Nantz and Palmer

By Beacon Staff

I’m aging myself here, but in about 40 years of journalism, mostly on the news side of the business, I’ve interviewed my share of what I would be described as “big shots.”

Some have been run-and-gun type interviews where I was competing with other reporters for a few words; others have been news conferences; and, of course, I’ve had my share of personal sitdowns with a myriad high-browed personalities.

Because of their persona in the public eye, you can’t help but have a bit of an advance impression, but I have always found that if you have done your homework, fully engage in a conversation and intently listen to their answers without pre-determining in what direction the interview might proceed, you not only come away with a story gem another reporter may not obtain, but also gain valuable and rewarding insight into the interviewee.

I usually don’t spend a lot of time working when I attend the yearly function of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, but when it was announced Arnold Palmer would be introducing Jim Nantz I knew at least some of the weekend in Salisbury, N.C., would be spent with my recorder running and a pen in hand.

His gait has slowed and his posture tilted, but the 80-year-young Palmer is simply a delight – witty, engaging and friendly.

He aptly dodged my question about the private lives of celebrities like Tiger Woods, “I don’t have much to say about any of that,” then assured me the game’s best player would return to his old form and chatted a bit about the evolution of the golf ball and its effect on the game.

He still works out, looks amazingly fit, and, for his surprisingly diminutive stature, his hands are huge and his grip firm. He patiently posed for every photo request, enjoyed women’s attention more than men’s – especially my pal Gwen – and was simply a joy to spend just a few moments with.

And Nantz, who roomed with Seattle’s Fred Couples at the University of Houston, is not just the best in the business, but also the most sincere and friendly “big shot” broadcaster or writer I have ever had the pleasure to meet.

His book “Always By My Side,” the story of his father’s influence and subsequent struggle with Alzheimer’s is a can’t-put-down must-read and his storytelling ability is endearing even in the most casual of conversations.

Palmer and Nantz have long been friends and the iconic golfer quickly agreed, even though Nantz said it took a while to get up the courage to ask him, to present him for his fifth Broadcaster of the Year award.

The two men have shared a state dinner at the table of President George Herbert Walker Bush to honor Queen Elizabeth. But perhaps their most poignant moment was Palmer’s final appearance at the Masters when he encountered Nantz on the way to the putting green moments before tee-off.

Nantz revealed to the sold-out crowd in Salisbury that CBS Television that year had floated the idea of moving him from his sports position to host another show in exchange for a significant increase in salary.

While the offer was tempting, he decided that he was “living his lifelong dream” of working for CBS Sports and would remain.

But he was troubled that, since his dad had died, the person he always turned to during such tough matters wasn’t around to help with the decision.

Palmer had heard that Nantz might leave the sports arena and, prior to draining three consecutive putts minutes before tee-off, asked whether it was true.

When Nantz shared his dismay in making such a decision without his dad’s presence, Palmer put his hand on Nantz’s heart and said: “He’s right there and he did help you make the right decision.”

The two men then shared the walk to the first tee and for Nantz, no doubt, “Always By My Side” never meant more.

But my favorite moment of the three-day convention went mostly unnoticed by those in attendance at the wrap-up awards banquet.

Nantz pointed out to Palmer the presence of 91-year-old legendary writer-editor Furman Bisher of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Without fanfare, Palmer made his way through the dinner tables to cross the room to hug a surprised Bisher and engage him privately for several minutes.

For me, it represented the finest of sports moments: A legendary athlete paying homage to a man whose words bring sporting events not just to life but, more importantly, into perspective.

It just couldn’t have been any better.

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