Joe Buck on calling golf: ‘I walk out of the tower at the end of the day ready to keel over.’

October 28, 2017

You’ve called Super Bowls and the World Series. You’ve won seven Emmys over your 23 years at Fox. And then you got into golf in 2015. Did you have a choice in the matter?

[Laughs] I think I did. My ego would like to tell me I did. But I think once [Fox] got the rights, Eric Shanks, our boss, reached out to me immediately and said, “Hey, we just got the rights.” And it came out of nowhere. And he said, “Is this something that you’d want to be a part of?” And I jumped at it. And I’m glad I did.

Did you have reservations?

Yeah, I had reservations, because it’s a very unique thing to call. Not only am I not facing the field, I’m facing away from the action, because I’m looking at the camera. It’s just a little sliver of the real estate that we’re covering. So consequently, I’m relying on everybody else’s information to do my job. And that’s a really uneasy feeling. I have to just rely on what I’m being told. And that was the part that really worried me.

You guys didn’t necessarily dip your toes in the water. You had to dive right in with the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. What were the biggest challenges?

It was tough. But I’m not gonna sit here and make excuses. I’m really proud of what we did. I was working with a lot of people, not just Greg Norman, but a lot of people who were getting used to doing TV. And then this great [event] basically ended on a three-putt. And oh my God, Jordan Spieth just won the U.S. Open. So it was a lot to handle. I think if we were to do it now, as opposed to two years ago, we’d do it better.

From a broadcast perspective, what’s the toughest part about calling golf? Because there are golfers out there, and if you’re not saying it right, you’re not gonna fool them.

That’s the big, scary monster in the closet: the really hardcore golf fan. So I find myself really taking my time and making sure that what comes out of my mouth is factually correct. Things happen way faster than you might think. I walk out of the tower at the end of the day ready to keel over. Compared to the other sports I cover, golf is way faster, way more intricate, and way more mentally taxing.

You were very close to your dad, legendary broadcaster Jack Buck. How much was golf a part of his life?

My dad was an awful golfer, but he loved it. And I saw from a very young age what a release golf was for him. So once I started covering baseball and was on that tour, well, if you’re in Houston for three days, you play River Oaks. If you’re in Chicago, you go play Medinah. In San Francisco, you play Olympic. We set up a golf tour that Tim Finchem himself couldn’t have set up. It was awesome.

Have you found yourself pulling for one golfer over another? I mean, how nice would it be to be the voice behind Phil Mickelson completing the Grand Slam?

Yeah, I’m guilty. I think Phil’s been so good for the game in so many different ways. For him to finally break through and win a U.S. Open would be unbelievable. I think that’s the one sentimental pick that would trump everything else.

You have two daughters. How special is it to broadcast the U.S. Open, especially if Sunday is Father’s Day?

Two years ago, my oldest daughter was 18 and my youngest was 15. And it was nerve-racking going out to Chambers Bay and doing this for the first time. So I wanted everybody there, and both daughters came out. And they were with me on Father’s Day. I had to leave the hotel at 6:00 a.m., and both girls said, “Will you stop by our room before you go to the course? We have something for you.” So I went down to their room before I left, and they had a DVD that they had made of everybody in my life telling me that I was a good dad. I don’t think I’ve ever cried that much in my life. I walked out of there the happiest, proudest man on earth.

You—along with Greg Norman, the network, the USGA, the golf course—took a ton of criticism that week. Was there a point where you sat back and said, “I do the World Series. I do Super Bowls. I don’t need this.”?

No, because when you do the World Series and Super Bowls, you get the same stuff. We live in a world where a lot of people are dissatisfied and can’t wait, in 140 characters or less, to tell you how dissatisfied they are.

That must help put the criticism in perspective.

It does. You can’t let criticism stop you from learning new things. Johnny Miller said when we got the rights to cover golf on Fox, “You can’t just drop out of the sky and do a U.S. Open.” Well, yeah, you have to. You have to take your lumps. You don’t know the subtleties or the nuance of what it takes to cover golf well until you’ve sat there under the gun. We stumbled and fell over and staggered our way back to our feet. And then eventually we got to the end of the week, and the next year at Oakmont, I walked out of it just as proud as I was at Chambers Bay.

One thing I know for sure: I’m not the star of the show

The best lesson I learned from my dad, Jack, is that nobody is tuning in to a game to hear you broadcast. They want to watch the game, so don’t get in the way. My dad was the nicest, most egoless person that you could meet. And he taught me to be proud of the wake you leave when you walk out of a stadium. People should be happy that they got a chance to meet you.