It is not often that one of the finest commentators in sports, and a titan of his profession, feels pressure to maintain a high standard of broadcasting.
Yet that was what Jim Nantz, the man often considered the voice of The Masters, felt when commentating alongside the late Peter Alliss at The 140th Open, as he shares in a heartfelt and insightful tribute featured on The Open Podcasts’ recent celebration of Alliss’ life.
One of the most respected and beloved broadcasters in the United States, Nantz’s love for The Open is fierce, and for a period of this century the 61-year old commentated for the BBC’s full coverage of the Championship.
“In my brief times as a contributor to the BBC broadcast at The Open,” Nantz said, “and I don’t want to overemphasize my role there, it was minimal, they were cameos, but the year that I happened to have a deeper role was 2011 at Royal St George’s.”
It was at that Championship, although having appeared on previous broadcasts, where Nantz had one of his greatest commentary experiences, alongside Alliss.
“Now the BBC style of broadcasting is quite opposite of the way we do things over in the US,” Nantz said. “We have announcers positioned behind the holes, and over here for CBS I’m broadcasting always behind the 18th green.
“But for the BBC, you actually sit in a trailer without a birds-eye view, without a real look at the action. You’re not as I am (in the United States) from the tower, where I’m looking down at the green and can call the action with my eyes. The BBC approach was to call it off of the monitor, and to pair up commentators, and the commentators would go in 45-minute to one-hour stretches.
“The biggest assignment would be to find yourself blending in tandem with Peter Alliss, which is what the case was for me in 2011 during a good portion of the final round in Darren Clarke’s victory year. That to me was a true career highlight."
“I wish I had a video or a picture of that moment, but I don't. He was kind, cordial, considerate, polite. A great team-mate. What an honour to be able to say I did that.” Jim Nantz on Commentating with peter Alliss in 2011
As Nantz and Alliss shared the booth, creating a rare dream team for golf fans, the former appreciated the unique position he was in, and the thrill of being alongside Alliss.
“It was just back and forth,” Nantz said. “It’s interesting, I’m sure the viewer at home has no idea how this works but you’re actually facing the other commentator, and the mics are activated by when you pick the mic off of a table. When you place the mic back down, you shut it off.
“And you cut around as commentators when the action has finished with one particular player. For example, I could call a shot for Phil Mickelson, then the visual cuts to, say, Lee Westwood, and now the other announcer, in this case Peter, makes the call. Camera cuts back to Phil, and then boom, it ping pongs back to another player, and now Peter picks up the call. So it’s back and forth and you’re facing the whole time the other commentator.
“So, to be doing that dance step with Peter, at Royal St George’s, I mean that was a very weighty assignment for me, even though by that time I’m 27 years into calling The Masters Tournament and things like that. So it was such a thrill, and he was such an iconic figure to me, to know that I’m going to have long stretches just to go back and forth with Peter Alliss, with the great man. My gosh, what an honour!"
Nantz was determined to match Alliss’ high standards during a highlight of his commentary career, one which he hopes to relive during The Open's return to Sandwich this summer.
“He’s setting the pace,” Nantz said, “and I just wanted to make sure there wasn’t too much of a drop off when it came back to me. Back and forth we would go, that was a thrill. I wish I had video or a picture of that moment, of that day, but I don’t. He was cordial, kind considerate, polite. A great team-mate. Again, just a very brief little cameo in my life but what an honour to be able to say I did that.
“With The Open coming up at Royal St George's I’ve been toying with the idea of going back this summer, just as a fan of the game, and someone who adores and cherishes The Open Championship. And really the big tug for me more than anything is just to kind of walk around Royal St George's outside the ropes, and just remember that 10 years before I was a storyteller, sitting alongside Peter Alliss."