I still remember the first time I called Jim Nantz for an interview.
It was 2009, and Fred Couples, Nantz’s former college roommate and teammate at the University of Houston, was prepping for Augusta National a week ahead of the Masters by making a run in their old stomping grounds at the Shell Houston Open. Who better to get a quote from than Nantz, I figured.
Only one problem: I called him while he was broadcasting the Final Four. Oops! Anyone else would’ve hit delete on my voice mail and I might have been lucky to get a call back at the earliest on Tuesday after March Madness had concluded. But not Nantz. I was calling about one of his dearest friends and so he dialed me back in between games and, pressed for time, reeled off three or four snappy quotes, a telling nugget and an anecdote that made my column for that week’s print issue. Thus was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
On Wednesday, Nantz, who has been with CBS since 1985 and joined the network’s golf coverage in 1986, was to be inducted into the PGA of America’s Hall of Fame in the ambassador category during the 107th PGA Annual Meeting in Frisco, Texas. The honor is especially meaningful to Nantz, whose love for golf blossomed during summers spent working at Battleground Country Club in Manalapan Township, N.J., for head professional Tony Bruno.
“The greatest lesson in my life that I didn’t get from my parents was watching a PGA professional at work,” Nantz once told me.
I’ve learned a lot from Nantz over the years from our many encounters and conversations over the phone, email and text, including in August in Minnesota at a golf course being built by one of his college teammates. Here are four lessons on life I’ve learned from Nantz and one classic story he recounted from his illustrious career calling some of the great moments in men’s professional golf.
Set your mind to a task, then figure out a way to achieve it
“I do have some OCD in me, for sure. I obsess over things that I dream about. I can’t let go of it. I believe I can will anything I want in my life to happen,” he once explained to me.
This may be Nantz’s greatest strength. Sensing that this pronouncement requires further explanation, he turned to what he knows best: a golf analogy.
“You know how sometimes you watch Tiger stand over a putt and you just know he’s going to will that ball into the hole? That’s how I feel with every endeavor I’ve ever had in my life,” he says.
Working with a team is more fulfilling
“I have teammates. My life is so much more fulfilling because I’ve worked as a member of a team, one part of a crew that on any given week is about 250 people strong, for a Super Bowl it’s about a thousand. Being part of a team is the greatest thing in the world. When you have a brotherhood, one common goal, it’s special.”
Work hard, be grateful
“It starts with spectacular parents. My mom died last October and they are both gone now. They are right here (pointing to his heart). They are right with me every single day. I feel them leading and guiding me. I’m 64 years old now and I still feel like my parents are living right through my heart and I want to represent them well. This is the way I’ve been raised. I’m so grateful.
“I never asked for anything. I’m so appreciative that I’ve been given a chance to call so many Masters and Super Bowls. It’s a Super Bowl year for us. I will be a part of it for the ninth time in Las Vegas in February. None of it was ever written on my birth certificate that I was entitled to it.
“Gratitude, if you don’t have gratitude in your heart. In the end, all of this seems like a dream and I don’t start my day without saying thanks for the opportunities I’ve been given.
“I never could have imagined that I would meet Presidents and actors and once be invited to a state dinner and sit next to the Queen of England. Crazy things that don’t add up. In the end, I’m just the son of Jim and Doris Nantz of Charlotte, N.C. That’s the way I lead my life. Entitled to nothing. Work hard, be grateful. I don’t long for anything; I’m grateful for everything.”
The only currency that matters is time
“The only currency that matters is time … I’m at a point in my life where I want to do the things that make me happy. I think I always have but early in your career you’re trying to make sure you do all the right steps and your career is growing and you’re trying to manage a family at the same time, which is more important than anything.
“I’ve been able to do all that. The things that I want to hitch my wagon to these days are the two most important things: with people I want to be with and as a father.”
Bonus: On President George H.W. Bush, one of his guiding lights, and President Bill Clinton, and the time he organized one of the all-time power foursomes in sports and politics:
“Those two presidents got together to spearhead a global initiative to raise money for the victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia in 2004. Here were two political rivals coming together to globetrot and raise money. They ended up raising $1.5 billion. But in that fundraising effort a friendship was born, a beautiful, unlikely friendship between two political rivals, one of whom defeated the other for the highest office in the land. Having a chance to see a little bit of what that looked like on the inside was one of the great gifts of my life.
“Ultimately, the two of them decided they wanted to get together socially and they felt they needed a quote-unquote intermediary to be there in case the conversation ran dry, what do we talk about next? They didn’t want to get into world events, they just wanted to enjoy each other’s companionship. Somehow between the two of them, they agreed that I should be the guy with the lucky straw and the ultimate fly-on-the-wall experience. I got to be with them on several social gatherings. I learned that even though philosophically they had different ways of leading, they never called into question their love for what they were doing and trying to make our country the best it could be. That’s how their friendship was grounded and rooted in friendship and both gave all they could to make this country the best it could be.
“The second year they were getting together there needed to be a fourth to play golf. President Bush 41 asked, ‘Do you have a friend who would like to join us?’ He didn’t want anyone to be inconvenienced. He was a guy who had a feeling for people. Once he said that, I thought a very good candidate would be Tom Brady, who was right down the road from Kennebunkport, Maine. I was able to bring that together and we played at Cape Arundel.
“I still hear from Clinton. Of course, I hear from Tom quite often. I did 106 of his games. I wish everyone could see the side of him that I see. He’s a great dad, a great friend, and we still pinch ourselves that we had that day of golf to play against two former presidents.”