David Cannon: The Rise of a Legendary Golf Photographer

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CNN

With his surname, you could say that David Cannon was predestined for a career behind the lens.

After receiving the PGA of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Photojournalism in May, the 67-year-old was hailed for his “technical mastery and artistic skill”.

Yet while his first professional camera was a Canon, the Englishman’s journey to becoming one of the world’s greatest sports photographers was anything but fatal: he never even had formal training.

Born in Sussex, Cannon was a talented golfer in his youth, with a handicap of one. Competing in many amateur tournaments, he finished eighth at the British Youths Golf Championship in 1974 and played alongside a young Nick Faldo in the following year’s tournament.

But sharing the fairways with the future six-time winner dashed any hopes Cannon had of a professional playing career.

“When I was playing with him [Faldo]it was like ‘Oh shit, I’m not even in the same league,'” he told CNN Sport. “He was just something else.”

Needing a job to cover the lack of financial reward in amateur golf, Cannon worked at a nylon sheet company, but after four years longed for a change of pace. When an impromptu chat with family friend Neville Chadwick, a photographer with the Leicester News Service, offered the opportunity to snap pictures of local sporting events, Cannon was all in.

Selling his car to fund a small telephoto lens and camera – naturally, a Canon AE-1 – shortly after he sat in a rugby stadium for a New Zealand Tour match in November 1979.

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The 24-year-old was armed with just two tricks that have served as the basis of his craft ever since: “Focus on the eyes and fill the frame.”

“I was gone, that was all. The light bulb went on,” Cannon said. “Playing golf suddenly took a huge back seat and every spare minute I had was buying cameras with spare money, taking pictures, going to games.”

In 1983, having covered everything from the Commonwealth Games in Australia to the FIFA World Cup qualifiers in Honduras, he joined the prestigious photography agency AllSport. Although acquired by Getty Images in 1998, Cannon has actually worked there ever since, specializing in golf to quickly become one of the most recognizable names in the business.

“I loved every minute,” he said, and there were certainly plenty of minutes to love.

Cannon has covered more than 700 events and nearly 200 major men’s and women’s tournaments, according to a interview with the Ryder Cup, the biennial event he has competed in 17 times.

Cannon’s eye-watering estimates of his career statistics: 3.4 million pictures taken, 2.6 million miles flown, 115 countries visited, 5,000 nights spent in hotels and 13,000 golf course miles flown.

Cannon shot Argentina icon Diego Maradona during the 1986 FIFA World Cup.

Still, Cannon insists it’s a necessary commitment. While sports like football will offer photographers – at the very least – the opportunity to take celebratory shots almost every game, the less dynamic nature of golf can make picks slim.

“You can go six months at least – probably two years – without getting a fantastic final freeze frame,” he explained.

“Golf is very slow. People don’t realize how physical it is to photograph golf. You can walk 25,000 steps in a day, and all you get are individual shots of golfers hitting the ball and nothing very interesting if they’re on the fairways all the time.

Fortunately for Cannon, his career has coincided with some of golf’s most iconic players, many of whom he has come to know personally.

Keeping in touch with Faldo, he became good friends with Ernie Els and became acquainted with Greg Norman – a trio with 12 major wins between them – and had a ringside seat to the peak of the Tiger Woods era at the turn of the century.

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Photographing Rory McIlroy and new US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick since they were amateurs, he had the joy of following their journeys from grassroots to winning some of golf’s greatest titles.

Cannon had been escorting McIlroy to the Royal Liverpool clubhouse for media functions following his 2014 Open victory when he shot the spontaneous moment.

However, one name dominates all the others: Seve Ballesteros. “Never meet your heroes,” the saying goes, but Cannon not only had the joy of smashing his all-time sports idol, he also became a close friend.

A portrait of the legendary Spaniard captured near his home in Pedreña in 1996 remains one of Cannon’s most beloved images. And his snaps of the five-time major champion’s iconic fist-pump celebration at St. Andrews en route to victory at the 1984 Open are among the most enduring images of Ballesteros, who died of brain cancer in 2011. .

“It’s probably the most defining image of my career,” Cannon said. “For a while, it’s my favorite.”

Iconic celebration of Ballesteros in St. Andrews in 1984, captured by Cannon.

When Cannon took this photo, his 36-exposure camera only gave him 25 images to choose from in the entire sequence. Today he would have five more photos to choose from in a single second. Yet while technology has changed dramatically, the principles of sports photography have not.

David Cannon poses with camera gear on March 7, 2017 in London.

Cannon remembered one of those guiding rules when — caddy for his professional golfer son Chris — he overshot a three-hole swing earlier.

“‘Dad, that’s one thing you gotta learn, there’s a 10-second rule in golf,'” Cannon recalled of his son. “‘Ten seconds after you hit the punch, you can’t get it back, there’s nothing you can do about it, you have to put it out of your mind.’

“This rule works exactly the same way in photography. If you miss it, you can’t go back and get it. If you attend a sporting event, it will never happen again. I find that to be a pretty useful rule.

Cannon captures the moment Scottie Scheffler sinks his putt to win the Masters in Augusta in April.

One of the most important crafting skills is to preemptively sense a story or moment and prepare accordingly. That’s easier said than done on courses spanning miles of fairway, with multiple games going on at once, but tips can offer great rewards.

These were reaped in abundance by Cannon in the Alfred Dunhill Cup in 1999 thanks to his shot of basketball icon Michael Jordan and Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia engaged in a run through the fairways of St Andrews, once described as “the greatest golf picture of all time”. in Golf Digest.

Hearing Jordan and Garcia push each other on the first tee, Cannon decided to stay outside and follow the pair past the third hole, the point at which the newspaper’s photographers – reluctant to stray any further from the clubhouse – decided to return.

Garcia leads Jordan in a sprint down the 16th fairway of the St. Andrews Old Course during the Alfred Dunhill Cup Pro-Am, 1999.

“I heard Jordan say to Garcia, ‘Do you want a run, boy?'” Cannon recalled.

“It was really fun following them that day, and from then on I walked a few hundred yards in front of them the whole time.”

It’s the kind of craftsmanship that has kept Cannon at the top of its field for more than four decades. Not bad for someone without formal training.

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