NCGA Golf

Winter 2019

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"I do have some OCD in me, for sure. I obsess over things that I dream about. I can't let go of it," he says. "I believe I can will anything I want in my life to happen." This may be Nantz's greatest strength. Sensing that this pronouncement requires further explanation, he turns 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. Take his rise to the top of his profession. Even before he knew how to shave, he dreamed of being a network sports anchor, ideally at CBS Sports because it was the home of the Masters. He bought a cassette recorder and taped his favorite events and announcers, and camped out at the foot of the TV towers at the 1974 U.S. Open at Winged Foot hoping to hear Jim McKay, Chris Schenkel and Keith Jackson. His love for golf blossomed during summers spent working at Battleground Country Club in Manalapan Township, N.J., for head professional Tony Bruno. Nantz's parents fueled his dream by tak- ing him and his sister on annual spring- break trips to the site of that week's PGA Tour stop, and he eventually was recruited to play on the golf team at the University of Houston, where he shared a four-person suite at Taub Hall with Fred Couples and future PGA Tour pros Blaine McCallister and John Horne. During his freshman year in 1977, Nantz acted out the scene from the Butler Cabin at the Masters, with Couples the champion and Nantz serving as the master of ceremonies. Nantz knew his playing days were numbered and by his sophomore year, he was anchoring the weekend sports at Houston's CBS affiliate. "He was like a movie star to us," says Paul Marchand, his college teammate and PGA professional. By 1986, Nantz was in the 16th-hole tower at Augusta National for CBS when Jack Nicklaus stiffed his tee shot there and won his sixth green jacket. Riding back in a cart to the TV compound with Venturi, the 1964 U.S. Open champion and lead ana- lyst for CBS at the time, Nantz listened as Venturi, in a moment of reflection, made a bold prediction. "You may be the first person to ever broadcast 50 Masters," Venturi said. "If you do, you'll never live to see a greater day than this around Augusta National." Six years later, Nantz handled the Butler Cabin duties when Couples won the Masters. There they were, the two remaining as close as a twin-blade shave, with Nantz interviewing his col- lege roommate during the green jacket ceremony just as they had rehearsed in their dorm room all those years ago. "It's a Walt Disney movie, but it really happened," Marchand says. When he launched a charitable organ- ization in Houston named the Three Amigos with Couples and McCallister, Nantz chose to support Alzheimer's research in honor of his college coach, Dave Williams. Little did Nantz know that a cruel twist of fate awaited him half a year later when his own father began his long painful descent into this neurological netherworld. Nantz, who chronicled his father's story in Always By My Side, was as close as father and son could be, and so it came as no sur- prise that he embraced helping his father, Jim II, endure Alzheimer's with both strength and grace. It was important to Nantz that his voice be in his father's room, so he made sure his father's assisted-living center in Houston always had his TV schedule. On his way to the 2002 PGA Championship, Nantz visited his dad and told him he was going to deliver a special coded message in the broadcast for him. With an ever-present smile, a booming voice and a gift for gab, Nantz's father always owned a room. During the opening to the Saturday show, Nantz started the telecast by saying, Hello, friends, an homage to Jim II, who had a knack for making fast friends. The salutation struck a chord with Eli Spielman, Nantz's friend and co-author of his book. He phoned Nantz and advised him to use the expression again at the top of the next broadcast. "If he didn't make that call, it probably would've been a one-and-done," Nantz says of what has become his catchphrase. "I've used it almost every broadcast ever since. It's not some made-up corn-ball saying; it has meaning to me and it has meaning every time I say it on the air. When I say it looking into that dark hole, that big lens, I feel my dad's presence. It calms me." The long goodbye — 13 years in this case — of watching a loved one disappear before his eyes, and not being able to do a thing about it, inspired Nantz to channel his passion into trying to find a cure. In 2011, the Nantz National Alzheimer's Center at Houston Methodist Hospital opened and has become a leader in the fight against the debilitating disease. And if you connect the dots, it was 34 WINTER 2019 | NCGA.ORG GARY LAND Nantz hangs on to a single-digit handicap — "by the skin of my teeth," he says — and keeps sharp at his backyard replica of Pebble's par-3, seventh hole.

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