Jim Nantz has been on the move for weeks now, although you could say that about him most any time. If you watch sports on CBS, you know his main moves: He marches through March Madness, climbs into a score of broadcast towers for various PGA Tour events and then there is his football work (grab a hairbrush and assume the voice), the NFL on CBS. It may be true that to everything there is a season, but for Nantz the seasons get mished and mashed.
On Jan. 17, he was in suburban Philadelphia, for the funeral of Charles E. Will, the longtime CBS Sports director and producer. Chuck Will was a teenager in the Navy during World War II and a bagpiper played taps while two sailors folded an American flag. Nantz, a son of a serviceman himself, could barely contain his tears. Another Philadelphia representative of the Greatest Generation, Jack Whitaker, was at the funeral, too, and Nantz and Mr. Whitaker left together. The broadcasting legend is one of Nantz’s heroes. Whitaker served in World War II, worked in radio after graduating from St. Joseph’s University, and was doing sports on TV when sports on TV was in its infancy. Now he’s 93, with an alert mind and a great face. From the luncheon for Chuck Will, Kid Nantz (he’s 58) took Mr. Whitaker to what was described as a late-afternoon doctor’s appointment. I’m guessing it was actually a dance class.
Sometime later, Nantz left Philadelphia for Boston, for the Patriots-Jaguars for the AFC championship game. After that, he went to Stamford for a business meeting and then to Orlando for the PGA Merchandise Show. From Orlando he went home to Pebble Beach for a brief visit before heading down the coast to San Diego, for the Tour stop known this year as the Tiger’s Back Invitational, formally as the Farmers Insurance Open and historically as Torrey, as in “Where you staying for Torrey?” This week he’ll be in Phoenix. Then the Pebble pro-am. Then it’s on to Riviera. If the weekend at Riv follows last weekend’s script at Torrey, Nantz and Nick Faldo will be describing meaningful Tiger Woods golf shots again.
I asked Nantz the other day about Woods’s play and he said, “One of Tiger’s trademarks in his prime was his ability to fight for every stroke. That’s what I saw more than anything at Torrey. He willed the ball into the cup and fought mightily all four days. His inability to put the ball into the fairway had him facing constant adversity. He’s going to have to improve that or he’ll never make it back to the winner’s circle. He knows that. If his new body will allow him to make the proper moves to put the ball in play, then he has a chance. People are saying it’s great to see Tiger back. I say it’s great to see the fight back in Tiger.”
Between the Philadelphia stop, then Boston, Stamford, home and Torrey Pines — with Phoenix this week and the Pebble Beach Pro-AM and the L.A. Open still to come — did Nantz really need the Orlando stopover? Well, in the name of golf fashion, yes. Nantz came to Orlando to announce a new Jim Nantz golf clothing line, in conjunction with the clothing manufacturer Vineyard Vines. It debuts a year from now.
Vineyard Vines was founded on Martha’s Vineyard, an island of the southeast coast of Massachusetts, by Shep Murray and his kid brother Ian. The sporting culture of the Vineyard runs to its seas — sailing, fishing, body surfing — although the island has two 18-hole courses and three nine-holers, including one course that is the former home of a group called the Inland Ballwatchers Society. That course is a par-29 (these days) on Chappaquiddick that I used to drive by on a dirt road when I lived in a shack near it. (I started my post-college typing life on the Vineyard Gazette.) The author Vance Packard used to play the I.B.S. course regularly, in a madras plaid shirt, before cocktail hour. If you don’t know the name, I point you to The Hidden Persuaders. Good writer, bad golfer. Stylish gent, though, in every way.
At the Merchandise Show announcement, in a smallish room across a wide corridor from the massive acreage of the convention-center floor, Marty Hackel, the golf-fashion maven, asked an excellent question: What would the new Jim Nantz golf line for Vineyard Vines actually look like? Nantz and Murray provided answers that gave you the mood but not the thread count. Classical but modern maybe gets it down to three words. Hackel, by the way, was wearing a wool plaid blazer, trim to the bodice, some kind of dungaree, no socks and loafers in a color you could call old money. He looked marvelous.
I was thinking about asking if Nantz and the Vineyard Vines people were taking inspiration from the David Leadbetter line at Jos. A. Bank, but that seemed unlikely. The DL/JAB look is sort of big and boxy and often pleated, ideal for gentlemen of a certain age. Vineyard Vines trends young. It will surely be different.
I instead asked Nantz about his work blazers. Maybe you saw them on Nantz and Faldo during the Farmers telecast, with the distinctive CBS Eye sewn on the left breast. They are sometimes white, less often silver. I wrote about Ken Venturi at his final CBS broadcast, at the Kemper Open in 2002, and it was with some ceremony that he marched off TPC Avenal and into the setting sun in his CBS blazer, instead of giving it to one of the network production assistants, who would get it to Kenny’s next CBS golf event, except now there was no next. Not for Kenny.
Nantz, by way of answer in Orlando, talked some about the custom of the CBS blazer, how he and his various booth partners all wore them and how he liked it that way. “I like to feel that I’m on a team,” he said. He was wearing a blue blazer himself just then, but not a CBS blazer. He showed off the interior label: Vineyard Vines. Ian Murray smiled. This Jim Nantz — you know his thing. Smooooth.
In a less public forum, I asked Nantz if he would submit to a little activity we here at GOLF.com call Emergency Nine. The terrific thing about Emergency Nine is there are no wrong answers! Nantz was game, and he played from 35,000 feet.
Emergency Nine question No. 1: Name association game, Part I. Chuck Taylor. What comes to mind first, the basketball player or the sneaker?
Jim Nantz: That’s an easy one — the sneaker! Chuck was ahead of his time. All told, his contributions to basketball, fashion, and pop culture rival a Chuck who is a friend of mine, Charles Barkley.
EN Q2: Name association game, Part II. Stan Smith. Same thing. The tennis player or the tennis shoe?
JN: This one is all about Stan. A good man who was not only a superb tennis player but is also a golf fan. He has made many appearances through the years at the RBC Heritage and I’m always eager to visit with him. Stan was close to some of my old buddies at CBS: Frank Chirkinian, Pat Summerall, Tony Trabert, Ken Venturi. For me he’s a link to the good old days, like a well-worn sneaker!
EN Q3: You grew up on the East Coast. You now live in California. Do you prefer the word “sneaker” as we East Coasters tend to say, or “tennis shoe,” as the West Coasters typically call sneakers of every stripe?
JN: I’m a man who claims many hometowns, but now that I’m a Californian, I say flip-flops.
EN Q4: You have a new job, writing ad copy for the new Bill Belichick line of hooded sweatshirts, which are exactly like the ones we’ve seen for years. What do you say about it?
JN: My ad copy: “What’s new in the hood? Try on the Beliian hoodie and gain a sense of mystery and magic. Guaranteed to outthink anyone in your sphere!”
EN Q5: You’ve seen Tour players wearing Peter Millar. But have you or anybody you know ever met Mr. Millar?
JN: Would love to meet Mr. Millar — if he existed! — just to tell him how much respect I have for his threads.
EN Q6: Had your friend Fred Couples never met John Ashworth, what would Fred be wearing today?
JN: I would like to think the Jim Nantz Collection by Vineyard Vines.
EN Q7: Vineyard Vines, as you of know, takes its name from Martha’s Vineyard. Of the six towns on the Vineyard, you can find your wine, The Calling, for sale in only three of them, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Haven. Why is that?
JN: This is the time-tested model of supply and demand. When your wine gets ranked as one of the top 100 wines in the world by Wine Spectator, you can only share the love in so many places!
EN Q8: In your years in golf — circa 1970 through the present — whom do you regard as the game’s best-dressed male and female player?
JN: Many years ago, while I working the tournament at Pebble Beach, Phil Harris made his annual visit to the booth. Mr. Harris was a dear friend of Bing Crosby’s and carried a reputation for enjoying an adult beverage. Jack Lemmon hit his tee shot at 18 into the Pacific. Summerall intoned, “That’s Lemmon on the rocks”. That prompted Mr. Harris to say, “That sounds like a drink I had last night in the Tap Room!” Kenny followed up with, “I’ve always wanted to ask you Phil, after all these years: What’s your favorite drink?” Harris immediately shot back with, “The next one!” You can see where this is going. The best-dressed golfers? Still to come.
EN Q9: What do you think is more likely: Tiger Woods to contend at the Masters this year or the Sansabelt pant to make a comeback?
JN: You’re going retro here. I will take Tiger over the slacks.
Well done, Jim Nantz!
Again, it is true that in Emergency Nine, there are no wrong answers. We borrow the principle you see on this pro-forma bumper sticker: EVERY CHILD IS AN HONORED STUDENT AT ACME MIDDLE SCHOOL. But then there are those rare times when there actually is a demonstrably incorrect answer, and in such circumstances we are duty-bound to set the record straight.
Regarding ENQ7, about why the wine The Calling is sold in only three of the Vineyard’s six towns, this is the actual answer: of the six, alcohol is sold in only three, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven. As it happens, those are the three Vineyard towns with golf courses, too.
Coincidence? We think not.
Michael Bamberger may be reached at [email protected]