Welcome to "Golfers We Like", where we regularly talk to people in golf who deserve your attention. Chantel McCabe joined Golf Channel in 2016 as an on-site reporter at PGA and LPGA Tour events, so she now has more than a year's worth of experience covering golf around the world. Before Golf Channel, McCabe covered the 2016 presidential election for NH1 in her home state of New Hampshire, where she broke some important political news (more on that below), and the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes for Fox Sports Carolinas. Here, McCabe tells us her favorite stories from covering golf in her first year, which includes a hilarious interaction with Lee Trevino and her front-row seat to covering Jordan Spieth's amazing bunker hole-out at the Travelers Championship. Plus, we get into her golf game, and the funny story about how she first got into the sport.
OK, before we get into the serious stuff, I think my favorite moment from seeing you on Golf Channel was when you did your Ric Flair impersonation on Morning Drive. That was pretty spectacular. What kind of reaction did you get from that?
“That got a ton of reaction. I can’t figure out why! (laughs) It’s funny because I was totally unprepared to do it. They were teasing me about it in the morning meeting, we should have Chantel do this. And they threw it in there as a joke. But the joke was on them, when 30 seconds before we go on air, I told them to put it in the teleprompter. They didn’t think I was going to do it, but you can’t dare me to do something like that and not think I’m gonna do it."
"My poor Mom, I think I gave her a heart attack. My parents are diehard Morning Drive fans. So I knew for sure my parents were going to see that. So, exactly as I predicted, my parents were not as amused as others were. But at the same time, that’s why television was a good fit for me. She knows I have enough personality for an entire room."
Golf fans are getting to see that, too. In terms of golf-centric moments, where does covering Jordan Spieth’s hole-out at the Travelers Championship rank for you?
“That environment was definitely the craziest environment in golf I’ve been in so far. Now, I haven’t covered any majors yet, but that was wild. For me, I was so focused on, logistically, what we were going to do to cover it. I had the mic, and I had my camera guy a couple people away from me, so I was concerned how we’d cover it in such a tight space. So at the moment, I don’t think I got to appreciate it as much, until I saw Spieth and Michael Greller chest bump. That’s when I realized we were watching something special. So it actually took a couple minutes for me to process what we saw. But it was incredible to be able to interview arguably one of the best athletes of our generation after that feat. It was something I’ll absolutely never forget.”
And apparently there’s a story with you and Lee Trevino we need to hear.
“Yeah, one of my first events last year was the PNC/Father Son Challenge. I knew about Lee Trevino and how much of a prankster he can be, but I didn’t know how thick he would lay it on someone for the first time he was meeting them. So I was being respectful, during a practice round, waited for him to hit his tee shot then went up to him and introduced myself and asked about interviewing him. And he looked at me, and even my producer was convinced he was being serious. He just went off, ‘How would you like it if I came up to you at your office?’ All this stuff. But it turns out, he was just being funny. So Lee Trevino actually put me in a headlock. I had no idea what was going on. And I was so scared when he said that, and I was not sure how to handle it. But once he put me in the headlock, I was like, 'OK, I know the joke’s on me now.’ ”
You’ve had a front row seat to a lot of incredible events. How much of a golf fan are you, and how much has that evolved over the past year?
“The only channel I ever have on my TV at home is Golf Channel. And not just saying that. If I’m not covering a tournament, I’m watching it at home, or I’m reading a golf book or coverage online. Every possible avenue I can use, I make sure I utilize, because I know I’m playing catch up a little bit, and I want to keep up.
“I came in, not having covered golf, I covered pretty much every other sport, specializing in hockey and lacrosse. I didn’t know what to expect covering golf. I knew I liked watching. I would go every year as a spectator to what was the Deutsche Bank Championship. I knew I was going to have a lot to learn, and I told Golf Channel that before I even auditioned. And they’ve been so helpful to giving me the tools to be able to grow, and putting me in spots where I could get my footing. That has been tremendous. Even last month, I know 10 times more than I did a month ago.
“I absolutely love it. And I’m so impressed by the people involved in golf. And I’m not just saying that. This has been my absolute favorite stop in my career just because of the people.”
How’s your golf game, because I’m seeing some pretty solid swings on social media?
“Charley Hoffman tells me I still look like an amateur. So I have a long way to go. But it’s fun.
“This might be my craziest story. I was interning with a sports marketing and management company in college, and what was then the Future Tour (now Symetra Tour) made a stop in New Hampshire at Concord Country Club. So I was selling sponsorships for the holes. So I was on a hole, and I kid you not, Sara ‘No H’ Brown comes up to me on a hole. And she goes, ‘I’ve seen you here the past couple days. Do you play golf?’ I was like, ‘I’ve never played, I don’t know if I’d be any good.’ She’s like, ‘I have my clubs, want to try it out?’ And I go, ‘Absolutely not, I’m going to completely miss the ball.’ So she says, ‘I’ll promise you this, if you miss, I will intentionally miss afterward, so we’ll both look silly.’
“So I’m like, ‘OK, deal!’ You want to talk about growing the game: Sara came up to a random stranger and asked her if she wanted to swing a golf club for the first time, then promised to miss on perfect to make me look OK. So that was 2009. That was the first time I swung a club.
So how’d you do with that first swing?
“I didn’t miss! I definitely skulled it with a wedge pretty good. But that was the first time I ever touched a club. And then my boyfriend at the time and I got into playing. And in my fourth-ever time playing, you’re not going to believe this, but I made an eagle on a hole. I still have the ball. It was unbelievable. And of course, I haven’t had one since.
“I had a goal at the beginning of the year to break 90, and I’m coming pretty close. I try to play much as I can. I don’t bring my clubs on the road, which I’m going to start doing next year. I wanted to focus on what I needed to this year. Now that I’ve got things figured out a little bit more, I’m going to start working on the golf game a little bit more, so I can get my street cred up.”
Before golf, you covered hockey and the Carolina Hurricanes for FOX Sports Carolinas, so you know about traveling from one city to the next so often. How have you adjusted to life on the road?
“Well it was definitely tough at first. I was 22, right out of college, and traveling to a different city every other day. It was definitely tough, but that’s how you grow.
“But every city I go to, I try to do one of the biggest tourist attractions there, because I never know if I’ll get back. I try to get in on Mondays, or stay the Monday after the tournament. So in Dallas for the World Long Drive, I went to check out the Dallas Art Museum. Last year at the BMW, I went to see President Benjamin Harrison’s home in Indianapolis, so every chance I get, I try to do something either historical or see some art. President Harrison’s home was one of the coolest things I’ve done. And I love art, too, when I did a feature for the East Lake Cup last week in Chicago, I didn’t go to the Cubs or the Blackhawks home games, but instead, went into the art museum. I got to see American Gothic, so that was a must.
“Honestly, I’m such a hermit. People say all the time: It must be so fun going to all of these cities, you probably get to go to some cool cities and awesome bars. But really, I use so much energy during the day, seriously. And I’m training for a half marathon, I get up at the crack of dawn and go for a run, and so by the time, like 7 p.m. hits, your girl is OUT. I get a salad from Whole Foods, and I’m dead to the world after that.”
You covered politics in New Hampshire. Not all golf reporters have had that experience.
“It’s funny, I got to cover the 2016 election, and covering it in my home state of New Hampshire was really special. I took that job over a sports job because I didn’t know if I’d ever have that opportunity again. And loving American history, it was hard to pass up. And it was truly amazing: I got to cover almost every candidate.
“It was just really cool to peek inside the minds of these people, who are brave enough to go out and speak their minds on issues they care about to serve our country. And I still am really passionate about current events and politics. So the one thing I really watch outside of golf and sports is the news. I read the newspaper every day, the actual newspaper, not just the online stuff, so I can be fresh on everything. Because, to be honest, I’ll be on the range getting ready to chat with a player or their caddie, and that’s what we’ll talk about—current events going on, so it really has helped make a connection.”
The actual print paper—I love it! Very old school.
“Yes! I have the actual newspaper sitting right here next to me right now. Old school all the way.”
Covering the 2016 election, such a historic one, any memorable stories from covering that?
“The only thing that happened was, I was the first one to break the news about Lindsey Graham dropping out of the race. He was doing a small town hall, and I volunteered to cover that event, and it was him and McCain, and I talked to Graham afterward, and he basically said, ‘This is going to be my last stop in New Hampshire,’ and in less words, told me he was not going to be running any longer.
“So I didn’t totally realize what had happened until I brought the tape back to the station to cut it up. And I was like, “Oh my gosh!” OF course, the next day, CNN had it, but I was like wait a second, the only reporter there at this tiny town hall was me. So that was pretty wild, I got to break some important political news.”