Travelin' Joe, Jim Nantz and the 3:30 a.m. British Open wake-up call
West coast golfing insomniacs were in heaven this week. ESPN's live coverage of the British Open began at 1 a.m. and continued until noon. Whether you were just getting in, just headed to bed, or just out of Tylenol PM, you could watch live major championship golf.
Have you ever set an alarm, just so you could watch golf? In the pre-TiVo days, it used to happen a lot. That said, I wasn't expecting it to happen in the company of Jim Nantz.
Exactly 15 years ago, I found myself in Hawaii, on the Garden Isle of Kauai. Checking into the Princeville Resort, I ran into Jim Nantz -- then, as now, the voice of American golf. Nantz was on a well-deserved vacation, as CBS didn't have coverage rights to the British Open. We had a few folks in common, so I approached him to say hello. Within 10 minutes, we had set up a tee time to play The Prince Course, Robert Trent Jones Jr.'s tropical tour de force.
I got the better of him in our first round -- owing to a family day he took down in Poipu, where because he sunburned so badly, he could barely take the club back. Didn't matter to me. I felt that by taking down Nantz, Freddie Couples was next. Fortunately for all concerned, that match never took place.
After a lunch and another golf game the next day, I had to admit, Jim Nantz had wowed me. Sure, he takes abuse for his schmaltz-filled Masters delivery, but let's face it, we all get emotional about the Masters.
Show of hands for those who didn't shed a tear when the Olden Bear won it in '86, or when Ben won one for Harvey in '95. Not many of you, are there?
What impressed me most about Nantz, besides his demeanor, was that he was first and foremost, a fan. He seemed to remember every NCAA hoops Final Four team's roster, knew runners-up at majors as well as winners and was comfortable talking shop. I was giddy hearing behind-the-scenes anecdotes on the set of "NFL Today."
What left the biggest impression was Nantz' query to me on Saturday -- did I want to catch the final round of the British Open with him on television? Great idea, until I realized that in Hawaii, the telecast started at 3:30 a.m.
Watching a slew of big names chase unheralded Brian Watts, at Royal Birkdale, with Jim Nantz describing the action -- in the same room? That would have been cool. Honestly, though, I had other obligations. Like sleep. This was Brian Watts, not Byron Nelson. I declined Nantz's offer.
After snoozing until 6, I managed to catch all the golf I could, including a closing 66 from Tiger Woods to finish one back and a taut four-hole playoff between Watts and eventual winner Mark O'Meara.
I checked out later that morning and never did find out if Jim Nantz had arranged for that middle-of-the-night wake-up call. But it wouldn't have surprised me if he did.
(Photo: Angus Murray)