By Art Stricklin
Thanks to his dadís job moves, Jim Nantz lived in several different cities and states growing up, leaving him to joke among his friends that he can always say he grew up in whatever city heís in when giving an after dinner speech.
But he has been a resident of Connecticut since 1985 when he moved to the Northeast to work at CBS full-time, now serving as the networkís signature voice, having broadcast Super Bowl XLI, the 2007 Final Four in Atlanta and 21 Masters Tournaments.
With his busy travel schedule and young family, Nantzís time for golf is very limited, but he still greatly enjoys the game he played in high school and college and has become good friends with former president Bush, often playing with him at his summer home in Maine.
Nantz is a member of both Winged Foot Country Club in New York and the Stanwich Club in Connecticut, where he sometimes plays with former Dallas Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells, who Nantz claims to have a single figure handicap.
In the midst of his busy spring schedule, Nantz took time to talk with Golfing Magazine writer Art Stricklin about his background, his love for the game of golf, his famous rounds and fun times. Golfing Magazine: Playing golf in college, when did broadcasting enter the picture?
Jim Nantz: To be honest, that is what I always wanted to do. My goal really had nothing to do with professional golf except for the chance to broadcast it. That was my obsession from early on. I was driven to work for CBS and be a golf announcer for this very network. GM: Since coming to CBS in 1986, youíve been involved in golf from almost the beginning. Youíve broadcast 21 Masters, several Presidentís Cups and many PGA Championships, you must have a lot of memories?
JN: I canít tell you if I was 6 or 8 the first time I saw the Masters on TV, but I know Iíve had the Masters on my radar screen for a long, long time. Itís always been the top for me. Some things are the gold standard of sports and thatís the Masters Golf Tournament. GM: Your schedule this year from the NFL Playoffs to the Super Bowl to the Final Four and the Masters would make just about anybody tired. How do you do it?
JN: It doesnít matter how Iím feeling and what Iím doing. Going through the gates at Augusta National is like a vitamin B-12 shot for me. I always look forward to it. GM: One famous Connecticut golfer youíve spent a lot of time with over the years is former president George Bush. How did your relationship start?
JN: It was really my good friend and golf pro Paul Marchand who got us together. Paul had known President Bush at Houston Country Club and introduced us and weíve played many, many times together up in Maine. GM: What kind of player is former president Bush?
JN: Everybody knows he is a very fast player, but heís got a lot more game, that is talent, than he gives himself credit for. He was 80 recently and I donít think heís that far away, a couple of yearís maybe, from shooting his age. Now he would scoff at that, laugh and say thatís ridiculous, but heís got some game GM: Youíve played with President Bushís sons, Jeb and George W., what is your critique of their games, since you critique everybody elseís?
JN: Jeb has a great swing and could easily be the best golfer of the family GM: What about current President Wís golf game?
JN: Heís probably a 12 or 15 handicap. Heís got that speed golf thing down, they all do, and itís ingrained in their heads from their father. I know he was always trying to claim a 15 handicap when we played together, but he has a very deep appreciation for the game and how much it takes to play it well. Weíve had some good games together. GM: Has money changed hands, maybe your own personal tax cut?
JN: Oh yes. Heís encouraged me that we should play again. GM: Some Presidential trash talk?
JN: When we were off camera talking about golf this summer he said, Ďfirst off you know where to find me, and second be sure and bring that big, fat wallet of yours.í GM: Sounds like you could do your own reduction of the national debt?
JN: You know, itís all about the dollar. Itís not ďletís go play for 50 dollars split seven waysĒ. Itís about pride. Iíve played with some people who could buy and sell the golf course while weíre out there playing, but Iíve seen President (GHW) Bush stand on the 16th tee and really agonize over if we should press for another dollar. Itís a dollar, I mean just a dollar, but itís fun and relaxing. The most relaxed I ever am on the golf course is with Paul (Marchand) and President Bush. GM: Any other state secrets gleaned from playing with the Bushes?
JN: One thing I did thatís he (Bush, Sr.) has picked up is dedicating shots on the golf course. Iíll stand in the fairway before hitting a 7-iron and say, ĎIíll dedicate this shot to Barbara Bush,í and he was watching me and started dedicating his shots as well. GM: Does it ever amaze you that a former college golf walk-on is hanging out with the former and current President of the United States?
JN: I still pinch myself every time. Iím doing the exact job, sitting in the exact chair I wanted to at CBS as I did when I was a 10 year old kid. Talk about a fantasy come to life. GM: Having grown up in the Northeast, lived all over the country, now back in the Connecticut, how did you wind up playing golf at the University of Houston?
JN: I came to Houston to play golf, August 29, 1977, but I was not on a scholarship as has been incorrectly reported. Back then, you only had five golf scholarships and our coach, the legendary Dave Williams would divide those to give us 10, but we had 18 members of the golf team. I was recruited as a walk-on, but was without a scholarship of any kind. GM: Thatís where you met Blaine McCallister and Fred Couples for the first time?
JN: Thatís right. Blaine was my (assigned) roommate at the University of Houston and Fred was in our suite there. GM: When did you decide that they could play golf for a living and you might be doing something else?
JN: Coach Williams took us all out for a friendly round of golf at Sugar Creek Country Club, the first day we got there at Houston because all the freshmen checked in early. Thatís the first time I had ever seen Blaine or Fred play golf and it took about one swing to see either Iíd shown up at the wrong school or Iíd better find something else I wanted to do. I played in exactly one tournament as a freshman and lettered for one year in golf. GM: Whatís your handicap now?
JN: Iím probably a 10 or 12, but really Iíd have a hard time living up to that. I rededicated myself to playing and practicing this summer, which is my only break in my schedule. I just enjoy going out to my clubs back home and hitting balls when I donít have time to play. GM: You took some heat this year talking about the Masters and the Super Bowl, but I guess that shows your love for golf?
JN: You wonít believe the grief I took for saying at the Super Bowl site, right before I would broadcast my first Super Bowl, that the Masters was my favorite event. But the reporter asked the question and I had to be honest with the way I feel. GM: Can you name your most memorable Masters tournaments?
JN: Of course the first one (I did) with Jack winning in í86 is always special, along with í92 because of Fred (Couples) and í97 when Tiger broke through with his win. Then 2004 was really great with Phil breaking through for his first win and our CBS crew doing such a great job on the final day with holes in one, shots holed from the fairway and Philís dramatic charge.