A Kid Who Followed His Dream: Jim Nantz Reflects on an Iconic Broadcasting Career
By Adam Stanley
Jim Nantz has been welcomed into the living rooms of countless – maybe billions – of people. But did you know he got his start in the workforce thanks to a PGA of America Golf Professional?
Nantz, who is one of the six inductees into this year’s PGA of America Hall of Fame class, started working his first real job (paper route aside) for Tony Bruno at the Battleground Country Club in Freehold, New Jersey. Nantz would work for Bruno on the weekends and even when he went away to college, Nantz would help out for a few years when he came back.
That’s where Nantz, the first broadcaster inducted into the PGA’s Hall of Fame – alongside his fellow 2023 inductees Robert Dolan, PGA; Don Wegrzyn, PGA; Herb Wimberly, PGA; PGA Past President Suzy Whaley, PGA; and LPGA legend Kathy Whitworth – first witnessed the life of a PGA Professional and what it was all about.
Maybe that’s why when it comes to telling the stories of PGA Members on the Corebridge Financial PGA Team who play in golf's major championships each year, there’s no one more appropriate to do it than Nantz.
“There’s just great respect. People don’t really appreciate or understand enough that the PGA of America isn’t just about the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup. More than anything, it’s about the 29,000 PGA Professionals who live and represent that organization every day,” Nantz says.
“I worked for one. I worked for one for a long time. And I have nothing but great respect for all of them and I’m thrilled to be getting this recognition.”
A sterling career calling sports
Nantz has had a celebrated career in broadcasting spanning nearly 40 years. He’s won Emmy Awards and is a multi-time winner of the National Sportscaster of the Year award. Nantz was the youngest inductee into both the Pro Football and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. You know him from basketball, football, and of course, golf. Nantz also called shots at the U.S. Open tennis championship as well as host CBS’ coverage of the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Japan.
His iconic opener – “Hello friends” – has been recited thousands of times. It was originally used, in the early 2000s, as a special shoutout to his own father. Nantz’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and died in 2008. When Nantz was on the way to broadcast the 2002 PGA Championship, the younger Nantz told the elder that he would deliver a coded message for him.
“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,” Nantz told Golfweek last year.
CBS has long been part of the PGA Championship broadcast. The network’s first one was 1991 when John Daly went from being the ninth alternate at Crooked Stick to winning the whole thing. Nantz has called all of Tiger Woods’ Wanamaker Trophy victories. He was there when Phil Mickelson became the oldest major-championship winner of all time at Kiawah. And he had a front-row seat to Michael Block’s incredible run this year at Oak Hill. All these PGA Championship memories are epic.
“We’re in the storytelling business, and we live for that opportunity to introduce and expand and raise awareness for the subjects we’re covering and the places we’re going and the importance of the events we’re broadcasting,” Nantz says.
'What do you have in mind?'
Before Nantz got to the top of the broadcasting mountain, he was just a boy with a dream.
Nantz was on the golf team at the University of Houston and while he majored in communications, he told anyone who would listen of his desire to one day work for CBS. He wanted to be able to broadcast the great championships of American sport, he says, and the dream was more like an obsession.
As a student, Nantz went up to the NBC compound at the Houston Open when he was on site at the PGA TOUR event with his roommates. He asked a security guard to meet with Don Ohlmeyer who, at the time, was the head of NBC Sports.
“I told him I was on the golf team and I wanted to work one day for a network broadcasting golf events, football games, and basketball and I was wondering if I could get a job this weekend. He said, ‘What do you have in mind?’ And one of my buddy’s shoutout out – ‘He wants to be on the air! Put him on the air!’ Ohlmeyer said he had all the announcers we need,” Nantz recalls with a laugh.
But he did get hired as a runner. And he got hired for the next week at the Bryon Nelson for a better job. He was even going to get paid. Nantz accepted on the spot.
The week before his 20th birthday, Nantz finished his exams, drove to Dallas, was on the hook for his own expenses, including two nights in a motel, and he sat in the tower on the 15th hole and helped identify golfers coming up the fairway. He also called radio stations back in Houston and offered free radio reports of what was happening at the golf tournament.
One station that took his reports was the CBS radio affiliate in town. With his reports being so polished and professional, Nantz was hired as an unpaid intern and worked there for six months under Dave Barrett – who couldn’t believe he was a student still.
“I do free really well,” Nantz says. “The good old, ‘tried and true, be creative, willing to work long hours for little or no pay,’ that always works. And it gave me my start in the business.”
A kid who followed his dream
From there, Nantz jumped from the radio station to being on air on a CBS television affiliate as a student in Houston and a weekend anchor. After graduation he worked at another CBS affiliate in Salt Lake City, calling games for Brigham Young University and the Utah Jazz. After two years, he was hired by the big network at CBS, and he’s been there ever since.
Over the more than three decades with the network, Nantz has seen it all. And he’s made some pretty impressive friends along the way, too. He had dinner with the late Queen of England. He counts the late president George Bush like a secondary father. George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, presidents both, are friends. Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, too. Important people. But everyday people are just as important to Nantz. They’re all his friends, it seems.
Nantz says he was recently retrieving a rental car at the airport in San Francisco and someone came up to him just to thank him for all the memories he’s brought into his living room.
“They always have nice things to say, and I’m just truly touched that people say that things and they come over and say hello. I don’t want them to think I’m unapproachable, I’m just another guy,” Nantz says.
But he’s a guy that’s had a celebrated, distinguished, and impressive career. One worthy of induction into the PGA of America Hall of Fame.
“It doesn’t feel like it was that long ago that I was an 11-year-old boy that was obsessing this idea of wanting to broadcast these big events and be a storyteller. I had no idea the many gifts that would come with it,” Nantz says.
“And for it to lead to a recognition like a Hall of Fame from the PGA of America? I don’t feel worthy. I’m just a kid who followed a dream.”