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Jim Nantz adjusting to not calling Final Four, Masters

Jim Nantz Phil Mickelson
Jim Nantz
Posted at 8:32 PM, Apr 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-09 20:32:04-04

Jim Nantz couldn’t figure out why he was getting text messages from friends about the 1986 Masters, unaware it was the first of eight Masters being shown during a second week in April unlike any other.

That was his first Masters for CBS Sports.

“And there’s no doubt about it. The Bear has come out of hibernation,” he says from the 16th tower after Jack Nicklaus makes birdie to tie for the lead. Nantz was relieved to learn later he had not repeated what already had been said.

He received far more texts on Monday night, some of them well-intended jokes — “How is that one shining moment coming together?” — about the NCAA basketball championship that wasn’t played.

For the last three decades, Nantz has been the voice in living rooms and restaurant bars and anywhere else fans were watching the two biggest sporting events on the Spring calendar — the Final Four and the Masters over a span of nine days.

He has been the lead voice from Augusta National since 1989, and he took over play-by-play duties at the Final Four for CBS a year later. He has worked both events since 1986. The itinerary is taxing and exhilarating.

Now he’s home, like everyone else during the global pandemic of COVID-19.

“Do I miss it? I miss it so much I can’t even articulate it,” Nantz said Wednesday evening from his home in Pebble Beach, California. “Am I letting it consume me? Not at all. There are far bigger things going on than anyone having a pity party for me because my 34-year streak comes to an end. We’re in a crisis. People are suffering. People have lost loved ones, and there’s more to come.”

The objective is to stay in the present and “try to dislodge yourself from this time warp.”

He doesn’t want to think about where he would be or what he would be calling. Instead, he says he studies data on the pandemic as if he were poring over notes before Kentucky played Duke for the national title or Tiger Woods chased another green jacket.

Thoughts of normal times are inevitable. Sometimes it’s a text. The few interviews carry a familiar theme: What is Jim Nantz doing without the Final Four and the Masters? It could simply be a glance at the calendar that reminds him what he’s missing.

Thursday morning will be one of those moments.

“I’ve never missed the ceremonial shot,” Nantz said.

The club did not have an honorary starter from 2003 to 2006. The other years, Nantz would arrive at the CBS compound about 7:15 a.m., walk briskly up the hill toward the cabins and wander over to join thousands watching legends — Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead his first year, now Nicklaus and Gary Player.

“It touches me,” he said. “It’s one of those moments where there’s a passage of time,” he said. ”You realize another year has gone by and you’re looking at your heroes trying to strike one shot. It’s powerful. I’m going to miss that a lot.”

Even with no live sports, Nantz has remained plenty busy this week. CBS Sports is showing the 2004 Masters on Saturday afternoon — Phil Mickelson’s first major title — and Sunday will be the broadcast from last year when Woods returned from career-threatening back surgeries to win his first major in 11 years.

Only they won’t just be a straight re-airing.

Nantz spent Monday on a Zoom call with Mickelson, who will contribute commentary as he watches a back-nine duel with Ernie Els that ends with Mickelson leaping spread-eagle after making an 18-foot birdie on the final hole to win. Wednesday morning was set aside for Woods, who offers his perspective — even on other players — during his rally from a two-shot deficit to win an emotional Masters that Nantz described last year as “the return to glory.”

“It will be outstanding because of their contributions,” Nantz said.

Otherwise, he is waiting and hoping — healthier days for the world and a return to sports, no matter how busy it might be in the fall with the NFL and a Masters rescheduled for November.

He is never far from golf living at Pebble Beach, though it’s not the same. The courses are closed, as are the Lodge at Pebble Beach and Inn at Spanish Bay.

“You would be shocked. You wouldn’t recognize it,” he said. It’s eerily quiet.”

Nantz still walks out to the 10th green, the outer part of Pebble Beach Golf Links (“I stay on the cart path,” he said) and has another walking circuit of about 4 1/2 miles that takes him over to Cypress Point, Seal Rock Beach, Spyglass and by the practice range at Pebble, not far from where Tiger Woods Design is building a Par-3 course.

His children, 6-year-old daughter Finley and 4-year-old son Jameson, are learning to ride bikes on the pavement that houses player hospitality during the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and both are starting to swing a golf club.

These are moments he would be missing.

But he also misses the Masters. What stands out to him about Augusta National in November is not the difference between late Fall and early Spring, the colors and the vibe, or even how the course will play.

“I look at it as a symbol of hope,” Nantz said. “It’s something to look forward to, something that says, ’Hey, we’re not that far away.”