte presented the Male Player of the Year award to Tiger Woods at the Golf Writer's Association of America awards dinner in Savannah, Ga., in 2007.
Rosaforte presented the Male Player of the Year award to Tiger Woods at the Golf Writer’s Association of America awards dinner in Savannah, Ga., in 2007.

“I called Dave Campo when I was writing a story about Tim in 2014, when he won the PGA of America Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism,” says Diaz, a longtime writer at Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest, and Golf World before moving to Golf Channel. “Campo hadn’t seen Tim since his football days but had instant memories of him. Campo described him as, ‘a good player who studied film, took angles, understood limitations, and played hard. He was one of those rare athletes who got almost all of it out of himself.’ I think Tim did that in his journalism career, too. Tim read that and said to me, ‘I will always keep that. That’s me. I took that football formula and that’s my life.’”

A legendary golf insider whose extensive contact list includes the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, as well as past U.S. presidents and countless Fortune 500 CEOs, Rosaforte began his remarkable career at the Tampa Times in 1977. He had stops at the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, The Palm Beach Post, and Sports Illustrated before heading to Golf Digest and Golf World, followed by a broadcast and writing career with Golf Channel. In 2019, the 66-year-old Rosaforte—arguably the most recognizable figure in golf media—was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, leading to the difficult decision to retire after a career that spanned four decades. The 2020 Masters Tournament, normally held in April, but postponed until November due to the COVID-19 pandemic, marked the first time Rosaforte had missed the Masters since 1983.

“I really didn’t know he was having memory issues,” says Craig Dolch, another award-winning golf writer and one of Rosaforte’s dearest friends. “He called me in late-December 2019 to tell me he was leaving the Golf Channel but didn’t get into specifics. I had heard from others that something was wrong—he originally thought it was anxiety. When I saw him at the 2020 Honda Classic, it hit me how he was struggling. We talked a little about it, but it was more about two old friends trying to catch up. It’s heartbreaking. I miss playing golf with him. I miss going to concerts with him. I miss calling him and bouncing ideas off him. I miss his smile.

“Rosaforte had two cell phones working at the same time. Arnold on line one, Tiger on line two.”
—Jim Nantz, CBS Sports lead announcer for golf, the NFL, and the NCAA Final Four

“Tim forever changed the golf media business, becoming the first true insider who gave you facts and inside info, not outrageous opinions,” Dolch adds. “He managed to stay relevant to two generations of star golfers.”

Jim Nantz, CBS Sports lead announcer for golf, the NFL, and the NCAA Final Four, describes Rosaforte as one of the most connected and trusted members of the golf media, someone who is on top of everything happening at the highest level of the sport.

“He had two cell phones working at the same time,” Nantz says. “Arnold on line one, Tiger on line two.

“To see Tim struggle with Alzheimer’s has been sad and shocking at the same time,” Nantz continues. “His mind was razor sharp for so long and then, all of a sudden, he was lost. Sadly, due to my father’s own battle with this insidious disease, I know the heartache it has caused for all who love Tim. Genevieve [Rosaforte’s wife] and the girls have handled the caregiving side of this with beautiful grace. It’s the untold story of Alzheimer’s. There are more people whose lives are changed almost overnight than just the one who is suffering from the disease.”

Rosaforte authored five books, covered 147 major championships and 17 Ryder Cups, and won over 40 awards for writing, including a Golf Writers Association of America “Grand Slam” for first-place magazine coverage in features, columns, event coverage, and special projects. In 2020, he became the 12th person ever to be awarded honorary PGA of America membership.

“Tim has connections like Tom Brady has rings.”
—Rich Lerner, host and commentator, Golf Channel

“You hear the phrase ‘pro’s pro,’” says Rich Lerner, a longtime colleague of Rosaforte’s at Golf Channel. “Tim is the quintessential pro’s pro. Busts his tail every day, working the smallest event with as much determination and focus as the biggest. I’d joke with him, ‘30 years into a legendary career, you’re hustling like a rookie trying to make an impression in his first week.’

“Tim has connections like Tom Brady has rings,” Lerner adds. “Presidents, Hall of Famers, superstars, actors. Rosie’s phone is a valuable piece of equipment. It speaks to his greatest strength: Trustworthiness. People trust Tim. Athletes will share with a reporter if they trust the reporter. Tim is, without question, one of the best golf journalists ever. Tim’s as generous and sweet as he is tough. He never let go of the old football player’s instinct for the ball, but he has a soft heart, too. For the 20 years my wife, Robin, and I, ran our charity golf event, Tim always made an appearance and a donation. He cares about the people in his life and about his work. One of the best human beings I have ever known. Loyal. Gives a damn. Smart. Tough. Good-hearted.”

Rosaforte with George W. Bush, 43rd president of the United States, at the opening ceremony of the 2021 Walker Cup at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla. Bush’s father, the late George H.W. Bush, 41st president of the United States, is one of the other 11 honorary PGA members.

Rosaforte presents the Charlie Bartlett Award to Jack Nicklaus during the Golf Writers Association of America 37th annual awards dinner in 2009 at the Savannah Rapids Pavillion in Augusta, Ga.

In recent months, fellow URI graduates Steve Napoli ’77 and Tom Ryan ’75, Hon. ’99, put together a team—which includes Rhode Island’s own Brad Faxon, an eight-time PGA Tour winner—to work with the University to create the Tim Rosaforte III ’77 Endowed Scholarship in Neuroscience.

“I’ve been in the golf industry my whole life and we crossed paths a lot,” explains Napoli, the 2003 recipient of the PGA of America Bill Strausbaugh Award, a national award given to an instructor who excels in mentoring fellow PGA professionals. “Honestly, I was sitting home one night, and I heard what was going on with Tim. I sent Tom [Ryan] a text and said, ‘Hey, Tom, wouldn’t it be nice if our alma mater could honor Tim in some way?’ Then, quite frankly, it took on a life of its own.”

Ryan, former chairman, president, and CEO of CVS/Caremark, was happy to get involved.

“When we approached URI and the foundation about it, they were thrilled,” Ryan says. “They couldn’t have been happier, and they ran with it. It was easy to do. Tim’s one of the great guys. People want to help him and his family and have some legacy at URI for Tim. That’s the real key—have a legacy for Tim. This endowment will go on in perpetuity and help students in years to come.”

The cause is close to Ryan’s heart.

In 2013, Ryan and his wife, Cathy, formed the University’s George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience—named in honor of Ryan’s parents—to support innovation in discovery science and translational medicine in the fight against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

“I lost my dad to Alzheimer’s, and I lost my mom because she took care of him,” Ryan says. “Alzheimer’s really killed them both, so it’s near to our family. We’re trying to make a difference and collaborate with other institutions around the country and the world. There’s no one who doesn’t know someone who has dementia or Alzheimer’s. It’s going to be a health-care tsunami with our aging demograpics. We must find a way to slow the progression and ultimately find a cure to this heartbreaking disease.

“Brad, Steve, and I met Tim and Genevieve for breakfast,” Ryan adds. “I presented some scholarship options that could be endowed in Tim’s name. It was a short discussion. The Rosaforte family wanted to help students majoring in interdisciplinary neuroscience.”

Faxon can’t remember when he first met Rosaforte, but says he was “omnipresent” if you were a player on the PGA Tour.

“Any time in my career that Tim came up to me, or called, I answered,” Faxon says. “It was always with a smile. The way he asked questions, he earned your trust. Every player felt the same. He had the ability to garner contact information to get the inside-the-ropes trust and you always felt you could tell him things off the record and feel secure. We had an extra bond because of his Rhode Island connection.”

Faxon says that bond with Rosaforte was especially noteworthy to him after the United States lost the 1995 Ryder Cup—a biennial competition between the best golfers in the United States and Europe—in heartbreaking fashion.

“We all had to go in the pressroom,” Faxon remembers. “And you know those times when there’s just nothing more to be said? This was one of those times. I remember sitting next to Tim and we didn’t say anything. It was just comforting. There wasn’t anything to say. A lot of journalists need a quick quote, but he sat there with us like he had lost, too.”

Like so many other giants in the golf world, Jack Nicklaus and Annika Sörenstam—arguably the greatest male and female golfers in history—had a special bond with Rosaforte.

“Tim has been a great friend for some 40 years,” says Nicklaus, who has more all-time major wins (18), than any other golfer in history. “He is also one of this generation’s great golf journalists.”

“There’s no one who doesn’t know someone who has dementia or Alzheimers. We must find a way to slow the progression and ultimately find a cure to this heartbreaking disease.”
—Tom Ryan, ’75, Hon. ’99, former president, chairman, and CEO of CVS/Caremark

“Tim has always been such a good guy and a hard worker,” recalls Sörenstam, a World Golf Hall of Famer and 72-time LPGA winner. “I remember him before his time at Golf Channel, back when he was writing and covering a lot of LPGA events. He always had the inside scoop because he had the trust of the players.”

Rosaforte was a mentor to so many, including this writer. I’m a 2002 URI graduate and I shared many media center lunches and conversations at PGA Tour events with Rosaforte for more than 15 years.

He loved the fact that, like him, I was a URI grad. When he wasn’t telling me stories from his days as a URI football player in the 1970s, he would often joke, “We’ve got to be at least the third and fourth most popular URI journalism grads behind Christiane Amanpour and John King, right?!”

Longtime award-winning golf writer Helen Ross explains that Rosaforte has always had the ability to make his subjects want to open up, allowing him to bring compelling stories to life.

Ross also credits Rosaforte for an opportunity that led to her dream of covering golf full time.

“I really got to know Tim when I served with him on the board of the Golf Writers Association of America,” she says. “And on a personal level, my life would have been a lot different had he not told me that the PGA Tour was looking for a managing editor for its new website back in 1995. He knew I wanted to write about golf full time, and I know he put in a good word for me. Not sure I’ve ever told him, but I will always be grateful for his support.”

Dolch will never forget the human side of Rosaforte.

In 2005, when Dolch was covering the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, his then-14-year-old son Eric was diagnosed with near-fatal encephalitis—an inflammation of the active tissues of the brain caused by an infection or an autoimmune response—which led to a life-changing brain injury.

When Eric was hospitalized in 2005, Rosaforte drove to Miami several times to take Dolch out to eat and to see Eric when he was in a coma.

In early 2006, when Dolch and his son were in Boston for rehab, Dolch received a call from Rosaforte.

“I got a call from Tim saying he was planning a family fundraiser the week of the Honda Classic,” Dolch remembers. “I didn’t ask him to; he just did it. And he did all the planning—he just asked me for some names of people I wanted to invite. He asked Raymond and Maria Floyd to host and pay for the fundraiser at Old Palm. Because of Tim, folks like Jack and Barbara Nicklaus, Don Shula, Olin Browne, Jesper Parnevik, Tom Fazio, JoAnne Carner, and Jimmy Roberts showed up. It raised more than $100,000 for our family. How do you say thanks to someone who does that?”

The way Rosaforte quickly organized this star-studded event for Dolch’s family left an impression on Diaz as well.

“One of most amazing nights I ever saw. Tim galvanized the Palm Beach golf world—the center of the universe—and got everybody to come to the dinner and donate money,” Diaz says. “Nicklaus, Floyd, [Greg] Norman, [Nick] Price. I went with Bob Toski. People were there because Tim asked, and they knew Craig. They were moved by this community effort and what Tim did with his resources.”

For Diaz, that event encapsulated the person Rosaforte is.

“To me, I always tried to be as good a sportswriter as I could, but what people remember most is, ‘What kind of guy was he?’” Diaz says. “I think Tim leads the league in leaving people feeling good.” •

If you wish to contribute to the Tim Rosaforte endowed scholarship to assist students in the field of neuroscience, visit urifae.org/rosafortescholarship. For information, contact Eric Schonewald at 401.874.9017 or eschonewald@uri.edu.

T.J. Auclair graduated from URI in 2002. He has covered professional golf since then, traveling to more than 70 major championships, spending 13 years at Turner Sports as a writer for PGA.com. Currently, he is director of content for The Caddie Network.

PHOTOS: Andrew Redington/Getty Images; Courtesy PGA of America
Courtesy Tom Ryan; David Cannon/Getty Images

One comment

  1. If you know me, you know I like to read. History, biographies, British mysteries. And golf. I have a decent collection of books. And one shelf dedicated to golf. Dad got me watching golf in the 60’s when black and white TV coverage was 30 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays. I’ve always been amazed how accurate someone could be hitting a sphere 1.68” in diameter, to distances of over several hundred yards, toward a 4” target. I was fortunate to sit on ranges in this country and in Great Britain, watching the best in the world practice shot after beautiful shot, landing right where they intended it to land. Golf and writing. Writing and golf. Neither activity is something in which I’ve succeeded but I sure have admired and appreciated some of the very best. Jack Whitaker, Ken Venturi, Ben Wright, Johnny Miller, Nick Faldo, Judy Rankin, David Feherty, Peter Allis and Henry Longhurst. And Tim Roseforte. I love the sport. Admire the writing. And will miss this voice.

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