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Jim Nantz: The Golf Magazine Interview

Jim Nantz, April 2010
Al Tielemans/SI
Jim Nantz and Arnold Palmer at the Masters in 2008.

But you could use this as an opportunity to set the record straight.
No, no, no, no. I'm not going to sit here and tear anybody apart.

The whole ordeal must have been emotionally draining.
It's really hard. It's really hard when you're a parent and you have a daughter [Caroline, 16] who is everything to you. You can't keep your kids off computers, so they'll see what people will say out there in the blogosphere.... Sometimes you sit back and you can't believe you've gotten to this point in your life where people are writing about you. You've gotten to the point where you're on Page Six [the New York Post's gossip page] not once, not twice, but three times. It's like, When are we going to stop perpetuating some myths here? This didn't happen. I don't make that much money. It's not the truth. So you just want to surround yourself with people who were hurt by this, and you just want to have a big hug with your family. You just want it go away.

Back to the booth. Your ability to store and recall data must be an invaluable asset.
No question. What we do is so fast — the moment's right in front of you — so you don't have five minutes to reflect on it and then go back and insert the caption. But golf is not a sport about numbers, which is why I don't want to see the screen get covered up with too much detail. I understand that there are people out there who want their information overload. But I look at that screen as a canvas and golf is the greatest painting in sports. I think that canvas is sacred in a lot of ways, and it shouldn't be cheapened with a whole bunch of stats.

If golf isn't about stats, what is it about?
It's a story-driven sport, a heartbeat sport, a sport about humanity, tradition, history, heritage, and those are things that are important to me in my own life. I'm a nostalgic guy. I get emotional about a lot of things. Poignancy often gets me. Whether it's a moment with my daughter, or I'm at a movie, or I'm watching a sporting event, I feel it, and sometimes I can't contain some of the emotion I have.

Do you ever leave the booth with regrets?
Every show. There's not a backspace bar up in my booth. I'll often think, I could have phrased that with fewer words, that wasn't as eloquent as it could have been. That's the perfectionist in me.

In 2008, a New York Times media critic wrote that your opening script for Masters Sunday was 'fattened with phrases...that made my blood sugar spike. Whatever happened to subtlety?' How do you respond to those who say your style is too syrupy or sentimental?
I know some people have criticized me for that, but I can't help it — that's how I feel. I'm in love with calling golf tournaments. I'm a hopeless romantic about it. That's the way I look at it. It's nothing manufactured. It's nothing contrived. That's just what's in my heart. That's just the way I call it, and I wouldn't know any other way.

Have you considered toning down your approach?
I'm not going to change. Why would I? I've done it the same way every year. The fan in me is right out there for people to see. If you walk around at Augusta on Tuesday or Wednesday as I'm out there trying to cobble together a few cogent thoughts and pick up a few last-minute anecdotes, I think you would see that the reaction of the Augusta fan is overwhelmingly beautiful to me. And the letters I get; the golf fan so identifies me with that tournament that I get letters year round. People have a very strong positive reaction, and that's the feedback I get everywhere I go. I'm talking about the Masters 365, and I Iove that. I like to have the Masters on my mind 365.

You think about the Masters every day?
Well, pretty much anytime I step out of my house, or anytime I walk into a locker room — football or basketball — the players and coaches all want to talk to me about the Masters. If I'm hanging around the gate at an airport, people will often come up and ask me to repeat the line: "The Masters, a tradition unlike any other." Hey, Jim, can you put that on my phone? I get that all the time. Even as a kid I was hopelessly in love with that tournament, and that was my motivation in my youth, my teens and early twenties: to one day be lucky enough to broadcast the Masters.

When did your announcing career begin to take off?
By my junior year [at the University of Houston] I started to catch a lot of really good breaks. I was working for the CBS radio affiliate, KTRH, and I was working for the CBS television affiliate, KHOU, and I was freelancing a lot. I was a public-address announcer at the home basketball games at the University of Houston, I was the backup P.A. man for the Astros at the Dome. I was narrating films for NASA. Every day I had something going on.

Did you recognize early on that you had a voice for broadcasting?
I really don't think I have a particularly distinguishable voice, but people do say that. I think part of it is that I've been on the air so long now that I've become associated with certain events, or people have adjusted to hearing me in their homes. It's amazing — people will ask me, "Hey, would you mind donating your voice to charity for a live auction. Would you do an outgoing message?" People auction these things off for like $1,000 a pop. I do Chris O'Donnell's message. "Hello, friends, Jim Nantz here for Chris O'Donnell. You know that tradition unlike any other — leave your name, number and the time that you called, and he'll get back to you."

You famously played on the Houston golf team with Fred Couples and Blaine McCallister. How did you wind up on that all-star squad?
I was a fairly decent [high school] player in New Jersey. I was not setting the world on fire. I was named first-team Jersey Shore by the Asbury Park Press, the paper I used to deliver as a young boy. I got to Houston and Coach Williams invited me to walk on the golf team. I was the 18th man on an 18-man golf team. I think he saw me as a serious-minded kid who maybe would be a good influence on his three incoming scholarship freshmen. So he put me in a dorm room with them and I think he thought maybe I would be the one who made sure they got up and got to class every day.

You were Mother Hen.
That's what it felt like, yeah.

Was Couples a wild man?
Are you kidding me? Not at all. None of us were. We were really, really boring.

Did Freddie do well with the ladies?
No, he never had a girlfriend until his junior year; he had never even been on a date to my knowledge. He used to claim that there was someone back in Seattle, but I don't think any of us were buying it. [Laughs.]

Animal House it wasn't.
No, we were good kids. We never drank, much less anything beyond that. I never saw marijuana once. Never was a factor. These were gifted athletes — myself way excluded from this list — many of whom had a legitimate shot at playing on the PGA Tour. They weren't there to have wild times.

That was nearly 30 years ago. Has the time flown by?
It has. I sometimes think you get stuck in a vacuum where you're running off to the next tournament, or the next football or basketball broadcast, and it tends to accelerate the time. The perspective is that you see guys who you covered earlier in your career and suddenly you realize that, boy, they're now in a different phase of their lives. When Jack Nicklaus won the Masters in 1986, it was mind-blowing. How in the world could a 46-year-old win the Masters? Well, I'm 50 now, and I still feel like a kid. I'm on warp-speed time, and I want it to slow down.

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