Imagine trying to replace not one but two legends in your field.
As just the third lead producer in the 64-year storied history of CBS Sports golf coverage – following Frank Chirkinian, the godfather of televised golf, and Lance Barrow, who taught him the ropes – Sellers Shy faces an unenviable task. How do you freshen the telecast and push innovation with the ghosts of Chirkinian and Barrow sitting on your shoulder as you try to carve your own path?
Shy, a 49-year-old Memphis native and Ole Miss product, appears to be up to the task. He did more in his rookie year in the big chair than just reupholster the furniture while stopping short of blowing up the longtime formula. You could say he didn’t shy away from putting his own touches on how the CBS Eye covers golf since assuming the reins.
Shy is a true student of the game, a two-time Memphis high school golfer of the year and three-time Tennessee State Amateur qualifier. He played in two Junior World Golf Championships at Torrey Pines in 1987 and 1989, but he realized he didn’t have the game to match one of his fellow competitors, a hotshot lefthander named Phil Mickelson, who even Shy’s father went to catch a glimpse of, abandoning his son in the middle of his round at Torrey.
Shy got an early start on his career at CBS, serving as a volunteer runner as a 14-year-old for what was then his hometown’s only professional franchise, the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic. Before long, he was offering to drive to other PGA Tour stops, including every PGA Championship dating to 1992, with the exception of 1995 when it was held all the way in California at Riviera Country Club.
“My line was I didn’t have good enough tires to get out to L.A.,” he cracked.
Shy even took a month off from college to cover the ski jump at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, and joined CBS Sports full time in 1997. He was in the second-nine truck when Tiger Woods won his first Masters, operating a schematic that was essentially a homemade excel spreadsheet and in the pre-ShotLink days moving the group’s location from hole-to-hole himself on card stock. He’s been groomed for bigger things at CBS by working in a variety of roles, and if his first season calling the shots is any indication, he could enjoy a run as long as his predecessors. About the only thing that went wrong in his rookie campaign is trying to secure his rental car upon arrival at his latest destination or checking in to his hotel at that week’s Tour stop. Turns out that’s nothing new.
“They have me down as Shy Sellers. It happens everywhere,” he says nodding his head in mock disgust. “That’s my namesake and my son’s namesake, Admiral David Foote Sellers. He never had kids, but his sisters did and they carried that name. He was superintendent of the Navy in the 1930s. My wife and I cut our wedding cake with his sword. More times than I can count, I’ll be at the counter and be told, ‘Sorry, sir, we don’t have you.’ I’ll be like, ‘Do me a favor and try Sellers.’ Oh, look at that, you’re here for eight nights.”
What follows is the edited Q&A with Shy from a wide-ranging discussion at the Wyndham Championship.
Q: I think CBS needs to add more foreign voices to the show! What’s up with that? I kid, but is that a requirement?
SS: (Laughs) I’ll leave that to our executives, chairman Sean McManus and president David Berson, to decide. It’s all based on Sean and David and what they see. The beauty is they are heavily involved with us because they love the game.
Q: After you got the job, you drafted a five-page blueprint. How much of it did you get to implement in your first year, how much is still to come and how much have you already scratched as ineffective?
SS: We presented this initiative, this plan, to Sean and David. They were encouraged by what they read and said let’s go for it. They approved it and we’re very proud of our presentation this year. We implemented a constant leaderboard, a ‘super tower,’ upgraded Amanda’s cart, added new music and a rotating cast of the Tour’s rules officials, and Sean and David supported all of that. Do we have room to grow? We do. It’s one of those things where it will be an assessment at the end of the season (Editor’s note: This interview was conducted with CBS having two events remaining).
Everything that we wanted to do in our plan for this year to enhance the broadcast, we were able to execute the way we thought. Again, there is still room for improvement, but we put out a sample set and confidence was high. After Northern Trust, the think tank will get back together and we’ll see what other initiatives can be approved for 2022.
CBS Sports lead producer for golf Sellers Shy (far left) preps for the show with director Steve Milton (center) and analyst Dottie Pepper (right) ahead of the broadcast of the third round of the Wyndham Championship. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)
Q: What are you most proud of from your first year in the big chair?
SS: I’m proud of the seamless transition. I’m proud that our management team had faith in us and I’m proud that Sean and David trusted our team. I know it’s broad, but that was a very big step for us.
Q: How do you think Frank Chirkinian would grade your first year?
SS: The CBS Eye is very important to me. Maintaining the golf brand at CBS is very important to me, maintaining the golf standard is very important to me. Frank set that bar. I think he would be proud that we maintained it. Maybe behind closed doors he’d say we exceeded it, but I’d hope that he’d be proud of what we put forward.
Q: What was it like driving Chirkinian around in a golf cart as a teen?
SS: Nerve-wracking. I don’t know what I was more nervous doing: producing a tournament here and there or driving Frank to his office. The story is it had poured in Memphis and Frank arrives and he’s wearing perfectly pressed khakis, a button-down shirt, Gucci loafers, and I pick him up in a mud pit. If ever there was a time to have a four-wheel golf cart, this was it. He didn’t sit down because the seat was wet. He stood up! That was a big test for me in my first week as a runner to drive Frank Chirkinian 100 yards without getting a drop of dirt on him. I remember thinking if I hit the breaks a little too hard, I’m going to send him straight on his ass.
Q: How did you end up as a runner at the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic at age 14?
SS: I enjoyed playing the game and was a decent amateur golfer. In 1986, the network partner, which was ESPN, asked the tournament organizers if they had anyone to be a runner. I joined them as the 18th hole spotter. Mike Hulbert, who is our rules liaison today, hit a wedge tight at 18 to win. He did so while wearing canary yellow pants. We always joke how they were fashionable then and they’ve come full circle.
Q: Dr. Cary Middlecoff is one of the more underrated Hall of Famers. You had a special relationship with him. What was it like to have him watch you hit balls as a kid?
SS: His career was one I had a great respect for. He won a Masters and two U.S. Opens. My dad asked him if he’d look at my game. How lucky was I to have a three-time major winner in Memphis whose brain I could pick? He’d grit his teeth and took it seriously. Working with me took him back to when he was grinding. He encouraged me to hit it really low, often under the top bar of a fence at the range. He didn’t want the wind to dictate the shot. The way he gave of himself and his time so freely, it showed how much he cared.
When Sellers Shy took over as lead producer of CBS Sports’s coverage of the PGA Tour the 2020-21 season, he drafted a five-page blueprint for continued success. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)
Q: Technology progressed lightyears in a few years – RF camera technology, digital recording devices, Trackman. Things seem to have stalled. What’s new? What’s next? Is there something that you haven’t tried yet that you think could put your stamp on what the CBS show looks like?
SS: Weekly, we are looking into new technology. The Tracer in the fairway has been a great implementation into our package. Super-slow-mo – it’s invaluable. The bar has been set so high now in our coverage. We understand that and we’re constantly looking for the next greatest piece for our regular season tournaments. There’s nothing specific I can tell you right now but in 2022, you’ll probably see a rollout of some new technology. At this point, it’s still in R&D.
Q: Are you interested in showing a live heart-rate monitor?
SS: We produce many of the Thursday-Friday shows (on Golf Channel) and we’ve been part of Whoop and its process and execution. It’s something we’re absolutely exploring for the fall. We’ve seen it work.
Q: Was bringing the JIB cameras lower and closer around the greens a major goal or just a byproduct of less grandstands and the ability to put those cameras in different places than in normal times?
SS: The RF ability is able to take our JIBs to places we maybe couldn’t have in the past. I would assume that having fewer fans has allowed us to get a little closer but let’s not downplay the pride our technicians have in doing their job. They are always pushing the envelope to get the shot.
Q: With the changes next year with the new TV deal kicking in and the Tour having more control over the TV compound, what do you hope to transfer into 2022 or expand on/collaborate on with the Tour?
SS: It’s important. That’s the approach I’m going to take into 2022 is making sure we have a cohesive relationship and extreme collaboration. The beauty is we’ve worked with the PGA Tour for a long time. I have total faith in that collaboration. They have great minds there and we want to work with them to have a successful run through 2030.
Sellers Shy, pictured in the CBS truck in 2016, has worked in various roles as he ascended to lead producer of CBS Sports’s PGA Tour coverage. (John Paul Filo/CBS)
Q: How are you being incentivized to add production value?
SS: Our team has great pride to maintain the standard of CBS golf. That’s my incentive. Listen, the feedback also doesn’t hurt. Everybody who enjoys the game appreciates a good telecast and that’s my incentive to put the best broadcast up that we can.
Q: You’ve got a day off. What do you like to do?
SS: If it’s a rare weekend, likely watch the kids do something. My oldest son, Sellers Jr., plays wide receiver for Ole Miss and Edwin is a freshman at North Carolina, where he’ll play lacrosse, and I’ve also got a daughter, Gracie, who’s a junior in high school and plays volleyball and lacrosse. Her team just won the high school lacrosse state title (in Tennessee). During the week, after prepping for what’s to come, I’d probably play golf and if it was during the fall, hunt or fish.
Q: Best concert you’ve ever been to?
SS: I’ll give you two. During the years of the PGA Tour event at the Greenbrier they had concerts, and in one week you could see Keith Urban, Bon Jovi, Lionel Richie and Lady Antebellum. It was just endless. The other is Guns N’ Roses. I saw them play in AT&T Stadium about three years ago and it took me back to late high school.
Q: What’s your favorite city for dining out?
SS: It’s taken me until the Zurich Classic became a team competition a few years back, but I’ve come to the realization that there isn’t even a second place to New Orleans. It’s like lasagna, there’s so many layers to the cuisine. The food is the window dressing to the week.
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