A day in the life with Kelly Mitchum — and the Golf Channel

Pinehurst’s Kelly Mitchum is interviewed by A Golf Channel production crew for a segment in “The Road to the PGA Championship,” which will air at 2 p.m. on July 29 on CBS. (Click to enlarge.)

Those who have followed the PGA Professional National Championship already know the news. Pinehurst Resort lead golf professional Kelly Mitchum not only qualified for the PGA Championship, he tied for second at the Bayonet Course in Seaside, Calif., at the end of June.

But “The Road to the PGA Championship,” a program produced by the Golf Channel that will air at 2 p.m. on July 29 on CBS, will keep its more uninformed viewers in suspense as it follows the story arc of five competitors at the PGA National Championship.

And Kelly Mitchum is one of those featured competitors.

A three-man crew from the Golf Channel – Co-Producer Eric Morris, Director of Photography Steve Derstine and Sound Mixer Joel Tower — spent the day at Pinehurst Resort on Monday, July 2, gathering footage and conducting interviews for Mitchum’s segment. What follows is a diary of those initial production stages that took place Monday.

June 27-24 What begins as a field of 312 golf professionals hoping to earn a trip to the PGA Championship ends with just 20 players – only 6 percent of the entrants – actually punching their ticket to The Ocean Course at Kiawah, S.C. The PGA Championship will be played from Aug. 9-12.

While Derstine and Morris are working the field at the National Championship for The Golf Channel’s live national broadcast of the event, they know they are also gathering footage for the program they’ll be working on just a week later. They shoot a lot of the players who are on the cut bubble from as early as the second round. Mitchum, who stays near the top of the leaderboard for most of the tournament, doesn’t cross their paths often.

Until Monday.

7:30 a.m. After driving from Jacksonville, Fla., the night before, Derstine and Tower arrive at the Pinehurst Resort Club, where they meet Morris, who flew in the day before from New York. The crew hauls in a large HD camera, two wheeled dollys to move the camera around, a large tripod and other equipment. Tower has a bag that carries the technical sound equipment and a case for the large boom microphone he will set up for interviews.

“Anytime we can drive, that’s a good day for us,” Derstine says. “Flying? With this equipment? No thanks.”

7:55 The crew grabs a golf cart and heads to the Pinehurst Golf Academy, where Mitchum will be helping with the junior golf school. It’s a prime opportunity for the crew to gather footage of Mitchum in his element at Pinehurst.

8:11 Near one of the school’s putting greens, the crew sets up the camera and some light sound equipment adjacent to the practice range. A line of about 5-7 junior campers come out to work on their full swings. Mitchum talks to each of the campers individually, working up and down the line with suggestions and drills. This is just what the crew is looking for, and the three of them know it.

They will stay in this spot for nearly 2 hours.

“It’s perfect,” Morris says. “We couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

But it will get better.

Director of Photography Steve Derstine and Sound Mixer Joel Tower gather footage as Pinehurst’s Kelly Mitchum works with junior golfers at the Pinehurst Golf Academy. (Click to enlarge.)

9:58 a.m. The campers take minimal breaks here and there, but the crew takes a water break with them this time. For 15 minutes, they huddle under the roof of the Golf Academy, shaded from the morning sun. It isn’t hot – yet.

10:14 Morris takes a quick minute to speak with Academy Director Eric Alpenfels, one of Golf Digest’s Top 50 teachers in the country. Morris wants a sit-down interview with Alpenfels talk about Mitchum’s impact on the club, the Academy and the man himself. They arrange to meet at 11:30 right after Alpenfels sends the campers to lunch and before the mower comes out to work on the range.

“I don’t know if it will make it to air,” says Morris, “but you never know.”

10:35 Mitchum and the kids are back out on the range. Again Mitchum goes through each camper, one-by-one. None of them are beginners, but they vary in skill level. Mitchum takes a hands-on approach, holding one camper’s club and moving under and around him to mimic the correct swing path. He makes a complicated move appear effortless, and the results are evident after a few more swings.

“All right! That’s it!” Mitchum hollers.

It’s no surprise that the crew has inched closer, and taking the camera on smaller, shorter mount, they have become more mobile.

“This is great stuff,” Morris says.

As they became aware of Mitchum’s personal approach with each individual camper, the crew moved closer and closer for better angles and sound. (Click to enlarge.)

10:46 The crew moves directly behind 14-year-old Austin Lavitt, of Rye Brook, N.Y., as Mitchum works with him. Not only is the kid working one-on-one with a pro headed to his fourth PGA Championship, now he has a professional camera crew behind him.

“It was interesting,” Lavitt says after a sigh. “I was just trying to stay focused on my swing. That was…interesting.” Lavitt heads to the water cooler.

11:07 After trying a few different angles along the range, the crew moves past the range and to the left of the putting green. Here they will set up Alpenfels’ interview.

Out comes the large tripod again and Derstine and Tower go to work assembling three white square-shaped screens. They are called silks, and they help reduce shadow under natural light. Derstine won’t use any electric light equipment. “We could’ve gone inside the clubhouse,” says Morris, “but it’s so danged pretty out here. We’ll just set up shots outside.”

11:36 Alpenfels is fitted with a wireless lapel mic and sits in a chair opposite Morris, who will not be heard or seen on camera. Outfitted in a Masters hat, bright yellow golf shirt and khaki shorts, it’s a good thing.

11:40 Morris goes over the questions before starting the interview. He tells Alpenfels that where this segment is expected to air in the program, the results of the top 20 will not be known yet. “I’ll prompt you in a way that keeps you from mentioning that Kelly’s already made it,” Morris says.

The magic of television — with Pinehurst Golf Academy Director Eric Alpenfels. (Click to enlarge.)

11:44 In less than 4 minutes, the interview is done. Alpenfels asks whether he needs to go over anything again. “There was a part I stumbled little,” he says.

Not a problem, according to Derstine. Morris agrees. “The magic of television,” he tells Alpenfels. “It’s amazing what can be done these days.”

Noon The Academy pros have already headed for lunch with the campers. After breaking down the interview setup, the crew will join them in the Donald Ross Grille.

1:05 p.m. The crew is setting up again, this time for Mitchum’s interview. They are on the left side of the Academy’s range, angling toward one of the Putter Boy logos on the large white door. Everything is back in place. All they need now is Mitchum.

1:21 He comes out donning a navy blue Pinehurst golf shirt, khaki pants and a Titleist cap. His easy smile and laid back demeanor make for easy banter with the crew. The four of them wait as a practice green is watered in the background of the shot. (“It’ll only be 5 minutes,” Mitchum says. “Got to keep them watered.”) As that task is finished, Mitchum walks to the approaching range cart gathering practice balls, asking that the driver stay on the opposite side of Maniac Hill for the next few minutes. The driver happily obliges.

One might think this is a job for the producer. Mitchum, though, does it without even being asked. Anything he can do to help.

1:32 The outdoor shot is tougher than it looks. Temperatures have spiked to well over 90 since breaking for lunch.  And while the silks provide shade, they also reflect sunlight to eliminate shadow. “Hey, anything you guys can do to make it a little brighter out here,” Mitchum jokes.

The star — comfortable in front of the camera. (Click to enlarge.)

1:35 They start the interview, again with Morris informing Mitchum about the program’s intent on suspense.

Mitchum is a natural.

1:36 “It’s every golfer’s dream to turn professional and reach the PGA Tour,” Mitchum says. “I played on the Nike Tour, the Canadian Tour and went through Tour school a few times. About that time I realized that this was a tough way to make a living.”

1:37 “I quickly found that teaching was the thing I really wanted to do.”

1:38 “I’m able to teach full time and still be able to slip away and play in a few tournaments here and there.”

1:39 “It’s fun to see that beginning player get the ball into the air for the first time, and it’s fun to see that junior golfer win his first tournament.”

1:40 “Pinehurst is a special place. The history and tradition speaks for itself, and when you walk down those halls and see those old photos, you know it’s special. I’m proud to work here.”

A light breeze causes one of the silks to flutter during one of Mitchum’s last answers. Derstine and Tower exchange looks, and Tower shrugs his shoulders.

1:45 The interview done, Tower inspects the silks. There’s a tear down the left side, revealing a small hole. “A sound mixer’s nightmare, right Joel?” Derstine says. “I’ve asked for a new one for a while,” Tower responds.

1:54 Morris and Mitchum meet briefly to discuss gathering some of Mitchum’s family photos together. After all, Monday marks Mitchum’s 17th anniversary with his wife Maria.

“Well, this is one way to remember it,” Mitchum says.

The shot. (Click to enlarge.)

2 p.m. Mitchum heads home to pick up the photos for Derstine to shoot. The anniversary angle is a good one for Morris. The day of shooting could not have gone any better. He has Mitchum working with kids, and at 5 p.m. in front of the famous Putter Boy statue, he’ll get an interview with Mitchum and his wife.

The piece is coming together.

“We’ll probably have about 2-3 hours of footage, not including what we shot at the tournament,” Morris says.

How long will the segment be?

“Total?” Morris asks? “About 4 minutes.”