Jim Nantz: 'Did I Tell You The One About...'
Spend a day, an hour or even a few minutes with Jim Nantz, and you realize that all he needs is an audience. Whether he's speaking to one person, a few hundred at a banquet or several million from the 18th tower at Augusta National, Nantz is doing what he always wanted to do. "For me it has everything to do with the words, the voice and telling a story that really captures people," he says.
What we learned during four sit-downs in four zip codes is that Nantz is the ultimate fly on the wall. As a result, there are countless stories in his head. Whether it's a special stock tip from Gene Sarazen, cutting practice with Fred Couples at the University of Houston, or an embarrassing on-air slip of the tongue beside Clint Eastwood, Nantz remembers the most minuscule of details.
Nantz's sports savvy goes way beyond golf. He's also CBS Sports' lead play-by-play voice for pro football and college basketball, but from an early age, golf was the key. "The dream for me was always the Masters," he says, "and after my freshman season on the Houston golf team I knew CBS was the only way I'd get there."
Golf Digest: This will be your 20th Masters for CBS. Tell us about your first one, when Jack Nicklaus came to the 16th tee on Sunday, trying to win his sixth green jacket, and you had the microphone.
Jim Nantz: I knew the pin would be back-left that day. Excuse me, the hole location. Before the round I asked Frank Chirkinian [former CBS golf producer] what I should say if somebody makes a hole-in-one.
"Son," he said, "I'll tell you exactly what to say if somebody makes a hole-in-one at 16: nothing! This is a visual medium, you idiot! Now, get out of my office and get down there to rehearsal."
Chirkinian was a tough guy, known as The Ayatollah. Frank was a stickler about punctuality, and Lance Barrow still adheres to it. If it says rehearsal is at 3 o'clock, you'd better be there at 2:50. At 2:51, you're late.
I was doing the 16th that first year, and I didn't really have a handle on the easiest way to get there -- what crosswalks open up a little sooner than others. I remember fearing for my life that I was going to be late for a rehearsal. I was heading down that great valley between Nos. 18 and 8, and I'm in a mild jog, fueled by a fear of being late and maybe being banished forever from the Masters. Suddenly a member came up, a green jacket, didn't know who I was. He stopped me and said, "Young man, we don't run around Augusta, we walk."
So how did you react when Jack's charge began that Sunday?
I ran down to 16. Excuse me, walked down to 16. We're on the air, and he's birdied 9, 10, 11, makes 4 [bogey] at 12, birdies 13. I'm able from my tower to see Jack make eagle at 15. As he marches to the 16th tee, I know we're going to be live, and the whole world is going to be watching. That might have been the most terrifying moment of my career.
So you called upon the reservoir of Jack Nicklaus facts in your head?
I set it up by talking about him winning his first green jacket in 1963, that he made birdie here that day. Then I talked about 1975 and the Miller and Weiskopf thing [Nicklaus' long birdie putt at 16]. I'm waxing like I'm Henry Longhurst, like I've had all the experience of these culturally literate icons that I so much wanted to be like. I'm 26 years old! The whole time I have chill bumps up and down my arms.
One of the CBS rules to this day is you never talk over a shot, and Jack got right to the point of pulling the trigger when, suddenly, he backed off. Knowing Jack through the years, I knew I had another minute to kill before he hit the shot, and I'm completely out of material.
Chirkinian had been telling all of you to pull in Tom Weiskopf from time to time. So that's what you did.
Exactly. "Tom Weiskopf, what is going through Jack's mind right now? He has not experienced this kind of a streak in a long time." And Weiskopf says, "If I knew the way he thought, I would've won this tournament." A classic.
After nearly making a hole-in-one, Nicklaus makes the birdie putt, and you say...
"The Bear ... has come out of hibernation." And as soon as I said it I was completely consumed with self-doubt. I'm thinking, Somebody else has already said that, you idiot. Later on at the CBS compound, Brent Musburger came over and said, "Hey, kid: That was the line of the day."
So what is your most embarrassing on-air moment?
It might've been on Sunday of the 2003 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, shortly after Davis Love had won the event. Clint Eastwood was in the 18th tower with me, live on the air, and I told him that Davis' father had been a huge Clint Eastwood fan. "I'll bet you didn't know," I said, "that when Davis was a young boy, one of the first adult films his father ever took him to see was one of yours."
Without hesitating, Clint turned to me on camera and said, "I have never made an adult film in my life."
My first thought was, What did I just say? It's a moment I'll never forget, and one that Clint probably hasn't forgotten, either.
Your access at Augusta must lead to some memorable behind-the-scenes moments. What comes to mind?
One of my traditions at Augusta is to take a walk around the course late on Wednesday afternoon. Usually very few people are around, and it serves as a little meditation. I like to get out to Amen Corner, check the green conditions at 12 and stand on the 13th tee for a while all by myself.
While doing this a few years ago, I'm looking from the 12th green back up the 11th fairway, and I see two people walking very slowly. One is leaning on a cane and holding onto a lady. It didn't take long, even from 400 yards away, to realize it was Byron Nelson and his wife, Peggy. I thought, How special is this? Byron Nelson is out walking around Amen Corner.
So I scurry up the 11th fairway and pull alongside, and they tell me that Byron is taking Peggy out to the Byron Nelson Bridge [at the 13th tee] for the first time. She'd never seen it. He said, "I just don't know how many more chances in my life I'm going to have to walk Amen Corner."
Trying to be as respectful as possible, I said I'd get out of their way, but Byron says, "No, no, no. Come with us."
About that time, Davey Finch, one of our cameramen, was out shooting some beauty shots for the broadcast. He saw me with the Nelsons, so he came over. Again, not to be an intrusion, I asked Byron, "Would you mind if we recorded this for history? I know the club would love to have it." He said it'd be fine, so Davey got Byron Nelson walking across his bridge for maybe the last time.
Once Byron got across the bridge, he read the plaque that pays tribute to his great record at Augusta. Then, as hard as it was for Byron to do this, he leaned down, kissed his hand and patted the plaque with his hand. It was as touching as anything I've ever seen.
You had a special day with another Masters legend, Gene Sarazen.
Thanks to Ken Venturi's time living on Marco Island [Fla.], he was very close to Gene Sarazen. So I was able to be around Mr. Sarazen quite a few times.
I was host and MC of an event Kenny held at Marco Island in early March of '99. Gene Sarazen came and sat on the first tee all day. As every group came through off a shotgun start -- Greg Norman, Ernie Els, Nick Price, Davis Love, David Duval and more -- I would ask all of them to make a comment about Mr. Sarazen. It was magic.
As I spent that whole day with him, I had the luxury of getting into the kind of stuff that if you had five minutes you wouldn't go there. I said, "Would you mind giving me an idea of what your day is like? What's a normal day for you?"
He told me about waking up at 8 every morning. He lived in a high-rise. He'd get up, take a shower, shave and usually get very dressed. Always very dapper. At 9 o'clock he'd have breakfast and read the paper. By 9:30 he'd be a little tired, so he'd take a nap. He was 97 years old, I believe.
And after the nap?
Back up at 10:30, and he'd sit on his balcony and watch the world go by. Eventually he'd come back in and have lunch.
"Then you'd go take another nap?" I asked.
"No, no," he said. "Done with the naps by then. Usually from noon until 4, I watch CNBC. You know, the stock ticker."
Sarazen was a stock man at 97?
That's what I said. "You're kidding!"
"Actually," he said, "I haven't bought a stock in 70 years, since 1929. But the best way to know what's going on in the world is to watch where the money is moving. There's a story here, Jim, that I've never told anyone."
He went on to tell me about his rival Jim Barnes, who won the first two PGA Championships. Barnes and Sarazen didn't get along great, but in 1929 Sarazen was on the train when he happened to see Barnes, who was doing investment work on Wall Street. Barnes warned him that key indicators pointed to the potential of a crash. "I give you five days, tops," Barnes told him. "Sell everything you own."
So Sarazen says he sold all of his investments. "The stock market crashed, and I didn't get hurt at all," he said. "Matter of fact, in many ways Jim Barnes saved my life."
Sarazen shared that with you only a couple of months before he passed away. It was about five weeks before Mr. Sarazen was going to hit what turned out to be the last golf shot of his life, the opening shot at the 1999 Masters. He had told me, "You never know when it'll be my last shot."
What I'll never forget about that last shot is, really unable to generate any speed, he still hit it so flush. It probably flew only 70 yards in the air, right down the middle. He just hit it solid, still one of my favorite golf shots I've ever seen. As he was leaving, he saw me and said, "Hey, I wanted to tell you today, off our discussion a few weeks back: I've got a stock I want you to buy." I said, "Are you serious?"
What was the stock?
I don't want to tell you; I don't want anybody to get investigated. [Laughs.] He says, "You've got to buy this stock. It's the first stock I've bought in 70 years. I told him, "Coming from you, I'm gonna go buy it no matter what it is." Later that day I called my business manager and said, "I've got a stock I want you to buy. All I know is, Gene Sarazen waited 70 years to buy the right stock, and I'm riding it. Let's load up."
How'd it do?
The stock is worth nine times what I paid for it, and I still own it. Every day I open the paper, look up the symbol and think, Gene Sarazen.
Getting back to Nicklaus' victory in '86, Ken Venturi told you that day that you'd never live to see a greater Masters. But for you, it's hard to envision anything comparing with 1992, the year you and your college suitemate, Fred Couples, lived out your dream.
Freddy had the great start to the '92 season. All year, he and Blaine McCallister, my amigos at the University of Houston, had this goal of coming to the Final Four to serve as runners for me. Fred was No. 1 in the world, the favorite at the Masters that would be starting in a few days, and here he was with Blaine, carrying my briefcase, running stats and hustling for Billy Packer and me during the two semifinal games Saturday.
Eight days later Fred is winning the Masters, and you're calling it.
I was only doing the Butler Cabin then. When he came into the cabin, we're on the air. Jack Stephens [former club chairman] is there, and Ian Woosnam is there as the '91 champion to present the jacket. What are the odds that two kids who talked about this in college, that it was going to come true?
I'd decided long before that I would conduct this as I would if just anyone had won the tournament. But the last question I wanted to personalize a little, bring a lot of guys into that moment. I wanted them to be remembered. Before that I did some general questions about the ball staying up on the bank at the 12th hole.
Fred was answering the questions, I thought, with a tinge of fear that I was going to break into a personal thing. His fear is always that he's going to completely lose it. I know that there are some very tender feelings in Fred that are just barely below the surface. I've seen it many times.
Did the tears ever come?
In the end I said, "You know, Fred. I think about our days at the University of Houston and Taub Hall. I can't help but think of Blaine McCallister and John Horne, Paul Marchand, who is here today."
He turned his head, covered his eyes and looked off to the side. My voice is quivering. I said, "All of us said, 'One day you're going to look great in a green jacket.'"
The only way he could compose himself was to not go there, so he said, "Well, I always thought this was the one tournament I'd have the best chance to win. Always the one tournament I always watched as a kid growing up."
He didn't personalize it at all. Woosie gave him the green jacket, and I said something like, "A perfect fit," although it looked like it might have been Woosie's jacket, because the sleeves came up just below Fred's elbow. My last sentence was something like, "Fred Couples has won the Masters, and good night from Augusta." At that point, we both totally lost it into a long, sobbing moment, slapping each other on the back. We fell to pieces.
But you were off the air by then?
I thought maybe we were still on the air, because the cameras continued rolling. It's all on tape. In fact, I've often thought it's a shame, from Freddy's perspective, that it didn't get shown live. People have often said about Freddy, "If he only tried a little harder ..." I think they would've seen right there how much Fred, his whole career, wanted it more than anybody's ever given him credit for.
What was your first impression of him when you met in college?
The day all the incoming freshmen arrived on the Houston campus Coach [Dave] Williams put us in a room and asked us to stand up one at a time and introduce ourselves to everyone. I was pretty intimidated just by that because I knew my playing career fell far short. I thought Fred was very bashful, but it didn't take long to find out that we had a mutual passion for sports.
In 1978, the year Bucky Dent hit the home run in the one-game playoff between the Yankees and the Red Sox, we were the only two guys on the golf team who got to see it. That was our sophomore year, and I'm not especially proud of the way we got to see it. Coach had a rule that we had to play and turn in a scorecard every day, and that day was no different. But Fred and I had to see that game. We couldn't possibly go out and play golf that afternoon.
How'd you get out of it?
We feigned sickness. We feigned one of the worst flus to ever strike the University of Houston.
Fred and I went to class that day, but we pretended to have a hard time getting our lunch down. After lunch, Coach would usually walk down the dorm hall where the guys on the golf team lived together, and he'd poke his head into our rooms and make the pairings for that day.
When he came into our rooms that day, I was in my bed with the shivers, fighting a horrible fever -- 98.6 [laughs], and Fred was in his bed, supposedly trying not to throw up. I don't think coach was too concerned about me missing the day. By my sophomore year we had 18 guys on the team, and I was definitely No. 18. But he went in to Fred, who was one of his star players, and he said, "Fred, you look awful. I don't want you playing today. You need to rest up." He came in to me, and I said, "Coach, whatever he's got, I've got it, too."
I'm not proud of this, but one of our happiest moments together was when we walked down that hall and confirmed that the coast was clear.
Fred spent a week with you in New Jersey during one of your summer breaks from the University of Houston. What do you remember about that week?
That was the summer Freddy was low amateur at the U.S. Open at Inverness. He was coming to the All-America golf banquet at the Waldorf hotel in New York City. I'd go back in the summers and house-sit for a family, and I'd work at Battleground Country Club cleaning clubs, helping around the shop, putting bags on carts. We worked it out that when Fred came to New York I would come into the city to pick him up. I still remember trying to find him that day. Finally, after about an hour of searching, I spotted him in the enormous lobby of the Waldorf. He's sitting in a far corner, hidden behind a column. You could very easily have looked all day and never seen him. He was kind of sitting there waiting for someone to come scrape him off the carpet and take him away.
After that week you had to get him on a plane back to Seattle.
His mother called and said, "You know, Jim, Fred's coming home tomorrow. Please make sure you get him on the plane, and tell the flight attendants that he has to connect in Chicago. He's going to need some direction and help to get to the gate and all."
I drove him to the Newark airport, and you know how they let you pre-board with small children? Well, I got on the plane with him and put him in his seat. I found the lead flight attendant and told her to make sure he found the gate for his connecting flight in Chicago. I wished him well, told him I'd see him back at school, and he made it home safely. [Laughs.]
Think he'd have made it without you?
The truth is, Fred is a very smart guy. I like to say he's as dumb as a fox. By that, I mean he is completely savvy about everything. A lot of times when he wants to feign that he's not sure what he's supposed to do, or he didn't get your phone call or he doesn't remember his phone number ... I know the deal! It's a great weapon, and he uses it well. And I say that with all due love and respect for my brother.
You mentioned that you put Fred to work at a Final Four. Tell us about the time Nick Faldo and a couple of his friends surprised you at the Final Four in New Orleans.
That was in 1993; the tour was in New Orleans that week. We're in the middle of the first game when Len DeLuca, CBS' vice president of college programming at the time, comes over during a timeout and says, "Nick Faldo, Mitchell Spearman [instructor] and Fanny Sunesson [Faldo's caddie] are at the press gate wondering where their tickets are."
You were supposed to have left tickets for them?
This was the first I'd heard of it.
Was Faldo a friend of yours?
I knew Nick. He went to the U of H. We used to joke that we almost became teammates. He left after a year, and he was a little ahead of me. But it's not like we had a real social relationship.
So, what did you do?
Len asked me how he should handle it, and I told him, "Hey, it's Nick Faldo. If there's a way you can get him in, get him in."
Let me guess: He got in.
All three of them. Mitch and Fanny went up into the stands, and Nick was put to work as a runner. During a break between the two games, Nick came down to say hello, and Billy Packer busted him a little about his shenanigans. Finally, Nick asked if there was anything he could do for us. So I said, "Yeah. Could you go get us ice-cream cones?" Here I was asking the No. 1 player in the world to go get us an ice-cream cone. And he did.
I told him that some day he's going to be on about the 14th hole on Sunday at the British Open, and he's going to have a marshal come up to him and say, "There's a guy named Jim Nantz who's looking for his two passes. What do you want us to do about it?"
That kind of thing happen a lot?
No ... and I certainly hope this doesn't get something started.
Former President Bush has joined you in the tower a few times. How well do you know him?
I'm blessed to have great friends, and there are a lot of men in my life who've been more than just friends, particularly in the last 10 years with my dad battling Alzheimer's. There's been like a generational thing to where they're almost surrogates.
Who besides the former president?
It's a long list. Obviously "41" would be at the top of the list, along with Ken Venturi, Billy Packer, Frank Chirkinian and Hot Rod Hundley. Hot Rod and I did Utah Jazz games together when I was 23 years old. He did play-by-play and I was the analyst, which was a little weird because Hot Rod Hundley was the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft in 1957 and a two-time All-Star. I was captain of my high school basketball team, and our varsity record was 2-42.
Within five years of that, I'm an NBA analyst making all these judgments, saying things like, "What is Adrian Dantley thinking about? You can't give up the baseline!" Thank goodness no one ever did a background check on my playing career.
How often do you see 41?
My relationship with the president is something I've shied away from talking about publicly, because most people are going to say, "Yeah, right."
George Bush has thousands of friends. He's a warm person. I'm lucky enough, for the last 10 years, to have been able to go up to his house in Kennebunkport [Maine] three or four times a year and stay with him and Mrs. Bush. It's very special. Sometimes it's just for a night and a quick round of golf the next morning.
What kind of golfer is he?
He's always downplaying his ability, but he has a very efficient game. He turned 80 last year. Cape Arundel, where he plays, is a short, old Walter Travis course, and he can go around in the high 80s.
Anything at stake when you play?
We always play a match, and it's always for one dollar. We were partners one time in a match, and we were down on the 16th hole. He comes over and says, "What do you think about maybe pressing these guys?"
I said, "We're playing for a dollar, right?"
He says, "Yeah. What do you think?"
So I said, "It's a dollar. Let's be daring."
I love that spirit.
Are there members of the Secret Service following you when you play?
Always. He doesn't just show up unannounced. We played a public course in Houston once, Memorial Park. The president walks into the pro shop, shakes every hand, signs everything put in front of him and takes out his wallet and says, "OK, we've got four green fees and two carts."
The guy behind the counter says, "No, no, Mr. President. You're our guest."
The president says, "I insist. I want to come back, and if you don't let me pay for it I'm going to be hesitant to come back because I'm going to think that you're going to think I can play for free."
He paid for everyone.
Do you play much with the current president?
I've played no rounds with him since he's been in the White House, but we played when he was governor of Texas. We played a match on New Year's Day once, and I've got video of them paying me the dollar. I think we've played three times, and there's always a lot of talk when we play. There's this mock kind of trash talk. It's never blue, never crass, but it's the kind of casual, "I made 4; anybody beat 4? ... I made birdie; anybody else make birdie?" We'll pitch horseshoes, and one of them will say, "I don't know, I guess I had four or five ringers in that game. How did you do?"
One time I was in Maine in July 2001. We were in the back yard pitching horseshoes, and Mrs. Bush was upstairs. She opens the window and yells down, "Uh, George. There's a special report on television right now about a mystery car parked in front of the White House. They're evacuating the White House." The president looked up and said, "Don't worry about it, Barbara. I'm sure it's nothing."
A few minutes later she yells down again, "George. It's on all the channels now. They're evacuating the White House."
Again, 41 says, "I'm sure everything's fine."
Did you sense more concern than the president was letting on?
We pitched the horseshoes to the other end and he says, "Would you like to go inside and see this, or do you want to keep playing?" I thought maybe we should take a look. Sure enough, it was on all the channels. All we're seeing on television is a long-range shot of a bomb-sniffing dog near a car that's been left unoccupied in the White House driveway.
Now 41 is concerned?
Finally he picked up the phone and called the White House. "Hey, Logan [Walters, the president's former personal aide], can I speak to the president?" he said.
He refers to his son as "the president?"
Yeah. So he says, "Hey, everything all right?" He was fine; he was having lunch with Vice President Cheney. "Well, your mother yelled out from upstairs while I was out pitching horseshoes with Jimmy Nantz."
He hands me the phone, and the president, 43, says to me, "How's it going up there? Who's winning?" I said, "Your dad has already won the first game, he's up 11-6 in the second, and we just wanted to make sure everything was OK. We've had a full day already. We played golf this morning; he beat me at that, too, with some shots. We've already been out on the boat, and now we were pitching horseshoes. He's taking it to me pretty good."
On the other end of the phone, the president says, "It sounds like 41 is having a big day." I said, "He is." And he said, "Let me tell you something: There's nothing that makes me happier than hearing that."
Commentators on almost every network were still speculating about the president's whereabouts. The president's dad turned off the television, and we went out to finish our game of horseshoes.
How's your golf these days?
When it comes to my game, the Houston thing really haunts me. As much as I beam with pride that I was on the University of Houston team with Freddy, Blaine McCallister and some really great players, and the fact that I earned a varsity letter for it, I'm troubled by the expectations people have for my game. It's truly taken some of the love out of playing for me. My scores, frankly, are an embarrassment. People think that because I played golf at the University of Houston I must shoot 75 every time I tee it up. Well, I don't. You'd be alarmed how many times I don't break 90.
Have you ever played with Nicklaus, Palmer or Tiger?
I got to play with Arnold Palmer for the first time last year. It was at Laurel Valley with a great mutual friend, Jim Rohr. I played reasonably well, but Arnold shot 70 that day, with five birdies. On the last hole, the par 5 where Dave Marr closed out his PGA Championship in 1965, I knocked it on the green in two. I had about a 40-foot putt over a buried elephant, which I knocked about five feet past. So now I've got this five-footer to win the match for our team -- Mr. Rohr and I were playing against his brother Tom and Arnold.
As I'm standing over the putt, Arnold turns his putter upside down and starts talking into the handle of the putter and doing commentary, a parody of me. He had dropped the voice and was describing the break in the putt. It was one of those moments you'd like to have recorded.
Did you make it?
Of course I missed it. But I hit a good putt. I think the announcer suckered me into playing a little more outside the right edge than I needed to.
Any checks or cash framed in your office from a memorable golf bet that you won?
No, but I played with Greg Norman and his son, Gregory, once. It was me, Frank Chirkinian and Gregory, who was 11 or 12 years old at the time, in a three-man scramble against Greg's ball. We get to the 16th hole, and the best shot we have is from some tall pampas grass left of a greenside bunker. This was at a time in Greg's career when he was clearly snakebit. Doggone it if I didn't pitch in, and we ended up winning the match, 1 up.
Greg sheepishly went over and picked the ball out of the hole and immediately drew all the parallels: It's bad enough that Larry Mize, Bob Tway, Robert Gamez are holing shots, but the greatest indignity of all is some hack like Nantz coming to the Medalist, and he pitches up and over a bunker and into the hole. He was a great sport about it, but I felt like I deserved a place right alongside the others.
You also had a memorable round with Jim McKay, who was one of your boyhood announcing idols.
I used to write Mr. McKay fan letters. These men, these voices were huge to me, much bigger than any of the athletes. I got to meet him and play a round of golf with him shortly after I graduated from college. My college teammate Paul Marchand was an assistant pro at one of Mr. McKay's clubs, and it was such a thrill for me. I remember waiting for his limousine to arrive. I had him built up to be 6-foot-5, this giant who's being chauffeured around everywhere. Much to my dismay, McKay pulled up in one of those station wagons with the wood paneling on the side, and he was driving it himself. He was like 5-foot-5.
We had a great day together, played as best-ball partners against Paul. I holed about a 40-footer for birdie on the first hole, and Mr. McKay jumped up and high-fived me. I mean, this was Jim McKay!
During the round I had told him about my admiration not only for him but for others in the business. Told him about my goals and about my great love of Henry Longhurst and his command of the language. Within weeks, a book arrived in the mail, The Best of Henry Longhurst. Inside it said, "To Jim Nance," spelled N-a-n-c-e, "Remembering our day on the windy links. Jim McKay. Sept. 13, 1982."
Three years and one day later, Sept. 14, 1985, I had actually gotten to the place I'd always dreamed of, making my debut on the air for CBS.
Let's talk about being a sportscaster.
Why sports commentator?
Sportscaster sounds like the guy who's on the 11 o'clock news and is putting together a three-minute sportscast of the headlines for that day. And by the way, that's a hard job, and a hard job to do well. But I'm not really casting anything; I'm commentating.
You started out as a sportscaster, though.
I started working for the CBS affiliate while I was still in college, living in dorms at Houston.
Is it true that you once worked 541 consecutive days?
That would've been from near the end of my junior year and right through my senior year. I never had a break. And that's not counting school as a work day. I was working at the CBS radio station, the CBS television station, I was narrating films for NASA, I was doing public address at the Astrodome for the Astros and the Houston Cougars basketball team. I was getting invaluable experience, and I never said no. If somebody gave me an opportunity, I took it. Money was never an issue.
After college you hooked on with the CBS affiliate in Salt Lake City.
I became the television voice for BYU football, including the year they won the national championship . Steve Young was my analyst, which he was able to do because he was playing for the L.A. Express in the USFL, the spring league. Steve and I missed the whole first quarter and half of the second quarter of one game that year because we were stuck in an elevator that blew a fuse as we were heading up to the press box.
By 1985, you were hired by CBS, the network, to do the college football report. How long until you got to do golf?
All during the fall of '85 I'd been hearing that I was going to become part of the storied CBS golf lineup, which tickled me to death. CBS' golf season started at Pebble Beach, and I flew out there on the day the Challenger went down. They didn't have room for me in the Lodge, but CBS used to rent "Fairway House No. 2," right on the elbow of the first fairway at Pebble. Big sprawling house that used to be owned by Lawson Little [the 1940 U.S. Open winner].
Who else was in that house with you?
I was going to be rooming with Bob Drum, and I was very familiar with Bob Drum's work. Bob was this giant of a man, and he says, "Hey, kid. Let's go down to Club 19. Have an adult beverage or two." For him, that was about 12 Cafe Royales, which is a little bit of coffee and a whole lot of Royale.
What was your role that weekend?
I just observed. I was a little intimidated. I mean, there was Mr. Summerall, Mr. Chirkinian, Mr. Venturi ... all of these legends. I was fascinated by it all.
When did you finally get on the air?
The next tournament for me was Doral in 1986, and for Gary McCord that was kind of his first tournament for CBS, too. Gary and I worked the 16th hole together.
That's when you and McCord called the final hole of the playoff on tape as if it were happening live.
Andy Bean and Hubert Green were battling. The golf ran long, so they ended up coming back to us after a Donald Curry fight. The playoff had already ended right in front of us on the 16th green, but Gary and I pretended it was happening live. Gary was the analyst, and he called every shot exactly how he knew it would end up.
"Hubert Green's second shot at 16," I said. McCord says, "Jimmy, I look for this ball to end up right of the flag; I see this like 18 feet or so." Ball lands, two hops, boom! Right on the spot.
Bean stands over the last putt, and Gary says, "Not a doubt in my mind he's going to make this."
What are you thinking?
It's my first golf telecast, and intuitively I know you can't do this. This is not right. I just knew that someone in the press room was going to out Gary on this. I'm figuring they're watching in the press room, knowing that Bean is already on his way down there for an interview. As we were walking back to the compound I told Gary, "You can't do that." And he's like, "What? Why not?" Thankfully we both survived it.
A month later you and McCord show up at Augusta for your first Masters, and club chairman Hord Hardin calls you in for a meeting. What do you remember of that?
Frank Chirkinian, as a courtesy to Mr. Hardin, walked us down to his office early in the week. I think this has been dressed up a little bit by Gary, saying that he wore a clown's suit or something. That's, of course, not true. We walked into his office, and there was a chair against the right wall and a chair against the left wall. Frank sat right in front of the desk. I felt like we were a full sand wedge apart. Frank made the introductions, and Mr. Hardin basically just said, "Guys, we like to think this tournament is a little bit different, a little more special. We hope you enjoy your time." It was really a welcome.
So nothing was said in there that left you feeling like, don't ever say this?
You'd think it would be a list of do's and don'ts, but it really wasn't that at all. I still to this day have never had anybody at Augusta tell me what to do or what not to do.
I promise you. That is the most written about, over-exaggerated, over-embellished tie to the Masters and CBS that's ever been discussed. I've never had a guy say, "Now, don't talk about ... " Frank Chirkinian, and now Lance Barrow, help to guide our people. But as far as Augusta coming in to the announcers and saying, "Do this, do that"? Doesn't happen.
But you use words we don't hear at any other golf tournament. Things like "patrons" and "first cut."
I think Augusta, obviously, is a cut above your week-in and week-out tour stop. If we want to make it sound like just another tournament we would deal in the same language. It's more polished. It deserves to be. It's just ratcheting it up a little bit in terms of grace.
Are you bothered by critics who question your dramatic intros to the Masters?
All I can tell you is I broadcast Augusta right from my heart. For me, it's the best tournament in the game. When I was a young boy, the goal for me was to get to Augusta. I can tell you none of it is disingenuous or contrived. People tell me all the time that they have the same feelings about Augusta. They thank me for the way I broadcast the tournament.
I feel sorry for people who don't have it in them to open up their heart a little bit and celebrate something that's actually pretty good.
Love that Augusta theme song, too.
You'd be amazed how many letters I get in a year about that theme song ["Augusta," by Dave Loggins]. People want it for their daughter's wedding, or they want to get their hands on it for the music: Who wrote it? What's it all about?
Does the whole approach make you cringe at all?
I love it; are you kidding me? I relish it. I wouldn't trade one Augusta for 20 Super Bowls. I think about the Masters every day of my life; I really do. I think about it more than anybody would probably believe.
Maybe too much?
I don't think so. It's all like a great fantasy for me. These professional athletes have the greatest heart in sport today, and it's why I defend them. I hate whenever there's a social issue that comes up in golf and people in the mainstream media who hate golf and who've conjured up all these stereotypes of people who are in the sport, the way they tear it down ... I resent it, and I'll defend golf and people in golf until my dying day.
Give me an example.
It happens all the time. They want to weigh in on all-male clubs, or the Casey Martin issue, whether he should have a golf cart. The issues become bigger than the sport, and general news columnists want to weigh in: Those elitists, those stuck-up snobs who don't get it. Man, they have their heads buried in the sand. Wait a minute! This sport has given more money to charity than pro football, pro basketball and major league baseball combined. This sport is so built on great virtues of the highest integrity. Golf has the greatest collection of writers in sports today. And look at the great ones, when they get later in life, they want to do golf only. Whether it's Dan Jenkins, Bob Verdi . . . Jim Murray's greatest writings were golf writings. Rick Reilly. All the great ones. Too often our sport and the people who cover it let others come in and maul the sport and its reputation. We let them kill it. It upsets me.
Somebody has to get up and defend the great integrity of the sport, and I'm nominating myself.
So why at Augusta in 2003, when Martha Burk had created such a firestorm of controversy over Augusta National's male-only membership, did you not say a word about it during CBS' coverage?
Who had it wrong? CBS or the mainstream media? Was the amount of coverage commensurate with what happened at Augusta? There were 38 stories written in The New York Times from when that issue first surfaced until the Masters.
Did The New York Times have it wrong?
I don't know; they dedicated 38 stories to it. I know that she had seven protesters out there with her in the end who were not paid.
Forget the protest itself. But to not even acknowledge an issue that had received so much attention leading up to the Masters ... even [club chairman] Hootie Johnson addressed it that week.
It had been mentioned all the time. CBS News had covered it. So now you have a finite amount of time to cover a golf tournament. Do we need to go in and cover a story that's been covered, or maybe over-covered? From a news judgment issue, who had it right? Howell Raines [then the editor of The New York Times] or CBS?
What's your opinion on the issue? Are you OK with Augusta's all-male membership?
I'm not saying Martha Burk was right or wrong. I'll say this: It's Augusta's right to decide to do what it wants to do. It's their tournament; it's their club; and they're a private club. And that's all I want to say.
I've got to ask you about Ben Wright.
I shouldn't go there.
At least a couple of questions.
You can't win. When Ben Wright came out with his remarks [about women golfers and the LPGA Tour], which were unfortunate, he got slaughtered. By everybody.
Do you regret how strongly you defended him right after his comments went public?
I defended a guy I worked with for 10 years who I happen to know made a mistake and apologized for it. I'll just say Ben's a good person.
You were one of Ben's very good friends.
And you, with Pat Summerall and Frank Chirkinian, took part in an intervention for Ben that helped him get help for his alcoholism.
We did. Went down in 1996, a couple of days after the Final Four. We got down there the night before. His wife at the time, Kitty, brought us all together. I went from the Final Four calling the championship game on Monday night to his home in North Carolina on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, we were in his living room by 7:30. Ben rolled out of bed, had his robe on, and he was shocked to see us in his living room. __ How did it go?__
Did he listen to your advice?
He was on a plane that afternoon to the Betty Ford Center.
Let's finish up with the Masters. If there's a dream scenario remaining for you to see, what is it?
People are going to say this is crazy, but if Greg Norman ever got a chance to go back to Augusta and compete, I think he could win the Masters in the next five years.
I'm always thinking of great stories. Good things for good people. For me, I would love to bring Davis Love into the green-jacket ceremony one year, with all the ties with his father, with Davis being born the day after the 1964 Masters. That'd be a great story.
A David Duval comeback would be a great story, too.
I get asked a lot about David Duval. I like him a lot, and I'm concerned about him and what's happened to his game. I was walking through the lobby of a hotel awhile back when I noticed a lone figure sitting and staring at a painting in the corridor. It was David, who said hello but didn't much care to talk golf at that point. He was absolutely transfixed by this painting. As I walked away, I thought, You could give me the entire list of guys on the PGA Tour, and there's only one who'd be sitting in a corridor staring at a painting. That's David.
Your thoughts on last year's Masters winner, Phil Mickelson.
Phil gets a lot of credit, as he should, for picking the Baltimore Ravens to win the Super Bowl months before it happened. And I'm here to tell you, the man follows football. He can talk two- and three-deep on rosters for every single team in the NFL. I have fun talking to Phil about the NFL, but one time I made the mistake of asking him, "What do you think about the NFL this year?" Thirty minutes later, after he finally took his first breath, he was still talking. Finally I said, "You know, Phil, I do cover the NFL for a living." We had a good laugh.
Arnold Palmer played his 50th and final Masters last year. How many do you want to do?
This will be my 20th, and I'd like to work 50 Masters. I'd be 75 years old if that happened. I can't think of anything in my profession that would mean as much. You can talk about Emmys or Super Bowls. Fifty Masters Tournaments, that would be the ultimate.