Editor’s note: This article originally ran in the December 2014 issue of Golf Magazine.
Joe Buck is about to take center stage at the U.S. Open with Fox Sports hosting the year’s second major for the first time in its history. We sat down with Buck to get some insight into the man who can control if it’s a success or a flop.
At the Shark Shootout, you and Greg Norman will climb into the booth together for the first time, and you’ll be calling the U.S. Open next June. You’re new to golf play-by-play. How is it different from doing baseball or football?
It’s so different. I could do a seminar on how different it is. Learning golf broadcasting is like learning Mandarin — I’ve never done an event where you’re not seeing all the action. You’re only watching a sliver of the course, and you can only go off what you get on the monitor, what you get in your ear, and what’s being handed to you. When I do football and baseball, I don’t have a lot of noise in my head — no producers talking to me, nobody handing me things — so I get to be free and clear and do and say what I want. And golf is literally the opposite of that. It’s people handing me cards and telling me where I’m going. It’s acting like you’ve been watching Rory McIlroy for eight holes when you haven’t seen him all day. It’s a unique dance.
Broadcasters seem to talk almost nonstop in baseball and football, but in golf, a less-is-more approach is preferable. Where do you stand?
My philosophy of broadcasting is, you need to be completely prepared so you don’t feel like you have to show the world how much you know every time you open your mouth. The roar of a crowd will play a lot better to the fan watching at home than anything I’m going to come up with. You have to be confident and know that being silent doesn’t mean the audience thinks you don’t know anything. You should honor what you’re watching.
Who’s your favorite current golf broadcaster?
I think Jim Nantz is incredible. He’s brilliant at putting together history, telling a story of what’s happening in the present, and honoring the moment. I think he’s the best to ever do it.
You and Greg Norman had an on-air test run together at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. How did that go? What’s your chemistry like?
I found Greg to be a really good, fun person. We had a chance to get to know each other over dinner and drinks. Getting started in the booth is difficult because you’re starting and stopping. I’ve done this for a long time, and I know when the guy next to me is ready to talk. Like a good poker player, I’m trying to pick up his tell, when he’s going to jump in and talk, and I started to get it by the end of the first day. It was interesting and intimidating at first, and then it became fun. I couldn’t wait to get back in there and work out that chemistry.
In terms of style, how will Greg be different from Johnny Miller?
Greg will be as open and as naturally critical as a guy can be without overdoing it. You have to be honest with the viewer, but you also have to be fair and remember how hard this game is. The Shark will have teeth, but I don’t think he’ll be a Great White every time he opens his mouth.
You’re a low single-digit, and you’ve played the AT&T pro-am at Pebble Beach. Any favorite stories?
At Pebble one year, Lanny Wadkins was [in the booth]. I hit a ball on No. 15, and I blocked it to the right. Not crazy right, but the cameraman missed it. Lanny’s comment was, “These amateurs, they hit the ball so far off line sometimes, our camera people just can’t follow it.” And my ball was just right of the cart path! I ended up parring the hole. And it was the greatest lesson for me because I wanted to stomp into the tower and go, “Hey, Lanny! I got a 4! Shut up!” [Laughs] Because that’s how everybody feels when they’re criticized, whether it’s you, your brother, your spouse, whomever. I keep that in mind when I’m in the booth and I want to criticize.
Your dad, Jack Buck, was a legendary baseball broadcaster. What would he think about you taking on a veritable triple crown of sports events — the Super Bowl, the World Series, and in 2015, the U.S. Open?
My dad would be so proud. He would be the first one there, to pick the brain of Greg Norman. I learned golf through watching it with my dad. As a kid, I’d say, “Why are you watching this? It’s putting me to sleep.” As I got older and I had kids, my attitude became, “I really want to watch so I can go to sleep! The grass is so green and the sounds are so tranquil. I need more of this in my life.”
If Norman is the Shark, what animal are you?
[Laughs] I’m just one of those little feeder fish swimming around his fin, trying to get protection so no other shark gets me. I’ll be the one squeaking in the background.
Joe Buck: Three Things I Know for Sure
Be Careful with Criticism
When I got dropped off in Louisville for my first baseball job, at age 19, my dad, Jack, said to me, “You’ve been watching Major League Baseball your entire life, and the one thing I’m going to tell you is this: Unless you think you could have made the play 10 times out of 10, just describe what happened and don’t criticize someone for a mistake. It’s not a perfect game.” I’ve always respected that, and I maintain a great appreciation for what these athletes do.
Control the Clubface for Square Contact
I’ve been working on trying to control the clubface straight off the ball on my takeaway, instead of allowing it to release. Keeping the clubface square as I swing away from the ball for the first foot and a half is the key to my accuracy.
You Don’t Know the Real Me
People have no idea who I really am or what I’m about, and I can’t control that. When they meet me, they get an idea. I go out of my way to let people know that I’m interested in what they have to say, whether it’s good or bad. A lot of people assume that announcers are stuffed suits that are just yapping away to hear their own voices, but I’m the opposite of that. And that attitude comes from being my dad’s son.