We're spending the week embedded with NBC/Golf Channel at the Players. Here's Part 5 in our series.
"Excuse us, please! Cart coming behind you!"
Roger Maltbie utters these words more than any others during tournaments he's covering. The NBC/Golf Channel on-course reporter of 24 years splits his time between calling the action and being driven around.
"Hold on, we're going up a hill," Maltbie says to me as I ride on the back, hanging on with both hands for dear life as we make it to the top. "Oh yeah! You've been four-wheeling with Rog!"
For this particular tournament, Maltbie's chauffeur is Jason Randolph, the son of NBC Sports producer Tom Randolph. Jason is an eager late fill-in for the job that's a lot harder than it looks with TPC Sawgrass' large crowds. He may be on summer break from the University of Central Florida, but he's getting schooled this week.
"Get to the outside," Maltbie instructs. "That's always the best strategy."
Later Maltbie jokes, "It's a repeating pattern. We watch them tee off. Then we go to their next shot. Then we go watch them on the green. You'll catch on."
A fan overhears and shouts, "I'll drive for you, Roger!"
Of course he will. The fans don't like Roger. They LOVE Roger.
"Go get 'em, ROG!" "You da man, Maltbie!"
Maltbie tries to play down the affection the fans show him, but it's undeniable as he makes his way around TPC Sawgrass. On this day the "Roger!" calls from the crowd are easily outnumbering even the "Tiger!" shouts.
"If you're nice to people, they'll usually be nice to you," Maltbie reasons when asked why he's so popular among golf's galleries. "I like being out here interacting with the fans and having a good time with them."
Maltbie's gift is he makes it seem effortless.
"You never know, you could be the next Tiger Woods," he says to a shy young fan. "Hey, it's only good if you like money."
How are you doing, Roger?
"Can't complain. I'm still looking down at the divots."
It's Roger Maltbie, in the flesh!
"How 'bout it? Can you imagine all this in one place?"
There goes Roger again!
"Well, just working for a living!"
Maltbie thinks he may retire after 2018. He's got a bad knee and the excessive travel is starting to wear on him. But after all these years he still loves following feature groups up close.
"I like to see the shots hit, I like to hear the reactions," says Maltbie, who won five times on the PGA Tour. "The best part of the job is watching these guys like Tiger. To see them face a shot that only a couple people could pull off and when they do, you just go 'Wow.' It's very cool."
Maltbie can be called upon to assess a situation and provide play-by-play at a moment's notice. When you hear him speak, it's always live, so he has to stay on his toes.
"I'll hear (on my headset) 'We're going out to 4' and you know you're on 4," Maltibe says and then chuckles. "Well, you should know."
On No. 2, Tiger Woods snaps a tee shot into the trees, but it bounces into an open spot in the pine straw. "I think you'll be pleased," Maltbie says to Woods. "OK," Tiger responds and then sees his lie. "I am."
Maltbie says he lost track years ago how many times he's tracked Tiger up close. He was right there for Woods' dramatic putt to get into a playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines and lists that as well as Justin Leonard's Ryder Cup-clinching putt at Brookline in 1999 as the two moments that stand out most in his career. They're also part of the reason Maltbie contends he's never had a real job.
"I've either played a game for a living or talked about playing a game for a living," Maltbie beams. "I've cracked the code."