Longtime ESPN anchor Chris Berman, 61, on playing at Pebble Beach, why he always partners with J.J. Henry and how much he misses broadcasting the U.S. Open.
How did you learn the game?
I’m sure you can tell from my swing that I never played it as a kid other than going to driving ranges in high school, where it was a dime or a quarter if you hit the picker. I never really played until my 20s, which is a long time ago now. Mid-to-late 20s, I got a set of clubs. Other than hacking around here and there in college sometimes, drinking beers, nobody really ever taught me the game. I just learned to really like it. It just kind of developed. One man at ESPN taught me the side of the game that isn’t swing-related; the things like why you mark your ball or why you might not hit through four trees, instead hit it over here.
You seem to have a lifetime pass to the Pebble Beach Pro-Am…
It’s fun. I’ve gone 10 times, but never before I was 50. The whole thing is a surreal week, being inside the ropes in a real tournament, with real players trying to make a living. Pebble Beach, I always say, is where God waits for tee times; the most beautiful course ever. It’s an honor, for a week, to be someone you’re not.
You play with J.J. Henry. Why is that?
Well, he’s from Connecticut, like me. I’ve known him a long time. We’re just comfortable with each other. I know his mom, dad, wife and kids. We’ve just struck a friendship as two Connecticut boys and have stayed in touch through that. I root for him more than I root for our pro-am team, that’s for sure.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time there?
We’ve made the cut there the past two years. Only 25 out of 150 make it as amateurs. My favorite hole, far and away, is 10. It’s a hard par if you’re a 17-handicap. I hit driver, seven-wood and an eight-foot putt to make birdie-for-eagle.
What do you miss most about your time broadcasting the U.S. Open?
I loved it. My first one was Shinnecock with Raymond Floyd in 1986. I miss being in the middle of it. I enjoy the people in golf, the individuals, the history of it. The USGA put me on it in the early 2000s to speak to broader sports fans. Not everybody watching the U.S. Open is a 2-handicap. If you can make viewers smile or help them enjoy it more, then you’ve done your job. I just enjoyed being able to walk on the range and talk to all the guys; they all want to talk because they’re all football fans. It takes their mind off however they’re hitting their six-iron.
How does covering a football game differ from covering a golf tournament?
In football they have a huddle, and you analyze or talk about something. Then 22 people are in motion for 10 to 15 seconds. A lot of things can happen among those 22 people in those 10 seconds. In golf, someone says in your ear, here’s this player on 16, his second shot. They hit, and then the ball is going somewhere else. That part we all see together, but in football something might happen that you can’t see right away on the screen. The similarity is that your goal as an announcer is to correctly tell the story that is happening. That part is the same, but I would never compare golf and football other than they play on nice, green fields.