Golf

Talkin’ golf, wine and dads with CBS Sports’ Jim Nantz

Jim Nantz covers golf, football and basketball for CBS Sports.
Jim Nantz covers golf, football and basketball for CBS Sports. AP

“Hello, friends.”

To sports fans, those two words immediately bring to mind the iconic voice of CBS Sports broadcaster Jim Nantz.

The three-time Emmy Award winner and lead anchor of CBS Sports’ PGA Tour coverage spends two weeks every May in DFW covering the Colonial and the Byron Nelson. And the area holds a lot of significance for Nantz, who in 2012 launched his signature wine The Calling at Del Frisco’s in Fort Worth.

It’s also where, 20 years ago at Colonial, Nantz’s father fell ill with a stroke. The incident would inspire him to write the bestseller Always By My Side: The Healing Gift of a Father’s Love.

In between golf tournaments, Nantz, who is also CBS’s lead announcer for the NFL and the NCAA basketball tournament, took some time to talk about golf, wine and his dad.

How did one of the most recognizable sports broadcasters become involved in the wine business?

I was wanting to create a business interest and had a passion about following wine, making it and understanding it. I was at dinner in Greenwich, Connecticut, when I met [wine entrepreneur] Peter Deutsch. He had recently read my book about my father, Always By My Side, and it had resonated with him. That chance meeting turned into a phone call a few days later that would lead to us partnering for the Deutsch Nantz Alliance.

How long did it take for The Calling to be released?

I had been on the prowl for six or seven years for this opportunity that occurred when, through pure serendipity, I met Peter in 2009. Making wine certainly doesn’t happen overnight or in a few weeks, and we worked together on every last little detail from vineyard to bottle, knowing it would take years to do it right.

Three years later, we had our official launch for The Calling on May 23, 2012, at Del Frisco’s steakhouse in downtown Fort Worth. I was in town for the Colonial and had a lot of friends there that I have made over the years in Fort Worth. So Del Frisco’s in Fort Worth was our first account and now we have over 6,000 accounts. (For information on The Calling, visit www.thecallingwine.com.)

We just finished another week at Colonial. Talk about why this annual PGA Tour stop is such a special week for you and CBS Sports.

We love the vibe around the tournament and it really extends to the whole city. It also reminds me of my early days of covering golf since we stay in the same hotel every year and the clubhouse and golf course are the same. There is a warmth and prideful feel to the Colonial. Last week was tremendous excitement when it looked like we could have a four-man playoff at one point before Chris Kirk pulled it out.

Colonial was a wonderful stop on our journey this season. Like the Masters, Colonial has always been on CBS. It’s like a legendary long-running show like Gunsmoke or 60 Minutes.

From a national perspective, do you see a day where the Colonial will return to the prominence it once had?

I am not one to rank particular tournaments, but to me Colonial will always be a special place. Players love going there. It has always been regarded as a shot-maker’s course and it has a strong, prideful record. Fifty years from now, it will still be there and will still be special.

What does the emergence of Jordan Spieth mean for golf?

There have been a lot of doomsayers making outrageous claims both about the recreational level and PGA Tour in the post-Tiger [Woods] era. Jordan may not have Tiger’s following, but what we needed was new likable stars. Now we have Jordan Spieth, a classy young man who has come along at a time when I am not by any means saying Tiger is done, but he is not winning eight or nine times a year right now.

Golf also has remarkable talents like Rory McIlroy, who has won four majors in four years and just shattered the record books at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, N.C., where they are hosting a PGA Championship in a few years. There’s also Rickie Fowler, who just had one of the greatest finishes we will ever see when he won the Players Championship.

The game is regenerating its star power and it is in good hands. Jordan’s win at the Masters is the most important of all, but like I said on the telecast Sunday at Colonial, great players seem like they always make the big putts on 18, and he just reaffirmed that he is a true superstar.

The next stop on the PGA Tour is 30 miles east of Colonial at the AT&T Byron Nelson. While the two events are as different as night and day, I am sure you have some special memories from there as well?

I think it is a good thing the tournaments are not identical and it’s healthy that Dallas and Fort Worth have different products. However, just like Colonial, the Byron Nelson has a deep history going back to the 1940s and the Dallas Open and the events are also two of the biggest charitable givers on the PGA Tour.

As for the memories from Dallas, there are so many from Mr. Nelson, with him coming up to the booth with us and sitting in for a few segments, to getting to have dinner with him away from the tournament. I always enjoyed those visits; they meant so much. This year’s Byron Nelson has a good field and I am looking forward to it.

Your first encounter with Peter Deutsch that led to The Calling was directly tied to your book and how it reminded him of his own relationship with his father. I also bought your book and gave it to my dad for Father’s Day and it is probably one of the better gifts I have come up with over the years. Have you had many such encounters over the years?

I have, and it’s very special to hear that. I opened the book saying, “May 26, 1995, had been shaping up as just another day at the office,” so it’s ironic that we are talking today since it was 20 years ago today that my father had his stroke. I have been thinking about it all day while I was traveling and the fact that it happened at the Colonial.

It was a normal Colonial, blisteringly hot, and he had been walking around watching the golf before he came up to the CBS tower behind No. 18. I was doing the cable broadcast that Friday with Ken Venturi, and when he arrived, he looked really tired and disoriented. He drank a few bottles of water and I told him that he should go in the clubhouse and cool off and relax. I put my headset on to go to work and as he took his last step at the base of the tower, he collapsed.

An ambulance came in the back gate and took him to a local hospital. When I reached the hospital, the left side of his face was partially paralyzed, as he had suffered what is known as a TIA (transient ischemic attack) that turned out to be a precursor or trigger sign to his getting diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It was 20 years ago today.

Nantz’s father passed away in June 2008. On Jan. 19, 2011, as a response to the enormous following of the book and as a tribute to his dad, Nantz opened the Nantz National Alzheimer Center with Houston Methodist Hospital. For more information on the NNAC, visit www.houstonmethodist.org.

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