He hopes to do 30 more before retiring as CBS's television announcer.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Not surprisingly, Jim Nantz is making the call.
Right here. Right now. The anchor for CBS's golf coverage, which celebrates its 50th year of telecasting the Masters this week, is announcing his retirement.
In 30 years.
"I will be 75 when I broadcast my last Masters," said Nantz, 45. "The second Sunday in April in 2035 is my retirement date from television."
There you go. April 8, 2035. Nantz will broadcast his 50th Masters, then turn off the mike and walk away.
"Of course," Nantz says with a tinge of slyness in his voice, "there could be rain and we have a Monday finish."
Nantz is in good spirits. Anniversaries are in abundance. It's Nantz's 20th Masters, and he's thinking about when he started, when a talented CBS producer nicknamed the Ayatollah heard the voice of an up-and-comer who had been Fred Couples' teammate at Houston and decided to start making plans.
Got break in 1985
"I had heard in the fall of 1985 that Frank Chirkinian, the legendary longtime producer and director of golf on CBS, had heard through the grapevine that I was a guy with a golf background, that I had played collegiately," Nantz says. "And he told some people that 'I'm going to take that kid and I'm going to mold him into the perfect golf anchor.' "
So Nantz met Chirkinian at the Pebble Beach tournament, and a few months later, Nantz was doing his first Masters. It was 1986, and he was reporting from the par-three 16th hole at Augusta National as 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus came through in the final round of his memorable victory.
"And that was where Jack Nicklaus made a pivotal birdie, almost knocked it in for an ace on Sunday, and I made some remark about 'the Bear has come out of hibernation.' Which to this day I'll see it spotted in a book or in other historical references to Jack's win. ... I was just some 26-year-old kid, completely star-struck, feeling totally unworthy of being there, much less having a headset on and commentating," Nantz says with a laugh.
To put CBS's golden anniversary broadcast in perspective: for its first Masters in 1956 the network used six cameras; this week, there will be more than 50. Its first color telecast came in 1966. The first high-definition telecast was in 2003.
Nantz has plenty of stories, but he's especially fond of running into telecast partner Ken Venturi on the course after the '86 Masters.
"And Kenny said, 'Jimmy, how old are you, son?'
" 'And I said, 'I'm 26.'
"And he said, 'Young man, I'm going to make a prediction. You one day will be able to say you're the first person to broadcast the Masters 50 times. But I can promise you one thing. You'll never live to see a greater Masters than the one you saw today.'
"It did kind of bum me, the third feeling, if that is the case that I'll never live to see another as great as this, they're all downhill after this. Why did we have to peak the first year?"
One of Venturi's favorite memories concerns the cornerstone upon which the Masters is built. When he turned off his mike for the last time, tournament chairman Hootie Johnson asked to speak with Venturi, who never won the Masters but finished second twice.
"He said, 'Would you be the honorary starter?' " Venturi recalled. "I said, 'Mr. Johnson, that is the nicest compliment you could ever give me. And I can't thank you enough, but let me tell you something. This is tradition around here, and this is what it's all built on, and never break tradition. The honorary starter should always be a Masters champion.'
"And he said, 'You know, Ken, I told the committee exactly what you'd say."'
The Masters, tradition and CBS. They often seem like one and the same.