The idea of Jim Nantz writing a column for Golf Digest came naturally during a round at Pebble Beach last year. We were partners in a three-day tournament, which is about as much fun as you can have making bogeys. No surprise, Jim tells great stories. And there's nothing like hitting a crisp wedge and having his euphonious voice give it some encouragement. Close your eyes and you think you're playing in the Masters.
Jim showed up on the first tee driving a mint-condition classic Club Car designed to look like a Bentley. It's a four-seater with crocodile-leather upholstery and a four-speaker stereo system playing Frank Sinatra's greatest hits. "Strangers in the Night." "It Was a Very Good Year." "When Somebody Loves You." The license plate reads: 64OPEN. That was the giveaway. "It belonged to Kenny Venturi," the 1964 U.S. Open champion, Nantz says. "When I got the cart from his son Tim, there was a neatly folded golf glove and a USGA rules book in the glove compartment. Plus a sleeve of Titleist golf balls. They're still in there."
Jim explains how his old TV tower partner at CBS Sports had a strong connection to Pebble Beach. Venturi won the 1960 Crosby Clambake and was part of the famed "Match" at Cypress Point (when Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson out-birdied amateurs Venturi and E. Harvie Ward).
Nantz says, "Kenny thought he would live here one day. I feel like part of Kenny should always be at Pebble Beach, and the cart keeps him here."
That's the kind of sentimental storytelling golfers have loved about Nantz since his first Masters in 1986 at age 26.
Everybody knows his story: Practiced calling golf tournaments as a kid. Roomed with Fred Couples at Houston. Got his first break interviewing celebrities in the Crosby. Lead announcer for CBS at 30 Masters, 29 Final Fours and 14 seasons of the NFL. Fast-forward to buying a Spanish hacienda at Pebble Beach, marrying Courtney amid the crashing waves of the seventh hole, and then building a replica of that par 3 at his home.
A few years ago, I gave him a Golf Digest award for the Best Back Yard Hole in Golf, and we hit balls to his green. If you look to the coast, you can see the real seventh down by Carmel Bay. To complete the dream, Jim has speakers installed all around the property that play the Masters theme song. I would have preferred: "Send in the Clowns." "I've Got the World on a String." "My Blue Heaven." Check it out below and you can see a video I took of Jim telling me about the origins of the hole.
Here's a fact: Jim Nantz knows more people in golf by their first name than anybody else anywhere. When he says, "Hello, friends," he really means it. He started using the phrase as a tribute to his father, who was suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, and later Jim founded the Nantz National Alzheimer Center at Houston Methodist.
His coordinating producer, Lance Barrow, told me: "What you see on TV is exactly who he is off TV: very friendly, giving, helpful, one of the all-time great friends. It's not a made-up act. You'd be amazed—he does more favors for people than any other person of fame."
Adds Guy Yocom, the editor who will work with Jim on his column: "He's one of the great note-writers in golf. Jim is very quick with congratulatory, handwritten notes to people in every walk of golf life. He is especially good at reaching out to young people, who really are lifted by these things. I think he acquired this trait from Venturi.
"With the possible exceptions of Henry Longhurst and Peter Alliss, he probably is the most literate golf announcer who ever lived. He is a demon for language and a perfectionist maybe to a fault. I did an interview with him once when he told what's now become his infamous 'burnt toast story,' in which he admitted to carrying a picture of burnt toast in his wallet to convince waitresses that he really wants his toast blackened, not tanned. I originally transcribed it as 'burned.' Either way is acceptable, but I had to wrestle with him for several minutes because he insisted on 'burnt.' "
Even for this editor's letter, he asked to see the picture of himself that was selected to accompany it. Jim thought it could be better and asked to arrange for a photographer to reshoot the picture when he got back home. That's the one on this page.
What's that Sinatra's singing? "My Way." "All or Nothing at All." "Goodnight, Irene."