CBS Sports’ Jim Nantz talks golf which might open up sports in June, Tiger, Mickelson and a busy fall

First of two part interview with Jim Nantz. 

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Familiarity. As one season turns to the next, life has its ebbs and flows but there are certain things that can mark time without the need to look at the calendar.

Unfortunately, these days, many of us spot the passage of time by either working at home, seeing what time the groceries will be delivered to the front door, or perhaps taking a carefree walk to break the monotony of shelter-at-home guidelines. The spring is always looked at as a time to rejuvenate, when the birds chirp, when the last winter snow melts and when life for those in many parts of the country finally reaches a semblance of outdoor activities.

Jim Nantz, the face of CBS Sports, has served as one of the nation’s premier sports voices for thirty plus years. For decades, he’s warmly presided over the telecasts of the two big spring sports events, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and the Masters. He’s done play by play of the Final Four since 1991 and worked his first Masters in 1986. He moves seamlessly from basketball to golf, just as he does from football to just about any assignment. His April ritual of rushing from the Final Four to Augusta is something he looks forward to doing every year.

Jim and I had a chance to catch up last week to discuss the challenges of staying at home as Covid-19 has shut down the games and sporting events we all love. He talks about how busy he’s been, (and he is!) and how he’s looking forward to a busy calendar when the sports world attempts to rev up from dormancy.

Life in California during a pandemic?  How are you holding up?

We’re fine, right here in Monterey County which hasn’t been hit too hard. Good place to shelter. Lots of time with family. Lots of great places for walks and such. We’re busy, lots of programming. I’m doing an interview with New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton this morning who as you know had COVID-19 and we’re also putting some golf shows together.

Thanks to teleconferencing technology, you were able to bring together Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods to break down their respective wins at The Masters in 2004 and 2019.

Some very enterprising production people at CBS who wanted to present something fresh and new from a home location. Someone hatched the idea, why not do ’04 with Phil and ’19 with Tiger. They both were willing participants and it really made the show sing; to be able to get inside their heads and have a window into what they were thinking in certain situations. It was astonishing to hear Phil, 16 years down the road with all the data points he still has and with certain key situations in the round. You can almost feel as though he just walked off the golf course yesterday. It was so fresh in his mind. It was really good television and Phil was spectacular as an analyst. His big personality came out. Tiger, to sit down and go through key situational moments, is something you don’t hear too often.

Were you surprised at Tiger’s emotion as the rewind broadcast went along? It wasn’t the Tiger we’ve typically come to know over the years.

You’re right.  He’s very guarded in terms of how much of his heart he wants us to see. He protects those feelings. He’ll answer every question but doesn’t usually mix in a lot of emotion. If you go back a year to when he was presented the Green Jacket in Butler Cabin, I asked similar questions. I just think he was programmed and I think there was a little shock factor too. He was able to go through it without opening that emotional valve last year.

I was probably a little more emotional than even he was at the time. It was emotional for me and millions of viewers. I was really struck by it, but at the time Tiger didn’t go there.

Space and distance. Let’s face it. We’re in a difficult time in the world but good for him that he’s had a year to look back on it. Good for him for letting all of us know how touched he was by that whole scene. On Easter Sunday week, looking back at that final round with him, was a side that most of us haven’t seen of Tiger.

Last year, shortly after the event, I spoke with the great Lance Barrow, Coordinating Producer of The Masters. He gave me some particulars on how the final scenes played out, after Tiger holed out to win. In your words and as the lead voice in the booth, take us through your mindset.

It was just a moment where nothing could be said that could make it bigger or better. If you tried to insert yourself into that scene, you’d be making a terrible mistake. Realize that I’m in Butler Cabin, Nick Faldo is at 18 and Lance is in the truck. When I said “Return to Glory,” I couldn’t talk to Nick. There was no secret way I can do it. If I did, I’d be live on the air so I had to relay it through Lance.

I told him that I wouldn’t say anything for a long time and asked him to let Nick know because my mic was still live. I didn’t want Nick to panic like, “Where’s Jim?” On the fly, Lance alerted everyone that the next voice we hear will be Jim’s. And it was all done on the fly.

I think it was like two plus minutes without us talking. It was not pre-planned. On live television you make snap decisions and you can’t rewrite the paragraph. You have so many unscripted things you do on live television. I instinctively knew that the scene needed its own moment, time and platform. We could only sully the scene!

As you move into the unknown at some point this year, there’s a sense that golf will lead the way back in terms of professional sports.

It doesn’t come as much as a surprise that they’re planning these first four events and that the tour feels pretty optimistic about it (Colonial- Charles Schwab, RBC Heritage, Travelers Championship and Rocket Mortgage Classic).

Honestly, I haven’t really talked to many people about it at this point. I tend to look at a lot of models on projections these days and it appears that by June, we could be receding in terms of number of cases. But honestly, I just walked Pebble Beach this morning, which a year ago hosted the world for the US Open. Not the course but the cart path. Look, this is a happy place, Pebble Beach. A bucket list place. I think of it as Disneyland for adults.  People are so happy here and it’s a swish pan to not see many signs of human life.

Professional events may have no fans but it definitely looks like golf will start that way with the first of four tournaments in June at Colonial. Thoughts?

Well, people may not remember, but we’ve done a golf event with no fans!  In 2012 at Congressional, there were some tornadoes that came through the area on a Friday night. No fans were allowed in the third round of Tiger’s tournament. For our CBS crew we can say we’ve done this with no fans.


Part Two:

CBS’ Jim Nantz opens up on his future, his dad, re-upping Tony Romo and loss of Tom Brady to NFC


Dan Mason

Dan Mason has been in sports broadcasting since the 1980s, doing play by play, color and covering the ACC. He previously hosted programming for ESPN Radio in Raleigh. He can be reached at twitter: @mason87dan

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Michael Green
4 years ago

I had not known about the Colonial with no fans. Interesting interview. Thanks!