CBS’s new lead analyst is ready for his moment
LA JOLLA, Calif. — To prep for his first day in one of golf’s most important seats, Trevor Immelman took a trip.
For a football game.
When CBS comes on the air for Friday’s broadcast at the Farmers Insurance Open, it will mark Immelman’s debut as lead analyst. He’s taking over for Nick Faldo, who retired last year after 16 seasons in the position. That means that for the foreseeable future, the 2008 Masters champ will be sitting beside Jim Nantz in the broadcast booth taking us through some of the sport’s most iconic tournaments.
Which brings us back to football.
Technically, when Immelman makes his debut at 5 p.m. ET on Friday he won’t be sitting next to Nantz. That’s because Nantz will be in Kansas City, prepping for Sunday’s AFC Championship game. He’ll broadcast the action at Torrey Pines remotely, while Immelman will add color from on the ground. Their actual in-person debut will come next week, at Pebble Beach. But there’s no question that he feels the gravity of the moment.
“I’m not sure that it’s even sunk in for me yet,” he admitted. “Next week will be the first time that, like, I’ll be sitting next to Jim. And I’m sure at some point I’ll be like, whoa, this is — and I don’t want this to sound negative — but this is the voice of my youth.”
Immelman remembers the first Masters he watched, which was in 1986. He was a six-year-old growing up in South Africa and begged his parents to let him stay up.
That was Nantz’s first Masters, too. He was in the tower at No. 16, calling Jack Nicklaus’ epic shot into the iconic par-3 — “The Bear has come out of hibernation,” Nantz posited famously — setting up the defining victory of his late career.
“That’s going to be pretty surreal when at some point I look over there and I actually see him sitting there,” he said.
Our James Colgan detailed Immelman’s trip to the CBS booth for that December Bengals game, and Immelman provided further color during a sit-down at Torrey Pines on Friday. He admired Nantz’s distinctive pre-game routine and his authenticity, too.
“Nothing is an act,” he said. “Jim Nantz is Jim Nantz, whether the camera’s on him or whether the camera’s not on him.”
Immelman wasn’t only watching his future partner, however. He was also keyed in on Tony Romo, who was working alongside Nantz. No athlete-turned-broadcaster has garnered more attention in recent years than Romo, who was an overnight sensation when he transitioned from Cowboys quarterback to lead CBS analyst. Romo is 42 years old. Immelman is 43. They stepped away from their sports at similar times. And Immelman is well aware of the similarities. I asked what he noticed, watching Romo up close.
“He’s confident,” he said. “He’s very confident. He should be.”
Immelman is a longtime Cowboys fan, so he’d tracked Romo’s career long before he transitioned to the booth. The obvious draw is that Immelman, like Romo, is a tapped-in former pro who remains immensely well-connected in the sport and can see things others couldn’t. He’d like to emulate Romo’s confidence — and his enthusiasm, too.
“When I watch him you can feel that he loves the sport,” Immelman said. “I mean this in a positive way: he’s not always buttoned up. He’s enjoying watching the game. And as a viewer, I love that.”
“We’re different people”
Immelman isn’t trying to one-up his predecessor, Nick Faldo. If anything, he’s a Faldo disciple.
“I think certain things will be different because we’re different people, but I think Nick was extremely underrated in that position for a long time,” Immelman says. “I’m not sure we’re ever going to see another five, six, seven-time major winner sit in that position.”
When Immelman came to the Leadbetter Academy in Orlando as a teenager, Faldo was there practicing and took a liking to the young South African.
“He’d never met me before but always looked after me, always invited me to come and hit balls with him or say ‘let’s go play a few holes.'”
When Immelman made it to the European Tour in 2001, Faldo would invite him for practice rounds; they’d play most Tuesdays.
“Fanny [Sunesson] was caddying for him and I would be learning from them and watching them,” he says.
When Immelman won the Masters, lo and behold, the two were connected again.
“Guess what? I’m sharing a locker with him in the Champions’ locker room.”
The mentorship continued when Immelman began doing TV work with CBS a decade later.
“He’s the lead analyst. What does he do? He takes me under his wing again. He shows me the ropes in and around TV. What works, what doesn’t, what he’s found, what he’s learned,” Immelman said. “I’ve learned an immeasurable amount from him about golf, about business and about TV. He’s one of my guys that I look to.
“I just think it’ll be different because we’re different.”
“Looking forward to the tussle”
It’s clear that Immelman is eager to dive into the meat of the Tour season.
“I’m looking forward to the tussle for No. 1,” he said. “November, December, everyone was acting like Rory was untouchable. January everyone’s saying that Rahm is untouchable while Rory’s been sitting at home. When I was playing, that was never a discussion. Tiger was just the best — nobody ever spoke about the world ranking. And so to watch those two going at it, and it adds a little wrinkle that they’re both European and will be on the Ryder Cup together.”
He ticked through the top pros.
On Scottie Scheffler: “He proved to us last year how quickly you can get to No. 1, really in six months. He jumped in there with four quick wins.”
On Justin Thomas: “For me, the most complete player in the game right now, has all the shots, doesn’t have any weaknesses. Mentally tough, hard worker, never quits.”
On the next generation: “We’re waiting on [Will] Zalatoris and [Cameron] Young, seeing if they can jump over the last few hurdles. We know how good they are.
He buzzed through Jordan Spieth (“always interesting”) his comeback predictions (Jason Day and Rickie Fowler are primed for big seasons) and his up-and-comer, rookie Taylor Montgomery (“He made that transition so easily to the Tour to where he’s in the hunt almost every time he tees it up.”)
He teased out the weekends circled on his calendar, highlighting the designated events and the fact that CBS has 11 of ’em, beginning with the WM Phoenix Open and the Genesis. He’s excited at the prospect of Tiger Woods being at Riviera — “Maybe playing, but either way, he’ll be there, so we’ll get a feel for how he looks” — and the circus that will follow. And, of course, he’s eager to be in his new position for the Masters, the defining victory of his career. Nantz and Faldo called that win. Immelman will have a hand in calling the next one.
“That’s probably going to be the most spoken-about Masters in a long time, for many reasons,” he said, a nod to the LIV-PGA Tour drama that’s subtext to every professional golf conversation.
In the meantime, Immelman is focused on the things that he can control. He’s not a rookie to golf broadcasting, after all. And he’s certainly not a rookie to golf.
“I mean, I’m calling a golf tournament,” he said, boiling it down. “The golf tournament is the most important thing.”