Jim Nantz: Calling the shots

At the mic for over 30 years, Nantz has narrated some of golf’s biggest moments. The 2021 Old Tom Morris Award winner chats with GCM about his career, his respect for superintendents, his role in the Alzheimer’s fight, and more.


Jim Nantz golf course
Jim Nantz on the tee of a replica of Pebble Beach Golf Links’ famed par-3 seventh hole, which Nantz constructed in his backyard in Monterey, Calif., with the help of GCSAA member Chris Dalhamer, CGCS. Photo by Rebecca Corvese

“Hello Friends.”

Those words. That voice. You know him. He certainly knows you.

“I consider superintendents to be the unsung heroes of our industry,” Jim Nantz says.

For 18 years, Nantz has begun every broadcast for CBS Sports with, “Hello Friends” (more on that later). Although he is known more for X’s and O’s than for being a wordsmith, leave it to a legendary basketball coach to suggest what he considers the appropriate words to describe Nantz, a prolific and versatile figure whose familiar voice is a soundtrack people recognize, whether they’re on the sofa or in the kitchen during must-see events such as the Masters, the Super Bowl or the Final Four. That hoops coach, Jim Calhoun, knows a thing or two (or three) about the Final Four.

“He has become the face of sports broadcasting in our country,” says Calhoun, the former University of Connecticut men’s basketball coach whose teams won national championships in 1999, 2004 and 2011, during which Nantz had a front-row seat. “When you hear his voice, it’s like having company in your house sitting right beside you.”

For Arizona State graduate Scotty Gange, the 2020 recipient of the Jim Nantz Award as the nation’s top collegiate broadcaster, Nantz sits atop his profession. “He’s the gold standard,” says Gange, now employed at 9News in Denver.

Nantz’s former CBS golf colleague, Gary McCord, is also a big fan. “His passion for what he does drives his very being,” McCord says of Nantz. “He came out of the womb with a microphone in his hand and declared, ‘Hello Friends.’”

Honors have come in droves for Nantz, 61. The latest? Nantz is the 2021 recipient of GCSAA’s Old Tom Morris Award. “For more than three decades, Jim Nantz has been the face and voice to lead viewers through golf’s biggest events,” says GCSAA CEO Rhett Evans. “Through his insight and analysis, we have all felt a deeper connection to the game. His respect for and recognition of superintendents throughout his career make him an exemplary choice for the Old Tom Morris Award.”

The Old Tom Morris Award has been presented annually since 1983 to an individual who, through a lifetime commitment to the game of golf, has helped to mold the welfare of the game in a manner and style exemplified by Old Tom Morris, a longtime superintendent at St. Andrews and a four-time Open Championship winner. Past recipients include Arnold Palmer, Bob Hope, Nancy Lopez and superintendent Paul R. Latshaw. Nantz will receive the award Feb. 2 during the Opening Session of the 2021 virtual Golf Industry Show.

Upon hearing that Nantz was being honored by GCSAA, college teammate and major golf champion Fred Couples endorsed it. One reason is the dedicated work that Nantz has done to combat Alzheimer’s disease. “I could talk about Jim for days. I love being around him. If I had grown up living down the street from him, I would have been at his house every night,” Couples says. “He would do anything for anybody at any time.”

From transistors to Ali

Nantz was a sly little devil.

Born in Charlotte, N.C., and reared in Colts Neck, N.J., Nantz was like many other sports fiends in their 1960s youth. Bedtime meant transistor radio time. “I tried to make sure my parents didn’t know I had the transistor radio hidden underneath my pillow and wouldn’t see the earpiece pressed against the pillow,” Nantz says. “I could just lie there, and the world was mine.”

Jim Nantz college

Right: Nantz earned a five-figure salary his senior year at the University of Houston, working jobs that included public-address announcer for basketball. Photo courtesy of CBS Sports

His romance with sports broadcasting started at age 11. He’d dial in to distant AM radio stations, eager to hear them identify their call letters and locations. A favorite was WWWE in Cleveland, where sports talk radio host Pete Franklin held court via the airwaves.

“I was mesmerized by the way people told stories and the passion with which they were explaining things,” Nantz says. “I was enraptured by their every word, the poetry that left their lips. I wanted to be one of those voices. I kind of got lost in that world, daydreaming what it must be like to be in stadiums, arenas or golf courses all over the world. Staying up late and listening to the radio inspired me to one day be in this industry.”

Or, perhaps, the golf industry? Nantz played golf as a freshman in 1977 for legendary college coach Dave Williams at the University of Houston, which has won 16 national championships. The Cougars freshman team was participating in an event when Nantz showed his skills, at least briefly. “Jim was leading at even par through nine,” teammate Blaine McCallister says. “The rest of us, including Fred, were 2-over. On 11, Jim hit a shot so far to the right that we didn’t even go look for it. I told him it was that shot that put him in communications.”

Nantz knew his sweet spot was broadcasting. He immersed himself in it while still in college — enough so that he had to file a tax return. Nantz made approximately $30,000 his senior year. “I didn’t turn down any opportunities. So it sounds like, for that time, if you’re saying that’s your salary, that sounds like a pretty rich salary to pay a kid that’s a senior in college and living in the dorm,” he says, “but it was a little bit here, a little bit there (including hosting men’s basketball coach Guy V. Lewis’ show). It was all about ambition and working myself to a frenzy to try to gain experience. It was never going to be about the money. For me, it was trying to do the right things to one day be discovered by CBS. That was the goal.”

He held multiple jobs to reach a five-figure salary, including at CBS TV affiliate Channel 11. He often worked there 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., recording broadcasts, editing highlights and writing scripts. If the 6 p.m. Sunday news was canceled because the second game of an NFL doubleheader ran long, Nantz made only $25 for a 12-hour workday. “Never asked for a raise. Never thought about it,” Nantz says. “I was just thrilled to be able to get these experiences and to figure out ways to take one opportunity to lead to another. I was absolutely persistent and driven and at times on overdrive.”

Couples says Nantz deserved every penny. “I was lucky if I had $5 in my pocket,” Couples says with a laugh. “Jim worked hard, fought hard, probably harder than anybody I know. At that point, we all felt positive he’d get to Augusta before any of us.” In 1992 inside Butler Cabin, Nantz interviewed Couples, whose triumph at that year’s Masters was emotional for both.

Golf Jim Nantz
Jim Nantz (left) with family and friends (from left): college teammate Blaine McCallister; Nantz’s father, Jim; and 1992 Masters champion and college teammate Fred Couples. Photo by Bob Straus

The hustle Nantz showed came in handy the day in college he got tipped off that boxing icon Muhammad Ali was at the Hyatt Regency. Tape recorder in hand as a volunteer for Houston’s CBS radio affiliate, Nantz pursued the Champ.

“I saw him sitting at a table with two individuals. And there was no fuss. No one was surrounding him. I couldn’t even tell you what he was in Houston for,” Nantz says. “I waited outside the coffee shop for them to make their exit, and it was just very easy. I walked up to him and introduced myself and asked him if it’d be OK if I asked him a couple of questions. I was so excited to be in his presence. Afterward, I ran back to the dorm, and I played the tape for everybody, and it just blew their minds.”

His teammates’ support meant everything. “They blessed me with this incredible encouragement and made me feel like this crazy dream that I was going to work for CBS was attainable,” Nantz says.

Dream, meet reality

It finally happened 35 years ago.

After spending 1982-1985 at KSL-TV in Salt Lake City, one phone call from CBS resulted in the long-anticipated chance of a lifetime for Nantz. Actually, the call caught him off guard. CBS producer Ed Goren (who later became Fox Sports president) dialed Nantz, who assumed the network was seeking footage of BYU star quarterback Robbie Bosco. In fact, they wanted to fly Nantz to New York the next day to audition.

Obviously, it went well. At age 26, Nantz accepted the offer to be CBS’ college football studio host in September 1985. There was more to come — and soon. Nantz was informed by legendary golf producer, the late Frank Chirkinian, that he would be part of 1986 Masters coverage.

His participation in it led to one of the most notable phrases in golf history.

“Frank wanted me to do a promotion before the Masters. In Frank’s mind, at the time I was a complete unknown, which I was to his golf audience, and I was going to suddenly pop up at the Masters tournament,” Nantz says. “He wanted some familiarity with this guy that’s going to be (stationed) at the 16th hole at the Masters, so he summoned me to Augusta. That’s the first time I ever uttered the phrase, ‘A tradition unlike any other.’”

Jim Nantz CBS Sports
Nantz with CBS Sports golf coverage colleague Sir Nick Faldo. From 1994 to 2002, Nantz was partnered with Ken Venturi, the 1998 winner of GCSAA’s Old Tom Morris Award. Photo courtesy of CBS Sports

Although Nantz has become synonymous with those five words, he doesn’t take absolute credit. “There was a gentleman who was a creative producer named Doug Towey, and I’ve always been consistent in giving Doug the credit for coming up with that line,” Nantz says. “He’s gone now (Towey died in 2009). He was a wonderful man. I like to say I had a hand in it because I delivered it, but I give credit to Doug on that.”

Yet it was Nantz’s own line during a critical juncture in the ’86 Masters that signaled all he could be — and would become. As an aging Jack Nicklaus marched toward a sixth green jacket, the 46-year-old’s birdie putt Sunday at the 16th prompted Nantz to proclaim, “And there’s no doubt about it. ... The Bear has come out of hibernation.”

Nantz, meanwhile, was on the cusp of his own meteoric awakening. In 1988, he was promoted to host of the Masters, and six years later, became CBS’ lead golf anchor. In 1991, he stepped into the play-by-play role alongside Billy Packer at the Final Four.

“Jim has one of the most distinct and calming voices that I have ever heard on television,” says University of Kansas men’s basketball coach Bill Self, who guided the Jayhawks to the 2008 title. “I know Jim personally. He’s a good person. He cares about others. He’s associated with excellence in everything he does.”

Tiger Woods 1997 Masters
Editor’s note: Jim Nantz revisits finding the words to capture the moment that changed golf — when Tiger Woods became the first Black golfer and youngest player to win the Masters, which he did by the largest margin of victory in tournament history — in Narrating history: Jim Nantz reflects on the 1997 Masters.

Nantz was elevated to the top play-by-play voice for CBS’ NFL coverage in 2004, and he was behind the mic for his first Super Bowl in 2007 (that total has reached five). That same year, Nantz became the first commentator to complete the rare broadcasting trifecta — calling the Super Bowl, the NCAA men’s Final Four and the Masters, all in a span of 63 days, a feat he would repeat in 2010, 2013 and 2016. In 2019, Nantz completed an even rarer achievement, calling the AFC Championship, Super Bowl, men’s Final Four, Masters and PGA Championship, all in a span of 120 days. He’s called play-by-play on more network broadcasts of the men’s Final Four and its championship game than any announcer in history.

In 2011, Nantz was the youngest recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award. Nine years earlier, he’d been honored by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as its youngest recipient of the Curt Gowdy Media Award. Nantz joined Dick Enberg and Gowdy as the only broadcasters to receive both Pro Football and Naismith Memorial Basketball hall of fame honors. He’s in the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame, a five-time recipient of the National Sports Media Association’s National Sportscaster of the Year award, and a three-time Emmy Award winner for Outstanding Personality, Play-by-Play.

“He treats his job as an art form, and he is a true Renaissance man in the way he treats his craft,” says McCord, who was in the 1996 movie “Tin Cup” with Nantz. “He never takes a day off from being prepared.”

A son’s calling

For James Nantz Sr. and his son, Jim, The Club at Falcon Point in Katy, Texas, was a regular stop, a layout they frequented too many times to count. One outing, however, turned out to be unlike the others.

And their lives never would be the same.

In a story Nantz penned two years ago for Golf Digest, he wrote, “Dad belted his drive deep down the middle of the first fairway. Over his second shot, for some inexplicable reason, he took his stance and aimed back toward the tee. Alarmed, I gently turned him around to play the proper shot. It was at that moment I feared something was seriously wrong. How could one suddenly forget the opening hole, which he had played hundreds of times?”

That, in part, not only set the stage for Nantz to join the fight against Alzheimer’s, the disease that doomed his father, but it also established what has become the hallmark by which Nantz welcomes viewers to his broadcasts. In 2002, Nantz informed his father he would open the third round of the PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., by saying the two words that now begin every Nantz telecast: “Hello Friends.” It was a nod to his father, whose son marveled at how his dad possessed a wealth of friends.

Nantz’s father died June 30, 2008. He was 79. It wasn’t the final chapter of his story, however. Nantz vowed to tackle Alzheimer’s, which is a type of dementia that affects memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms eventually grow severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5 million people live with it. It is the sixth-leading cause of death in America.

Jim Nantz father
Nantz with his parents, Jim and Doris. Photo courtesy of Jim Nantz

Nantz let his actions speak for themselves on this one. He and his wife, Courtney, launched the Nantz National Alzheimer Center at Houston Methodist Hospital on Jan. 19, 2011. It was created to produce cutting-edge research to prevent the disease and slow memory loss, provide care, and offer treatment to better patients’ quality of life against a disease that currently has no cure.

“In 10 years, it’s gone from something that didn’t exist to creating one of the foremost research and clinical care facilities in the world,” Nantz says. “It’s an incredible building, part of the Houston Methodist Hospital, and they’ve got a team there of scientists and researchers who I believe are the best in the world. It’s just everything we wanted it to be.”

Joseph C. Masdeu, M.D., Ph.D., who specializes in neurology, memory and cognitive disorders and is the director of the Nantz National Alzheimer Center, says, “We are all working for the same goal. Not just us, but all the families of patients who come here, to cure the disease as soon as possible. The Nantz family is not only 100% behind this goal, but ahead of it, pushing it by raising philanthropic funds and giving the inspiration to us to continue to work hard so this can happen.”

Nantz authored “Always by My Side.” The book, which spent nearly two months on the New York Times Best Sellers list, was published a month before his father passed away. For Nantz, it is unlike anything he has done. “It’s my proudest achievement and totally dedicated to honor my dad,” he says.

Bush, Clinton and the Golf Industry Show

When you mention these three voices in the same breath, that’s saying something: “If there’s a big game happening at a sporting event, you think of Jim Nantz, Al Michaels and Joe Buck,” says Josh Appel, 2016 Nantz Award recipient from the University of South Florida. The 2017 Nantz Award winner, Nate Gatter, says, “When you listen to him, it just feels right.”

Paul Marchand is convinced Nantz was the right voice to solidify a relationship with former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton during the time the leaders from different political parties teamed in 2005 to raise in excess of $1 billion for tsunami relief efforts in Southeast Asia. Nantz had first played golf with Bush in 1993 in Houston. Marchand — a club professional, Texas Golf Hall of Fame member and Nantz’s college teammate — hooked them up. “He (Bush) had a certain affinity for Jim. When Bush and Clinton got together, he (Bush) came up with the idea for Jim to break the ice, and they all played golf together. How many people would be asked to do that?” Marchand asks.

Jim Nantz George Bush
Nantz (far right) has a penchant for giving back, which has included the Three Amigos Charity Golf Tournament in Houston, which he co-hosted with college golf teammate Blaine McCallister (far left) and 1992 Masters champion and college teammate Fred Couples (center). This particular edition featured former President George H.W. Bush (second from left) and Jack Nicklaus (second from right). Photo by Bob Straus

If anything, Nantz has kept his word. His speech during the Opening Session of the 2004 Golf Industry Show in San Diego included a promise that, from that moment on, he would recognize the golf course superintendent and course conditions on either Saturday or Sunday during TV coverage. Few broadcasters have covered as much hallowed sports ground as Nantz. “I treasure the relationship that I have with many superintendents around the country, and I value their efforts so much,” Nantz says.

7th heaven

When Jim Nantz dreamed big, he asked a superintendent to participate.

For years, Nantz has had a love affair with Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links. He even lives nearby with his wife, Courtney, and their son, Jameson, and daughters, Caroline and Finley. Courtney and Jim got married in 2012 at Pebble Beach. The wedding setting? Simply gorgeous. Vows were exchanged on the tee box at the famed 106-yard, par-3 No. 7, which features a breathtaking Pacific Ocean backdrop.

That wouldn’t be the last time, however, that Jim and Courtney would create something special when it came to the seventh. Two years later, Jim proposed to Courtney that they build a half-size replica to scale of the par-3 in their backyard. She said yes (again).

Chris Dalhamer, CGCS, at that time the director of golf course maintenance at Pebble Beach, was asked by Nantz to assist. “Chris is such an understated star,” Nantz says. “When I was hatching this idea of taking advantage of the space I had in my backyard and maximizing it, I didn’t want guesswork there, so I showed Chris what I was looking at doing. He is someone I have so much respect for.”

Pebble Beach golf replica
The mini replica of the par-3 No. 7 at Pebble Beach in Nantz’s backyard at his home in Monterey, Calif., near the real deal. Photo by Rebecca Corvese

Dalhamer supplied Nantz with topography information from old photographs and books. His contributions were to help ensure greens breaks matched, angles were spot on, etc. It took eight months to build. Nantz was adamant about being involved, so when his heavy work schedule prevented him from being there daily, the job was halted until he returned. “I wanted to be involved in the molding and shaping of the greens and bunkers, so the construction took place primarily around my schedule. I wanted to be hands-on, literally in the dirt,” Nantz says.

A 26-year GCSAA member who is now director of greens and grounds at Monterey Peninsula Country Club in Pebble Beach, Dalhamer says, “He had it dialed in, and he did a ton of work. I was honored just to be included. He’s a fantastic individual. He’s always been so gracious to me and our staff. He’s sincere.”

The finished product of Nantz’s very own par-3 is virtually a twin of the real deal. There’s a two-level teeing area separated by a stone wall. It plays at 53 yards. The hole even has its version of the vertical drop from tee to green.

Nantz added a plaque called the Rock of Fame, where he etches names of those who notch holes-in-one. Since he opened the layout for play in 2015, that one-shot feat has been achieved by contenders such as Phil Mickelson and Nantz’s NFL booth-mate at CBS, Tony Romo. The late, great Arnold Palmer tried it. So did Dalhamer. “No holes-in-one for me, but it was pretty cool to be there,” Dalhamer says. For an added effect, a sound system plays the Masters theme “Augusta” while Nantz adds play-by-play when guests take to the tee.

Sounds as if Nantz aced this one.

“I wanted to get it just right. And I feel like we did,” he says.

GCSAA’s Old Tom Morris Award

The Old Tom Morris Award was presented for the first time during the 1983 Conference and Show in Atlanta. It is given to an individual or family who, “through a continuing lifetime commitment to the game of golf, has helped to mold the welfare of the game in a manner and style exemplified by Old Tom Morris.” The GCSAA Board of Directors determines the recipient of the honor.

Past Old Tom Morris Award honorees:

2020: Gary Player
2019: The Powell family
2018: Ernie Els
2017: Paul R. Latshaw
2016: Herb Kohler
2015: Dan Jenkins
2014: Annika Sorenstam
2013: Michael Hurdzan, Ph.D.
2012: Peter Jacobsen
2011: Nick Price
2010: Judy Rankin
2009: Col. John Morley
2008: Greg Norman
2007: Charles Sifford
2006: Joseph M. Duich, Ph.D.
2005: Jack Nicklaus
2004: Rees Jones
2003: Pete Dye
2002: Walter Woods
2001: Timothy W. Finchem
2000: Nancy Lopez
1999: Jaime Ortiz-Patiño
1998: Ken Venturi
1997: Ben Crenshaw
1996: Tom Fazio
1995: James R. Watson, Ph.D.
1994: Byron Nelson
1993: Dinah Shore
1992: Tom Watson
1991: William C. Campbell
1990: Sherwood A. Moore, CGCS
1989: Juan “Chi Chi” Rodriguez
1988: Gene Sarazen
1987: Robert Trent Jones Sr.
1986: Patty Berg
1985: Gerald Ford
1984: Bob Hope
1983: Arnold Palmer

Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.