A Witness to History: Sportscaster Ted Sobel’s Firsthand Stories Of Greatness
If you’re an avid Southern California sports fan who has been lucky enough to attend an event that became sports history, or if you had a ticket to a game in which your favorite team won the championship, you have memories you’ll always cherish.
Maybe you saw the Los Angeles Lakers win five NBA championships with Magic Johnson in the 1980s, or complete a “three- peat” with Shaq and Kobe in 2000-2001-2002, or ride LeBron James to another title in 2020.
Maybe you were there when Kirk Gibson limped to the plate and hit a pinch-hit, walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to start Tommy Lasorda’s underdog Dodgers on their way to winning the 1988 World Series.
Maybe you saw a skinny, 16-year-old Tiger Woods make his debut in a PGA Tour event at The Riviera CC in 1992. Or saw a wincing Tiger somehow win the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in a 19-hole playoff while playing with two stress fractures in his left leg and a torn ACL that days later required reconstructive knee surgery. Or saw a 43-year-old Tiger win the 2019 Masters almost two years after spinal fusion back surgery that saved a career highlighted by a record-tying 82 PGA Tour wins and 15 majors.
Or, if you’re fortunate, maybe your name is Ted Sobel, the longtime Los Angeles radio reporter and sportscaster, and you witnessed all of the above notable events — and many, many more in a career spanning five decades and counting.
Now, you can live vicariously through Sobel, who has chronicled all of the history he has witnessed, and all of the legendary athletes and entertainers he has interviewed and rubbed shoulders with, in a book released in 2021 entitled Touching Greatness: Tales from the Front Row with Heroes and Legends. (The book is available on Amazon.)
Sobel, who turns 70 in July, sums up his personal scrapbook of memories in the book’s introduction this way: “Who on this planet wouldn’t want to be a witness to greatness?”
Indeed. And during a memorable, award-winning broadcasting career that he estimates featured more than 40,000 sports updates on radio, Sobel weaves together a tapestry of colorful and sometimes humorous anecdotes that make the book an informative and entertaining read.
While working for 23 years as a reporter at KFWB, parts of three decades at KNX as a reporter/ anchor and occasionally at all-sports KMPC — he still works for Sports USA network on NFL and NHL broadcasts — Sobel covered dozens of Super Bowls, World Series, NBA and NHL Finals, college football and basketball national championships, golf and tennis majors, as well as Triple Crown horse races. He also estimates he has interacted with 750 Hall of Famers in sports, music and show business.
Even if you don’t know who Sobel is — “Of course, you don’t,” he says, laughing — he promises smiles and laughs and delivers them in the play-by-play of his life and career.
Sobel is a lifelong Angeleno — born at Temple Hospital, educated at Culver Junior High, Fairfax High, Santa Monica College and Los Angeles City College — so his life is the perfect prism through which Southern California sports history can be examined and relived. And his passion for all the local sports teams and stars shines through brightly.
He is the ultimate sports insider, so the name-dropping (Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, John Wooden, Sandy Koufax, Phil Jackson, Wayne Gretzky, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Phil Mickelson and Tiger) is not gratuitous. Sobel has personal stories about all of them.
This is a golf magazine, so we’ll focus on Sobel’s favorite golf moments —including the aforementioned Tiger achievements: 1992 at Riviera, 2008 at Torrey Pines and 2019 at Augusta National.
The great Sam Snead was being honored at Riviera during the 1992 Nissan LA Open, so he was able to watch 16-year-old Tiger’s PGA Tour debut and was duly impressed, even though Woods missed the cut. Yes, Sobel chatted with Snead that week, too. Thirty years later, Tiger and Slammin’ Sammy are tied at 82 PGA Tour wins. Think about that symmetry.
Sobel is still incredulous that Tiger won the 2008 U.S. Open on one good leg when it looked as if he might have to withdraw several times. “I wondered how he could even finish any rounds,” recalled Sobel, who drove back and forth from Torrey every day so he could also cover the Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals at Staples Center. “It was one of the most miraculous victories in the history of sports.”
While Woods was meeting reporters after his riveting 19-hole Monday playoff win over Rocco Mediate — Tiger then called it the greatest win of his career — Hank Haney, then Tiger’s coach, told Sobel in the back of the media interview room, “He couldn’t walk three weeks ago. Amazing, simply amazing! He should be on crutches.”
It became even more amazing two days later, when the severity of Tiger’s true injuries were revealed. It proved to be his last tournament for nine months.
Sobel says that covering six consecutive Masters beginning in 2014 are among his most-cherished memories, culminating in Tiger’s “Comeback of All Comebacks,” his 2019 Masters victory playing with a fused spine not long after his fifth back surgery. Interestingly, two-time Masters champ Ben Crenshaw told Sobel before Thursday’s opening round in Augusta that week that Tiger looked really good warming up and that winning was not out of the question, if he could hole enough putts. “It was the most amazing sporting event I ever covered,” Sobel said.
There are many more golf stories — about PGA Tour and LPGA Tour stars, about all of the athletes and celebs he interviewed during the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am over the years, about serving as on-site producer for the first live network radio play-by-play coverage of a golf major, the 1995 PGA Championship at Riviera, as well as serving seven years as the 18th hole announcer for the LPGA’s Kraft Nabisco Championship (formerly the Dinah Shore). And Ted’s self-deprecating account of making a “snowman” 8 on the par-3 No. 12 at Augusta National is a classic: three in the water, one in the back bunker, one in the hole. (Take that, Tin Cup!)
Sobel obviously has major interview skills, because Greg Norman (who famously lost all four majors in playoffs) once admitted to Sobel during an interview before the Shark Shootout at Sherwood CC that, yes, he had been guilty of “choking” during his stellar career.
But you’ll have to read the book to appreciate all the details so that you too can relive all the moments — and touch the greatness — that made Sobel’s broadcasting career so memorable and remarkable.