The Soul Of Jim Nantz

Nantz’s grandfather was the postmaster who also owned a pool hall in Mount Holly, N.C., just outside Charlotte and during the family’s time in New Jersey, Jim relished the early evenings in the winter when his dad would get home from work and they would shoot pool together in the basement.

On a whim, Nantz wanted to see the house at 3 Highfield Lane in Colts Neck and didn’t tell anyone he was stopping by.

Al D’Avanzo was outside doing some gardening with his son when Nantz pulled up.

“I said, ‘It’s Sunday, shouldn’t you be working?’ ” D’Avanzo remembers.

When Nantz explained why he was there, D’Avanzo invited him in.

“I walked around and saw my old bedroom and the family kitchen,” Nantz says. “Then we walked down into the basement that my dad had built himself. It had wood paneling and a little bar. It was mostly the foundation of the house. It was incredible just to walk back into your life.

“At the bottom of the stairs was this pool table. He said. ‘I’ve kept something that I think belonged to you.’ It had survived all those changes in ownership maybe because it was just too big to move. I immediately recognized it.

“Al said, ‘If you ever want it, it’s yours.’ ”

After Nantz moved in at Pebble Beach, the pool table moved in with him.

That’s not all he brought with him and his family.

He also has the golf cart Ken Venturi rode around in at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and he has the cocktail glasses that belonged to Frank Chirkinian, the fiery and demanding CBS producer/director who struck equal amounts of fear and respect in the people who worked with him.

Both Venturi and Chirkinian, among the most instrumental figures in Nantz’s professional life, have passed away (Venturi died on Nantz’s 54th birthday, May 17, 2013) but pieces of them have remained with him.

“Ken was adopted by parents named Fred and Ethel, like the Mertzes in I Love Lucy,” Nantz says. “His dad sold net twine to the fishermen in San Francisco. Once a week his father would take care of his accounts on the Monterey Peninsula and he would drive down with his boy, drop him off at Cypress or Pebble and Ken would caddie.

“He had the famous match at Cypress. He had the 1960 Crosby he won there and all the years of broadcasting at Pebble Beach.

“He and Frank used to always talk to me about how they would one day move to Pebble. For whatever reason, they ended up living somewhere else in retirement. They said they were going to do it and they never did do it. I feel like I’m representing them a little bit.

“I have Ken’s cart and Frank’s cocktail glasses. It’s like 20 of them. I can see Frank at the end of the day sipping a cocktail out of these glasses.”

Nantz with Jim McKay

Nantz has become what he dreamed of being and how many people actually do that?

As a kid, he wrote letters to Jim McKay at ABC Sports and McKay answered him. He listened to Pat Summerall and Jack Whitaker, Dick Enberg and Chris Schenkel, giants in an industry when it came into full bloom.

“I studied them. I wanted to be like them. I wanted my career to be in honor of them,” Nantz says.

“I wanted them to be able to look at the next generation and say, ‘Well, that kid, he’s one of us. He’s doing our industry proud.’ That was my goal. I don’t know if I’ve achieved it but that’s what I wanted to be like. I tried to take what they established and did so well and have my career be a composite of all those men because they truly were an inspiration.”

Nantz delivered a eulogy at McKay’s funeral. He provided a taped message that was played at Enberg’s celebration of life ceremony recently in San Diego. He had lunch with Whitaker in Philadelphia in January.

“He delivered a toast at our wedding on the 68th-year anniversary of the day he had stormed the beaches at Normandy, at Omaha Beach. It was June 9, 2012, 68 years to that day. I love Jack Whitaker,” Nantz says.

Nailing the Moment

Before 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus got around to turning grown men and women into weeping bags of mush with his victory in the 1986 Masters, Nantz was already a bundle of nerves and emotion.

He was 26 and situated in the television tower behind the 16th green where it was his job to tell the story unfolding before him. Imagine being a rookie and Nicklaus is putting the finishing touches on a final-round 65 to complete what remains the most heartwarming afternoon in Masters history.

One month earlier, Nantz and Gary McCord were working the PGA Tour event at Doral.

“I remember I was taking him out to the 15th hole at Doral, I was going to 16. I was brand new as Jim was. I was probably one week old,” McCord says.

“Frank stopped us. He said, ‘Let me talk to you for a second, son,’ talking to Jim. He is giving Jim every word of what to do today. I was taking Jim out there and said, ‘That was kind of overwhelming. Just hang in here and do this.’

“The next thing I remember Jim and I were at Augusta. We started our careers. Jim went one way. I went the other. And good for him.”

That April Sunday in Augusta 32 years ago, Nicklaus came to the 16th tee having just eagled the par-5 15th, the cheers practically ripping the needles off the pine trees down in that corner of Augusta National. Nicklaus was still stalking Seve Ballesteros but it felt as if the air was trembling.

Chirkinian did not allow his announcers to state the obvious. Add something to what viewers are watching. Give it context. Give it meaning. And it was Nantz’s job to do that when Nicklaus was on the 16th tee.

“I felt like, ‘What I am doing here?’ I was four years removed from my college graduation,” Nantz recalls.

“During the commercial break, Frank was in my ear. He had this act, ‘the Ayatollah.’ … Sometimes he would ream someone out but, by and large, he was very supportive. … He took that moment to gently prepare me for what was about to come. He dropped to a whisper. It was like you were hearing yourself. ‘Jimmy,’ he said, ‘We’re coming back in a few seconds. This is a really big moment. You’re the right guy for this. I know it. You don’t need to say much. You’re going to be fine. This is a special time. You can handle it.’ ”

No doubt about it, the Bear has come out of hibernation.

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