Mike Ehrmann is a golf nut. “I’m obsessed with it,” he says of the game, which he first played as a kid and then, like many others, gave up for a stretch before coming back to it in his twenties.
Now 47, Ehrmann has been to more than his share of golf tournaments over the years, including the Ryder Cup and all the major championships. Last year, he fulfilled a dream by getting his dad a ticket for Sunday at the Masters and even set up a chair for him alongside the 18th green. Ehrmann’s mom had always wanted to go to Augusta National, too. She never got the chance, passing away several years ago, so last year’s trip with his father took on added meaning, and that father-son experience was only enhanced by Tiger Woods’ historic win.
Ehrmann was also one of the select golf fans on site for the recent TaylorMade Driving Relief charity event at Seminole Golf Club. He was there in a working capacity, mind you – as the lone still photographer for Getty Images. And it’s Ehrmann who is responsible for perhaps the most iconic image of professional golf during the coronavirus era.
Ehrmann took between 2,000 and 2,500 photos that afternoon at Seminole, a course the South Florida resident had long been itching to see in person. But the magic moment came early in the day, as four of the game’s most popular pros headed off from the first tee. Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff all wore shorts, a significant departure from a regular Sunday on the PGA TOUR. They all had golf bags on their backs, the simplest of throwbacks, and were perfectly spaced as they walked down the fairway. At first glance, it could have been a photo of a foursome of golf buddies at any course in America.
If a picture says 1,000 words, this one said 10,000. It was a perfect visual summary of why golf is among the first major U.S. sports to return to competition — offering a safe, healthy, fun outdoor activity during a time of distancing and uncertainty.
“In my head, I’m thinking, ‘tour pros never carry bags,’ so you’re trying to tell some stories while it’s all happening,” Ehrmann says. “They walk off 1 and luckily I was able to get TV to hang back long enough for those guys. When you watch it unfold and they’re walking down the fairway with bags on their shoulders, it gets a little surreal. It slows down for a minute and it all kind of falls together.”
“It’s one of those moments where you’re like, ‘Wow, this is not something we’ll probably see again for a long time,’” Ehrmann said. “And we won’t see it this week because I think they’ll be in carts. Tiger isn’t carrying a bag around Medalist.”
On May 24, Ehrmann will also be the only still photographer in attendance at The Match: Champions for Charity. And while Woods, Phil Mickelson, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will be in carts, Ehrmann will be “hoofing it,” as usual. He topped 20,000 steps at Seminole and expects to do more at Medalist as he seeks to stay ahead of the action.
As highly-regarded as Seminole and Medalist are, Ehrmann’s photos are an excellent reminder that it’s imagery of golfers themselves that often have the most impact.
A simple Google search for “local golf courses” often reveals a rundown of nearby facilities with course imagery that shows little differentiation. How many of those actually show customers having fun or enjoying themselves, as you’d expect to see in other experience-driven businesses? The answer is likely not many.
Rather than staged or stock imagery of golfers, many golf facilities would be better served capturing the candid moments of excitement, enjoyment and escapism that we all know golf provides. It’s one of the reasons that Ehrmann’s photo of four pro golfers walking down the fairway resonated so strongly. These are the kinds of moments to better showcase and celebrate in addition to those of a solitary beautiful golf hole.
Ehrmann’s passion for golf isn’t the only reason he particularly loves covering golf events. It’s also the freedom that a golf course offers, unlike the other sports.
“We have a lot of creative freedom out there in golf,” he said. “Being such a golf-head myself, it’s something I really enjoy – learning the kinds of pictures you want to make before I make them. You try to put yourself in the right position.”
Like a golfer carrying his golf bag, Ehrmann tries to consolidate his equipment as much as possible – heeding valuable advice from a friend and former Navy Seal who taught him how to “own your ruck.” He typically brings two camera bodies, 3-4 lenses and a few other items, like a GoPro camera for certain spots. With a wireless transmitter in his camera and a portable MIFI pack, Ehrmann is able to scroll through photos, voice caption an image and send it to a Getty Images editor for almost immediate distribution.
The first televised golf competition since the coronavirus shut down the PGA TOUR season looked much different than usual, but golf is presented with a unique opportunity at the forefront of the gradual return of professional sports. Ehrmann is excited to be a part of that, even if it means added pressure from being the only photographer on site.
“You don’t want to miss anything,” he acknowledges. “And inevitably, you’re going to. You can’t be everywhere at the same time.”
It’s what makes capturing memorable images like those he took at Seminole particularly rewarding. While Ehrmann had an idea at the time about how good some of his photos might be – and how well they might be received — he says he tries not get caught up in the moment, instead constantly thinking about what’s next.
“When you come back and see that picture and how much it’s gotten out there, and how much people are talking about it, it is a really cool thing,” Ehrmann said, noting that his phone was “blowing up” after the charity golf event at Seminole. “And those guys are posting (your) pictures on their personal pages. That part of it, that never gets old. To see a picture that you really like, that nobody else really gets to do, and then is shown to the world is really a special feeling.”
Erik is the Editorial Director for the NGF. Before joining the National Golf Foundation, he spent more than two decades with Bloomberg News, both as a writer and editor, with a focus on sports business and the golf industry. The New Jersey resident has also written about golf for outlets that include Forbes, LINKS and the Met Golfer.