Jim Nantz Q&A, Part II: Broadcasting career highs, lows

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Michael Cohen/PGA TOUR
CBS' Jim Nantz (right) called golf with Ken Venturi for 17 years. He now works alongside Sir Nick Faldo (left).
May 04, 2013
Brian Wacker,

Editor's note: On Monday evening, longtime CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz will present friends Fred Couples and Ken Venturi at their enshrinement ceremonies for induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame. The following is Part II of an interview with Nantz, conducted on April 25.

PGATOUR.COM: You’ve been at CBS for almost 30 years. You’ve covered obviously not just golf but the NFL and college basketball and so many of sports’ biggest moments. Does anybody have a better job than you?

 

JIM NANTZ: You're awful nice to say that, and believe me, there are times when I sit back in awe, especially as I come through a stretch, the 70‑day, 10‑week window of the Super Bowl, the Final Four and the Masters. We do the Super Bowl every third year, rotating with FOX and NBC, and this happened to be one of our Super Bowl years, and when you're in the middle of it, you're so into the preparation and just making sure you're ready for that big broadcast and you have all your bases covered. Now I'm kind of winding down off of that and I'm finally getting reacquainted with my home. I'm just so grateful. My heart is filled with so much gratitude that I've had the chance to do all these things. It was never put on my birth certificate that I was entitled to be at any one of them, much less more than once, much less 28 times through.

I've got to tell you, though, of all the fulfilling things I've had, that this business has brought me, I think maybe if I had to whittle it down to things I'm most proud of -- because in the end one day you've got to hand off the torch to someone and they're going to be anchoring the Masters and calling the Final Four, etc. -- are the friendships. I never wanted to be the story; I wanted to tell the story. I wanted to be there to document these moments.

I'm proud of the things that I've been entrusted with. I count my blessings every day. But I love the fact that I have had such great friendships with people I've worked with, and in some instances people that I've gotten to know through those sports, whether it's an Arnold Palmer or a Jack Nicklaus or too many people to start naming here. It goes on and on.

But this night is a snapshot of what I'm getting to the very core of, and that is it's going to be now my fourth and fifth occasions of being asked by a Hall-of-Famer to be their presenter. Having five people that thought enough as a friend to ask me to stand up and tell their story and deliver their testimonial, I'm really proud of that. I don't even know quite how to express how much that means to me. I can't even tell you how many total people are in the World Golf Hall of Fame, but this is going to be the fourth and fifth times for me presenting someone, and they all have been very special people in my life.

PGATOUR.COM: Has it ever gotten old; what's changed?

NANTZ: I find myself working harder the longer I'm in the business. My preparation level intensifies. I felt better about this three‑event sequence this year than anything I've ever done in my career, and I worked harder at it. It's not that I ever slacked -- I would never know what that would mean. But you just get deeper and more experienced and you find better avenues to roundup stories and better ways to tell them. I guess that's the definition of experience. You just create ways of making things better because you've learned.

I don't know what to say. I have people ask me all the time, are you aware you've got the greatest job of all time, or do you know how many people would love to trade places with you? I am aware of that, and I'm almost at a loss for words because it's really hard to get any one of them to ever be in a position to be able to call a Super Bowl or a Final Four or the Masters, and if I never did another one, I'd be a very lucky man for what I've had the chance to do. It's been a very rich and full career that was built on a childhood dream.

PGATOUR.COM: What’s been the best moment for you in the booth?

NANTZ: It’s hard to pin down any one thing, but how do you top a guy you shared a dorm with when you were kids and played make believe in Houston and interviewed one another, play-acting like I was hosting the Masters and he was winning the Masters? April 12, 1992 would be awfully hard for anybody to top. To have someone that you’re that close to and to have your careers and lives intersect at Butler Cabin, and to have talked about it when you were skinny freshmen with big dreams -- for that moment to happen for real, I mean what are the odds? I’d be hard-pressed to say anything could be better or sweeter than that.

PGATOUR.COM: What about your best non-golf moment in the booth?

NANTZ: When the Saints won the Super Bowl, the game didn't come down to the last play, but it was the first one I called after I lost my father. The first game I ever attended was with my dad. It was in New Orleans, it was Game 1 of the New Orleans Saints franchise, November of 1967. My dad had been transferred to New Orleans, and he took his 8-year-old boy to watch the Saints, a football team that really is important to that community. So to be there for the first game in the history of the franchise and then in later life to declare that the New Orleans Saints have won the Super Bowl on national television, that one meant a lot internally to me. It was just another one of those connecting the dots kind of moments for me when I was first exposed to football. My dad was sitting by my side. I had my dad figuratively with me in the booth. I lost him a year-and-a-half before that Super Bowl broadcast. My mother, by the way, was in the stands decked out head to toe in New Orleans Saints gear. Here you are remembering when you first were exposed to the game, and now you're documenting the New Orleans Saints' greatest moment where they're actually the world champions. That was pretty cool.

PGATOUR.COM: You’ve had so many highs in your career. What was the worst moment for you professionally?

NANTZ: You know, I'm a total perfectionist, and I labor over trying to get things right. Whether we're putting together an opening for the Masters broadcast or when I was writing with my friend Eli Stillman a book about my dad called ‘Always By My Side,’ I'm always trying to find a way to do something better. What I'm getting to is I walk out of the booth every week feeling like I didn't quite nail it, that I could have done better, and I wish I had rephrased the story another way. It's live television and you don't have a chance to rewrite the sentence. I walk out of the booth in what I've learned to call, thanks to Frank Chirkinian, a blue funk, you walk out and your mind is just on overdrive: What did I do? Why didn't I do it better? Why can't I hit the perfect show? It feels like a lot more lows is my point than you'd like to think. You never walk out feeling like it was the perfect show.

But you know I lost my voice one time at a basketball game. It was a UCLA-Stanford regular season game. It wasn't a meaningful game. And I had laryngitis. I was with Billy Packer, and I knew I was in trouble that morning when I awoke and tried to answer my wake-up call from the operator and I couldn't get the words out to say thank you. I quickly made a call to the producer and struggled through that, and then I called the executive producer back in New York and said I have got a real problem here, and that took me a long time for that to be understood what I just said to you.

The short of it is they said, ‘I'm sure when the light comes on you'll be fine.’ So we proceeded as if magically, as soon as we heard that CBS college basketball theme song, that the voice would just be awakened and the words would come flying out. The only problem was they didn't at all. It was really rough. Downright embarrassing. I'm sure it was really awkward for the viewer. Billy Packer had to call a two‑hour broadcast all by himself, promos included.

PGATOUR.COM: You’ll get to watch this one from home since it’s an NBC event -- any prediction on THE PLAYERS Championship?

NANTZ: I love watching it, and I really enjoy the way NBC presents it. That is a tournament to me, it's all over the place when it comes to trying to figure out the champion. It's not so clearly defined.  It doesn't always suit one style of player. We know the field is dynamite, that the field is loaded with great players. But to try to pick that one, could I have picked K.J. Choi, or Sergio Garcia, or the year that Phil Mickelson figured it out and played so well or Freddie's two wins there or Craig Perks? I mean, I just don't get it. I just sit back and enjoy it.

I'm just trying to run through my brain who's going to play well there. I'll say Brandt Snedeker. I love his game. He's just a huge talent. I love his attitude, he's a good person, and he's driven to improve and get better and better. I think he's going to have a fabulous run here for a number of years.

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