This PGA Tour season has not disappointed fans in the least bit.
We saw Viktor Hovland steal the BMW Championship with a record-setting and career low round. Nick Taylor’s drought-ending bomb of a putt to win the RBC Canadian Open. Rickie Fowler returned to the top of the leaderboard at the Rocket Mortage Classic.
Trevor Immelman was there to call it all.
The 2008 Masters champion has been perched in the CBS Sports super tower off the 18th green as lead analyst alongside Jim Nantz for a full season now, and we caught up with him to discuss his year in the big chair, storylines for the Tour Championship and how he would go about picking players for the Ryder Cup.
This was your first year in the big chair for CBS. What did you learn now that you've got almost a full year under your belt?
“I’ve had such a great time. It’s just been a blast. The whole process has been amazing. Everybody at CBS from top to the bottom, every role has just been so great, so gracious, so supportive. It’s been one of the best years of my life from a career standpoint, just flat-out enjoyment, just loving what I do day after day.
“I’ve learned a ton. I mean, how can you not working with people like that? From our production team to all the other announcers that I work with, I mean, I’m sitting next to Jim Nantz every week, it’s hard not to learn stuff. Just observing his preparation, the way he ebbs and flows through the shows, the little sweet spots that he likes to go to. I feel like every time I sit down next to him, I’m learning a little something new.
“At the end of the day, shucks, what am I five, six years into the broadcasting game, so I’m still reeling from that standpoint. So in a lot of ways, I’m still adding little pieces here and there. I think it’s extremely important to be yourself and be authentic. You know, I hope to be in this game for a long, long time, because I love it, and I think if you want to be in the game for a long time, you have to be yourself because you won’t be able to keep any kind of act for that long. I get extremely excited watching golf and watching the best in the world compete, because I know what it takes, but I also have an amazing appreciation for the work that they’ve put in to get to that level. I like to allow that excitement to come out when it’s warranted and justified and it feels good.”
CBS has struggled over the years with coverage. This season the network has really turned it around and separated itself from the rest. Why do you think such a big step forward was taken with regard to how the Tour is broadcast?
“I’m not quite sure there’s one little thing you can pinpoint. Taking you behind the scenes just a little bit, I can tell you that we have hundreds of people that come to the compound every weekend in whatever city we’re in. They love the game, they love the PGA Tour, and the good vibes, the respect that everybody has for each other in the compound is really a cool thing to be a part of. When you have that many people pulling in the same direction with one common goal of just trying to be the best you can be and trying to always be there for your teammate and give your best not just for yourself, but for them, that’s when improvement happens. That’s when, the like, the magic happens, so to speak.
“Look, it’s my first season in this role, the first time I’m really starting to get a feel for how things work behind the curtain at CBS, and that’s one of the things that has really struck me this year. It’s an amazing team chemistry and camaraderie with a whole bunch of people from top to bottom. When people throw out the cliches, ‘I consider us one big family’ kind of thing, it’s easy to laugh it off but it’s absolutely the case for us at CBS Sports.”
You said you’ve learned a lot sitting next to Jim Nantz. Do you have a favorite call he’s made this year so far?
“So many. There’s so many. The guy is a genius. He’s so good at his job. He’s so good with his words and the way he communicates. There’s so many smart little things and funny little jokes that he drops in during a broadcast that if you really are paying attention, it’s just fantastic.
“The one that really is the jumping out to me is Nick Taylor’s putt to win the RBC Canadian Open. It was such a cool weekend, we’re up in Canada, it was a big news week for golf. And finally, on Sunday, we could actually just get down to the golf. We had this amazing story of a Canadian trying to break the streak that has been in place for decades of a Canadian not being able to win his national open, and here comes Nick Taylor.
“Earlier on in the week he had signed up to do the walk-and-talk with us on the 15th hole, and now lo and behold, this guy is trying to break the streak, and now he’s leading the tournament and he still goes ahead and doesn’t wave us off. When our crew goes up to him to hand him the ear pods on the 15th tee and he goes ahead and throws them in and we’re talking to him, that was one of the most nerve-wracking times for me than I can ever remember, even from when I was playing. Just knowing where he is in the tournament, feeling his focus, the energy was so intense with the fans and with him leading. We go ahead and do the interview, we kind of get through it unscathed, not paying anything silly or asking him something that’s going to get him out of his sweet spot. Then we have the long playoff and then he makes that putt and Jim gives it the ‘glorious and free’ after that, we were just glued to the window of our booth overlooking the 18th and we were both standing up looking out onto the green and it was a moment that absolutely jumps to mind.
"Glorious and free!"
Jim Nantz with a fantastic call as Canadian Nick Taylor holes an impossible eagle putt on the fourth playoff hole to become the first Canadian to win the Canadian Open since 1954. pic.twitter.com/Sbo56pnJHO
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) June 11, 2023
Does it put the pressure on you knowing that he’s probably going to have something ready to go? Or are you just reacting in the moment?
“I love reacting in the moment because I think it’s so natural and I think that’s what people are experiencing at home. For me, the natural reaction is always going to be better than something that is more staged.
“I have an open mic, what I mean by that is my mic is always on for three hours or four hours, however long we are on the broadcast, my mic is always hot, and there’s a number of times during the show where I have to hit the cough button because I’m laughing at something that he just said, having a little giggle and a chuckle. So it’s a lot of fun.”
What are you most looking forward to at the Tour Championship and what storylines are you locked in on?
“You look at the top of the leaderboard, let’s just read out the four names here to start: Scheffler, Hovland, McIlroy and Rahm. Come on. These are players that are just so high quality, and this golf course can be a really tough test if we get the right weather. Early forecast is no rain, so that’s what I’m hoping for. I’d like to see the greens as firm as possible. To me, with the current state of the game as far as these players hit the ball and with how good they are, firm greens is really the only way to slow them down. That’s going to be the thing that I’m paying attention to leading into the weekend.
“The main storyline is who’s gonna win this thing? I still do believe that everybody has a shot. I still feel like all 30 have got a chance because I think back to McIlroy last year and how he started not in the lead and triple bogeyed his first hole and still ended up winning the tournament and FedEx Cup. I absolutely think the caliber of these golfers, they’ve all had amazing seasons. When any PGA Tour player starts the season, and they think about their goals, making the Tour Championship is the first thing you write down. For these guys to get to this point, it’s a big deal. They’ve played unbelievable golf all season. You look at some of these names that are just sitting at even par, so they’re gonna start 10 shots back, you’ve got Jordan Spieth, Tyrrell Hatton, Emiliano Grillo, Sam Burns. Burns threw a 62 at it Saturday, who’s to say that he’s not gonna start with something like that on Thursday and be right in the thick of things?
“Is the staggered start a little awkward and unusual? It absolutely is. Golf fans are probably becoming more accustomed to it now, but I only think it’s a little awkward for the first day because you got one guy starting at 10 and then you got a few guys starting at even but once you get to Thursday night, it really all starts to make sense because you can very comfortably see where everybody stands.
“I mean, I’ve got to be honest with you, we’ve had a small army of people behind the scenes helping us over the last two weeks to keep track of the movement and who’s going to be in and who’s going to be out,” he said with a laugh. “It was very challenging for us to keep up with all of that and then communicate it in an understandable way to the viewers. But now, that’s all over and it’s just going to be right in front of you. I think it’s probably the best system that I can think of right now.”
So you like the staggered start format, the starting strokes?
“I just don’t think there’s a better way to do it.”
Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy have elevated themselves into the top tier of pro golf. Why isn’t a player like Hovland mentioned more do you think?
“I think a couple people really fly under the radar. We’re obviously talking about Hovland, but I would throw Xander Schauffele into the same conversation. When you look at the body of work that those two guys have throughout the season, and multiple seasons, you gotta tip your cap. Both of those guys, along with Scottie Scheffler, those are the three players that did not miss a cut on the PGA Tour this year. That is just fascinating that you can play that many times against such stacked competition, and to never have two days where you’re off your game you miss the cut, that happens to all of us at some point. But for these three guys not to miss a cut, it’s fascinating.
“Hovland, for me, has probably taken the biggest step of anybody this year. He really has, with better short game, turned himself into that upper echelon. I know that he hasn’t won a major yet, so maybe you just put him a tick underneath right now, but he’s right up there and he’s banging on the door.”
As a former Presidents Cup captain I think you've got a really unique perspective on picking a team. Do you think a guy like Brooks Koepka has done enough to earn a spot for the U.S. at the Ryder Cup?
“I do. I really do. I have a ton of respect for Brooks Koepka and for his game. The way he competed at the Masters, having that lead going into Sunday. I know he didn’t have his best final round there, but to bounce back from that, learn from that, and then have such a dominant performance at the PGA Championship to win his fifth major, to me, that is pretty spectacular. We’ve seen how he has this uncanny ability to turn his game on what he wants to. He has the respect of all of his peers on the PGA Tour and I do think that that he’s done enough in my book.”
As a captain, how would decide between picking a player who plays for LIV and a guy who plays on PGA Tour? How would you compare success at LIV events to success at Tour events?
“Well, there’s a combination of all sorts of things you’re looking at. Of course, it’s form and how players have competed throughout the year, the strength of the tournaments they’ve been playing in, the competition they have been going up against, you’re paying attention to all of that stuff.
“Like I said with Brooks, he went through a handful of tournaments where everybody is pitched up and he performed at such a high level. So that is extremely impressive. You put that on the back of the fact that he’s now won five majors in quite a short space of time, so it’s form for sure.
“The other thing to understand in these team formats, the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup, is the majority of the matches you’re going to be teaming up with another player. So how can you create the matchups that put your team in an advantageous position? You’re trying to understand what’s the team chemistry going to be like and how is your locker room going to be. You’ve got 12 alphas. You’ve got however many captains and vice captains who are alphas and you’ve got a lot of ego around. As the leadership of a team, you just want to make sure that you can keep as much drama and distraction out of the locker room as possible so that you can get these 12 players and the captains together on the same page, all working together, all being there for each other and having a blast. When you can do that, that’s when really special stuff happens like with what the Americans have been able to do over the last few team competitions, particularly at Whistling Straits when they had that dominant record-breaking performance.”