It will be a stroll down memory lane, not Magnolia Lane, for Jim Nantz this Masters weekend
January, February, Nantz, April, May …
With a delivery so smooth and liquid you could pour it from the Claret Jug, Nantz is the titanium standard in the golf world, the undisputed best in the business. And in any other year, he would be positioned in Butler Cabin at Augusta National this weekend, calling the action and ready to help the newest Masters champion slip into a freshly minted green jacket.
Instead, Nantz is at home with his family in Pebble Beach, looking forward to the possibility of an intact NFL season and a postponed Masters in November. He’s not, however, sitting idly by. This week, he turned back time, taking another look at the 2004 and ’19 Masters, from a virtual broadcast booth with the winners of those classic tournaments.
On Saturday, starting at 11:30 a.m. PDT, CBS will re-air the final round of the ’04 Masters, with Nantz and champion Phil Mickelson — both working from their homes — looking back at that fateful day. It was Mickelson’s first victory in a major championship.
Sunday is when Tiger Woods made golf history, but Saturday is when he won the 2019 Masters and reestablished himself as golf’s king.
On Sunday, starting at 9:30 a.m., the network will re-air the final round of Tiger Woods’ wildly improbable, stirring victory last year.
Nantz, 60, in a conversation with The Times this week, recounted some of his favorite Masters memories, and the experience of looking back on those two years in particular.
“Phil and Tiger both were so generous with their time,” Nantz said. “To be on such sensory overload at the time, certain shots they played, and the things that they were aware of in the moment that they now share with us.
“I had never watched the ’04 nor the ’19 Masters again. I know there are avenues and ways you can access it. But I never had. Particularly ’04, I had forgotten how special that day was. Because you had so many players who were making a move and doing remarkable things. The excitement of the golf was better in ’04 than in ’19.
“I’m not saying the story was bigger. I actually think it’s been underrated how big that ’04 Masters was when you sit and make up the roll call of great Masters tournaments ever.”
Nantz’s first assignment at Augusta was in 1986, when he was 26 and assigned to the 16th hole the year that 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus became the oldest winner of the Masters and second-oldest winner of any major championship.
“It was a weighty assignment,” Nantz said. “A little bit of me was shocked that Frank Chirkinian, the legendary father of golf television and the leader of CBS golf at that time, that he would entrust a 26-year-old to be on this broadcast crew. Obviously, I was honored beyond words.”
The most meaningful Masters for Nantz came six years later, when Fred Couples, his suite-mate at the University of Houston, edged Raymond Floyd by two strokes to collect his only major championship victory.
Couples and Nantz were teammates on the Houston golf team, although Nantz concedes he wasn’t in the same stratosphere.
“I was the 18th man on an 18-player golf team,” Nantz said. “The coach for whatever reason knew that I was a kid that was a goal-minded individual. I would get up every day and go to class, I’d do my homework and be orderly and organized. So he put me in the dorm suite at Houston with Fred Couples, Blaine McCallister, who won five tour events, and John Horne, who played a couple years on the tour. We called ourselves the amigos.”
They might have been at the opposite ends of the talent spectrum on that team, but Couples and Nantz had similar goals in mind. Both were intent on winding up at Augusta.
“Freddy always had in his head that the ultimate tournament was the Masters,” he said. “Well, guess what, so did I. Long before I showed up on the Houston campus, as a young boy I dreamt of being an announcer for CBS. For two reasons: the way the CBS broadcast looked and sounded; and the way CBS presented the NFL.
The final round of the 1992 Masters, won by Fred Couples.
“So to walk around campus with this dream of one day covering the Masters, broadcasting the Masters, and living with a guy who had the talent and the ability to be able to dream that one day he could compete there. And the wildest dream of all, that one day he could win it. My gosh, we were running parallel paths there. We were in the same universe. We both wanted to get to Augusta for a career goal.”
So when Nantz presented his college buddy with the green jacket, it was a full-circle moment.
“The dream had been realized,” Nantz said. “How do you beat that?”
Well, maybe there is one way.
“There’s only one way that ever gets topped, and that’s if my little guy, my 4-year-old son Jameson who has taken to golf, one day becomes a champion — no pressure here — but if he were to one day become a champion golfer and made his way to Augusta and walked into that cabin as a Masters champion,” Nantz said with a chuckle.
“That would be a ‘Hello, son’ and, ‘Goodbye, friends’ moment for me. I would retire right on the spot.”
Ignore the leagues, mute the coaches, and listen to the science regarding COVID-19. It might be time to bench the sports world until 2021, Bill Plaschke writes.
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