Jim Nantz views PGA Championship as start of golf’s greatest run ever
CBS Sports’ golf anchor is excited for an 11-month stretch with seven majors and the FedEx Cup playoffs, an unprecedented schedule created by the coronavirus pandemic.
Jim Nantz spoke about golf with such authority and conviction, it was mesmerizing.
Of course, he probably could speak about stocking grocery shelves and it would sound theatrical.
‘‘No other sports can say this right now, except for us,’’ Nantz, the voice of golf at CBS Sports, said on a conference call. ‘‘We are about to enter the greatest stretch of golf in the history of the game.’’
He rolled out his argument: Starting with the PGA Championship this weekend, Nantz sees an 11-month stretch with seven majors — including two Masters and two PGAs — and the FedEx Cup playoffs, an unprecedented schedule created by the coronavirus pandemic, which shut down competitive play for three months.
‘‘If you’re hot, you have a chance to make a career in the next 11 months,’’ Nantz said. ‘‘It’s an important thing for us who are documenting the sport, who love the sport and care about it, that we try to make sure we reach the fringe fan and people who maybe aren’t fully aware. It’s a big story to tell.’’
Nantz will tell it Saturday and Sunday at Harding Park in San Francisco, where he’s hosting CBS’ coverage of the PGA for the 30th consecutive year. Perhaps equally as exciting for him is that he’s sharing the tower at the 18th hole with another human being.
Lead analyst Nick Faldo will be back at a course after working the first eight broadcasts since the return from the Golf Channel studios in Orlando, Florida. Ian Baker-Finch and Frank Nobilo, who were with Faldo, will broadcast from the 17th and 16th holes, respectively. Dottie Pepper, Mark Immelman and Trevor Immelman will report from the course, and Amanda Balionis will handle interviews.
But even without a partner in the tower, no fans on the course and half a normal-sized production crew on-site, Nantz doesn’t think CBS’ broadcasts have missed a beat.
‘‘It feels very normal to me while we’re on the air,’’ Nantz said. ‘‘When you look out and you watch a competition going on and there are no fans, it looks like just another day at a golf course. Then you put the headset on and you take the feed that’s coming out of the truck, it feels normal. Our presentation has made it, I believe for the public, feel like it’s completely normal.’’
Viewers will get to see more of the action at this PGA. It marks the first year of an 11-year partnership between CBS and ESPN, which will combine for coverage on TV and other platforms. The West Coast locale allows CBS to take the third and fourth rounds into prime time for the first time at the PGA.
But the biggest boon for viewers is that, also for the first time on CBS, 50% of the national commercial spots will be ‘‘two-boxed,’’ with a commercial airing in one box and CBS’ ‘‘Eye on the Course’’ in the other. That also had Nantz excited.
‘‘I’m going to talk as a fan here,’’ he said. ‘‘The 50% ‘Eye on the Course,’ that’s a big deal. If you start adding up how many shots that you’re going to be able to see now that you don’t have to come back and get on tape, probably you’re talking about an extra six or seven shots per commercial break that you’re going to be able to show. That could be an extra 35, 40 shots per hour or more.’’
Golf was among the first sports to return to TV during the pandemic, giving us made-for-TV events such as ‘‘The Match II,’’ which pitted Tom Brady and Phil Mickelson against Peyton Manning and Tiger Woods in late May. It averaged 5.8 million viewers, making it the most-watched golf event in the history of cable TV (it aired on TNT, TBS, TruTV and HLN).
Sports without fans remain made-for-TV events, and CBS figures to pull in strong viewership for the first major of the year — more than the 5.01 million who watched the final round of the PGA last year and, if the stars align, around the 8.47 million who watched in 2018, when Tiger Woods finished second. In case you didn’t know, Woods draws eyeballs.
However it goes down, it might be the start of some of the most-watched golf in history, the way Nantz sounds.
‘‘The world of golf is entering a stage that the sport will never see again,’’ he said, ‘‘and I don’t know that any other sport will ever see a compressed window of high stakes like this sport’s about to embark on.’’