Jim Nantz sounds like the consummate pro as he speaks via phone in his best golf voice out of respect for other passengers on the train he’s riding from New York City to Washington, D.C.
The whispering, a hushed but still strong tone, will make great practice for when he serves as anchor for CBS coverage of the Bridgestone Invitational Aug. 3-4 at Firestone Country Club, a regular position of import for the 27-year veteran of the network’s sports division.
Nantz, a three-time Emmy Award-winner and five-time National Sportscaster of the Year, occupies some rare space in the realm of sportscasting.
He offers his expertise on telecasts of three crown jewels of sports — the Masters Tournament, college basketball’s Final Four and the Super Bowl. It’s a situation that arises every three years due to the contract that CBS has to rotate the Super Bowl with NBC and Fox. The first time came in 2007, then 2010 and the most recent earlier this year.
Given the timing of the three events, it’s enough to keep him busy throughout the year. There’s little overlap, but with each sport significant knowledge is required.
“It’s easy. I really don’t pay attention — deep attention — to the sports I don’t cover,” he said when asked whether it was difficult to maintain focus. “I just don’t invest the time in it. I focus on three primary sports in my life — the NFL, college basketball and the world of golf. I consume those three sports with great gusto every day of my life.”
Each of those sports offers him some satisfaction professionally and personally. He calls college basketball “special,” and football? There is without a doubt fondness as he discusses it.
“The NFL, in many ways, is the most exciting of all to broadcast with the game on Sunday afternoon,” he said. “Just to be around that every Sunday — every game is so meaningful and important. I don’t rank them, but probably the most fun thing to do is the week in, week out NFL game.”
Then of course there is the big game.
“Super Bowls are the biggest thing we have in American sports, the biggest thing we have in American television,” Nantz said. “I think in our industry it’s the biggest assignment you can get. You don’t ever minimize what a gift, what a blessing it is to be trusted with that responsibility to broadcast a Super Bowl.”
But even the prestige of providing play-by-play for that game might run a close second for Nantz to sitting on the links and providing color for golf tournaments.
“It was the driving force to one day be in this business as a young boy [at the age of 11]. That was the original tug — to be one of those voices you heard broadcasting a golf tournament,” Nantz said.
He has made the most of those opportunities, and it’s what viewers will hear when he anchors Bridgestone coverage this weekend.
“There are demands in anchoring golf coverage that are more significant than covering a football or basketball game. To me the beauty and the art is in the storytelling,” Nantz said. “It’s not how loud you shout, how much you scream over one game-winning situation, one eight-second narrative. It’s not what we’re trained to do.
“We’re trained to tell the story. We trained to lead an audience through a three-hour broadcast or longer. In golf you get long windows of storytelling time, whereas the other sports have a more frenetic pace. In golf, again, you get long opportunities to show how much you’ve honed your craft.”
In that respect, it gives Nantz a chance to express himself, reap satisfaction from knowing that he has provided fresh material and knowing that he has prepared for the event even if there’s a chance he didn’t use the majority of it.
Yet there are things that he works to avoid in broadcasts, also.
“I recoil when I hear announcers try to seize a broadcast, make their mark or put their stamp on it,” he said. “That’s never been the objective. I know it wasn’t something that was important to the heroes and voices of my youth. They were real professionals who wanted to honor the sports and honor the people they covered.”
For those locally and nationally who won’t be able to join the galleries that roam Firestone this weekend and instead tune in on WOIO (Channel 19), they’ll know that he holds as much respect for Akron’s premier event as he does Augusta’s.
“The Masters isn’t that different than the event in Akron,” he said. “It’s really important. It’s the World Golf Championship.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Sports Media blog at http://www.ohio.com/blogs/sports-media. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.