GREENSBORO — Hello, friends.
It’s been a long time.
More than 17 years since the spring of 2002 and the Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic at Forest Oaks, the last time Jim Nantz anchored the CBS broadcast of our golf tournament.
But the PGA Tour’s new, compressed schedule meant an earlier date for the Wyndham Championship. And that meant a homecoming of sorts for Nantz, one of the most recognizable and accomplished sportscasters of all time.
So the weekend telecasts of Greensboro’s 80th PGA Tour tournament from stately Sedgefield Country Club have begun with Nantz’s voice and his familiar “Hello, friends” greeting.
The catchphrase works because Nantz means it. He has friends everywhere.
And he’s eager to be back home.
“I’m thrilled to be coming back to Greensboro,” Nantz says. “I can’t even tell you for sure the last time I was there. I did broadcast the GGO — as those of us from North Carolina call it — for many years. But recent years, I had conflicts on the schedule with preseason football and the start of the NFL, getting geared up for football season. But I’m so glad to be coming back. I’ve got so many friends there, and family ties to the area.”
Those family ties to Greensboro begin with James William Nantz III’s father.
Jim Jr. was a 16-year-old freshman at Guilford College in the autumn of 1945, the month after V-J Day ended the fighting in World War II. He was a two-way starter for the football team.
“My dad was so proud of his ties to the Quakers,” Nantz says. “He also tried to play a little football there. I believe he lettered in basketball, too.”
One of Nantz’s prized possessions is a game program from his father’s first football game.
“He started his first game as a freshman,” Nantz says, “and Game One was Guilford at Maryland in College Park. … It was an important game in history because it marked the first game for Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant as a head coach. So my dad was playing for the opponents that day, and starting on both sides of the line as a freshman, one week away from his 17th birthday.”
Guilford lost, 60-6.
“It was win No. 1 for Bear Bryant,” Nantz says, “but my dad was proud of the fact that’s how he launched his college football career.”
Nantz’s father grew up in Mount Holly and his mother in Charlotte. After Guilford, the couple settled in Charlotte and Jim Jr. went to work for entrepreneur Malcolm McLean, a man who revolutionized the trucking business with the container ship concept.
The work kept the Nantz family on the move, all over the country. They lived on the Gulf Coast, then the West Coast, then the East Coast. But their roots were anchored here.
“My dad talked about Guilford a lot,” Nantz says. “His roommate was a guy named Wally Maultsby, and they remained close for the rest of their lives. … My dad’s been gone 11 years now, and one of the years I did the Wyndham — before it was the Wyndham — I brought my dad back to North Carolina and we walked the campus. I got to hear all the old stories again.”
They were stories of home.
But where, exactly, is home? It’s not always an easy question for Nantz to answer.
“My teammates on CBS, they are relentless,” Nantz says. “They joke that I have more hometowns than anyone. I’ve taken their lead on this, and I’ve had a lot of good fun with the slogan, ‘Isn’t it great to be back home again?’ I say that a lot of different places, and they’ll try to figure out my connection to the area.”
Many of those connections are through golf.
One of Nantz’s earliest childhood memories is walking next to his parents as part of a long line of people stretched across the fairways of then-new Pine Lake Country Club outside Charlotte.
“We were picking up sticks and rocks from the grass,” Nantz says. “We were picking up debris, actually helping build the golf course, clearing the fairways by hand. I was in that line at 4 years old.”
Nantz learned the game at Pine Lake, tagging along with his parents. And he played at many, many public courses as the family hopscotched around the country following his father’s career.
“I was in love with the game,” he says. “It was ingrained in me that golf was a special part of our lives. I was hooked at a young age, and golf has always been a central part of my life.”
As a teenager, Nantz worked at Battleground Golf Course in Deek Park, N.J., picking up balls on the driving range, cleaning golf clubs, making sure the golf carts were charged and maintained.
Learning the game from the inside out. Lessons never forgotten during his travels from home to home to home.
These days, Nantz lives in Pebble Beach. That’s home, too. But …
“Look, I was born in North Carolina. My parents were born in North Carolina. My sister was born there,” Nantz says. “So, yes, it’s home. I have strong ties to other areas, as well. Houston. New Orleans. The San Francisco Bay area. New York and New Jersey. But North Carolina is on the birth certificate. I’m very proud of my ties to the state.”
Now the PGA Tour’s new calendar has brought Nantz back here in August.
By getting out of football’s way, golf gave Greensboro a gift. Nantz’s voice leading the weekend broadcast carries clout.
It’s a calendar Nantz likes a lot.
“It’s the first time I’ve been asked that question on the back nine of it,” Nantz says. “… It’s been super effective. We’re going to see the payoff of the new schedule this month with the playoffs finishing before the start of football. That was the real trigger point. It was the impetus of it all: to get the main PGA Tour calendar over before Labor Day. This benefits Greensboro about as much as anyone. We’re going to see that play out. The condensed season has made the PGA Tour more action-packed.”
And it adds to the Wyndham’s importance. Especially with golf’s FedEx Cup playoffs shortened from four events to three.
Those playoffs begin after the regular-season finale in Greensboro.
“One could argue now that the Wyndham becomes an opening leg of the playoffs,” Nantz says. “It’s like the wild-card game in the NFL playoffs. It’s a way to be in or fractionally out, to get yourself into the divisional game, and then on to the championship, and then on to the Super Bowl.”
Nantz is in his 34th year broadcasting the PGA Tour at CBS, and he believes the FedEx Cup playoffs breathed new life into the game.
The playoffs created excitement after the four majors were over. It gave the Tour’s stars something important to play for, weaving a thread through all the tournaments leading up to the postseason.
“The FedEx Cup gave the Tour an anchor,” Nantz says. “You have to be careful. It’s a slippery slope to put all of the emphasis on the four majors. Look what’s happened to tennis. You don’t know week-in and week-out if there’s a tennis tournament somewhere in the world unless it’s a Grand Slam. It doesn’t make the news. Tennis has been reduced to four events. I don’t think golf was ever in danger of going that way, but the PGA Tour is the lifeblood of our game. There are so many fantastic events all over this country that are key parts of their communities. And what happens in January affects what happens in August.”
Nantz’s long love affair with golf has become one-third of his livelihood.
He’s also CBS’ lead voice on the NFL and college basketball, his first love as a child born in ACC country.
Nantz has worked every Masters since Jack Nicklaus’ win against Father Time in 1986. He has worked 34 consecutive Final Fours, the first five as host and the previous 29 calling the games with Billy Packer or Bill Raftery or Grant Hill.
“I can still hear the voices from 50 years ago, can still hear the NFL jingle in my head,” Nantz says. “It was called ‘Confidence.’ That was the name of the song they would open the broadcast with. … And if there was anything that inspired me to want to one day work in the industry and be one of the voices I heard in my youth, it was the CBS broadcast of the Masters. So I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do when I was a little boy, right down to working for the very network that I dreamt of.”
Does Nantz have a favorite among the three sports he broadcasts? It’s a question he gets often, and he has a ready answer.
“I’m a father of three, and professionally I’m asked to maintain three sports in my life: the NFL, college basketball and golf,” he says. “So just like it is being a father of three, which child do you love the most? You can’t answer that. You love them all the same, knowing they all have their own unique personalities. I feel so fortunate, because those are the sports I care about the most.”
But Nantz’s caring extends far beyond the sports world.
His beloved father, the proud Guilford alumnus, died of Alzheimer’s Disease in the summer of 2008.
“It was actually a 13-year battle,” Nantz says. “Alzheimer’s took his life many years before he died.”
Nantz wrote the best-selling book “Always By My Side” about his father, and he was the driving force behind the Nantz National Alzheimer’s Center in Houston.
And his charitable “Forget Me Not” collection with clothing company Vineyard Vines has raised even more money and led to the new Jim Nantz Collection of golf apparel.
“I needed to take the platform I had,” Nantz says, “and become a voice for Alzheimer’s awareness and research.”
It’s the most recognizable voice in golf right now.
And that voice has returned to Greensboro this weekend, a city so important to his father.
Jim Nantz is home.