How Golf Channel’s “Live From” comes to life: Inside golf fans’ cult-favorite TV show

live from day in the life

The "Live From" magic reaches well beyond its U.S. Open set.

James Colgan

BROOKLINE, Mass. — It’s been three minutes and 48 seconds, and the “Live From” team has already forgotten the cameras are off.

The 1 p.m. Wednesday production meeting started just seconds ago, but the argument ripping through those seated under the harsh fluorescent lights of the conference room feels like it’s been simmering for weeks.

“I don’t know if he says this in the piece,” starts Brandel Chamblee. He’s often the instigator with these things. “But you could make the argument that this is the most important hole in the history of American golf.”

The group is discussing the 17th hole at The Country Club, which will play a starring role both at this week’s U.S. Open and on Wednesday night’s evening edition of “Live From.” Justin Leonard, another Golf Channel on-air talent, has filed a video report on the hole. It is a vibrant, well-researched piece, but also something else: a conversation-starter for golf’s most renowned debate team.

“Off of Brandel’s positioning, what are the other super-important holes?” says host Rich Lerner, teeing the ball up high for Chamblee and his sparring partner, Paul McGinley. “Eighteen at Winged Foot, to me, you get Bobby Jones. And then what Mickelson did there,” — Lerner is referring to Mickelson’s stunning double-bogey on the 72nd hole of 2016 U.S. Open — “I thought it was a turning point in American golf history. If he wins, that’s three majors in a row. He goes to Liverpool with a chance at the Mickel-slam.”

“We can have fun with this,” Lerner continues, not realizing that Chamblee and McGinley already are. “The audience might like that — other important golf holes.”

The next 45 minutes are the only time the entire “Live From” team will be in one place until the show goes live at 7 p.m. ET. I’ve been told the meetings are a sight to behold — “Live From: Uncensored” — a place where golf’s best debaters take on the most important argument of all: the battle over the agenda for that night’s show.

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By: James Colgan

Lerner turns to his right, where Chamblee is scribbling furiously on a yellow legal pad in the corner of the room.

“That next one that comes to mind really is Merion 11, where Jones closed out Eugene Homans in ’30 to clinch the grand slam,” Lerner says. “Birdied the 11th hole to win and said later, ‘I still have that golf ball.’ That’s how cool that hole is.”

Suddenly, a noise comes from the other corner of the room.

“Sixteen at Augusta,” whispers Mark Loomis, Golf Channel’s new head of studio programming. He’s sitting in on the meeting.

“Sixteen, Augusta. Jack. Tiger in ’05, in ’19,” Lerner says.

“We’ve got to say 16 at Cypress Point,” Chamblee counters. “Because that’s where Marion Hollins hit that shot.”

“We can turn it into the top five most important holes in the world,” says Jeff Fabian, the producer responsible for keeping the “rundown” — or the list of topics the show will discuss that night.

To this point, McGinley has been observing the action. The Irishman and former Ryder Cup captain officially joined the “Live From” set in March, which makes him a newcomer in a well-traveled family. To date, he’s been an excellent addition, the rare golf mind foolish enough to lock horns with Chamblee — and sharp enough to win.

“What about 18 at St. Andrews?” McGinley says. “Seve’s putt, when he saluted everyone. That was iconic to me as a kid growing up in Ireland. It’s synonymous with golf over in Europe.”

Sensing the conversation veering, Matt Hegarty steps in. Hegarty is the boss, the show’s lead producer. Forget Augusta, forget St. Andrews — the focus for that evening’s segment, he says, will be the five best holes in U.S. Open history.

The argument picks up again, rearing after every subsequent addition. Soon there are 10 holes on the list, and the team is trading playful daggers as they try to cut it to five. After a few more minutes of debate, the squad has reduced the list to six, and nobody wants to give an inch.

“Why can’t it be six?” Lerner says. “Why do we have to put a number on it?”

Chamblee pounces, his eyes glimmering playfully.

“Because at some point the segment’s gotta end,” he says.

The room erupts in laughter. Lerner, too.

Quietly, he turns to me, the smile spread wide across his face.

“I mean, seriously, how great is this?”

The “Live From” production meeting gets off to a fast start inside the show’s mobile trailer. James Colgan

I. The Show

“Live From” is your favorite golf fan’s favorite golf show, which isn’t a statement of opinion so much as it is one of inevitability.

There are only two types of diehard golf fans: those who watch “Live From” for dozens of hours during golf’s biggest weeks, and those who don’t realize they’ve watched dozens of hours of it during golf’s biggest weeks.

The show has taken on its own life force since it first started on Golf Channel in 2005, earning a cult following among those whose obsession with golf extends beyond the typical broadcast window. The show has since grown into the network’s proudest offering — traveling to seven tournaments across men’s and women’s golf annually and typically providing in the neighborhood of 40 hours of live coverage per event. For those with an unquenchable appetite for golf, “Live From” is comfort food, typically offering intelligent commentary, an uncommon depth of analysis and lively debate.

“There was a tagline for ‘Inside the NFL’ in the 90s,” says Hegarty, the show’s lead producer. “It was, ‘The Show The Pros Watch,’ and that’s what I like to think we do with ‘Live From.’ We’re the show that pro players and professional writers and golf industry professionals and really serious fans watch. We take pride in that.”

Hegarty is sitting in his “office,” which is an 8-by-10 cell tucked into the back of the “Live From” production truck. When he’s on the road, he spends most weeks here or in the main conference room next door — an area that feels like a church basement. Folding chairs and tables are scattered haphazardly across the room, which is accented with “decor” that’d make a college underclassman blush. Papers are taped to the walls, and the windows are protected by shades that are bent in some places and yanked halfway up in others.

Hegarty is in a chair pressed up against pane, reading over the early rundown for the night’s show. He has sharp, worn features and haphazardly slicked-back dark hair. He speaks with a New York slight accent — a product of his Westchester County, N.Y., roots — that grows more pronounced when a cigar is between his teeth. He’s friendly but direct, a tone that tends to soften with those he doesn’t know.

“I think we’re excellent. I think we’re f—ing world-class,” Hegarty says, gesturing toward his team. “I’ve learned so much about golf just listening to these guys talk. Personally, yeah. Not only in here in this trailer, or my friendships with them, but on the show.”

On Wednesday, Hegarty’s day begins at 6:45 a.m. with the first of two production meetings. After a video call with Arthur Volpe and Alan Robison, the early shift’s two producers, he heads over to the course, where it’s time to field phone calls and to begin working with the rest of the team about the shape of that night’s show.

After the production meeting at 1, the real work begins. Hegarty spends his afternoon providing guidance to talent, producers, research, directors and reporters preparing for the evening. At 7, the show goes live, and for the first time all day, Hegarty is powerless. Now it’s up to Lerner, Chamblee, McGinley and Todd Lewis to steer the ship. The show ends at 10. By 11, Hegarty is back in his hotel room, sometimes still providing feedback to talent and producers.

When Hegarty talks about “Live From,” it’s difficult to know where the show stops and he begins. When the show is on the air, it’s an all-encompassing element in his life, and the pride he feels — in his staff and the show — is palpable. Hegarty is the heartbeat of the program, an indispensable asset.

“He’s great at taking a step back and looking at the big picture,” says producer Jeff Fabian, Hegarty’s right-hand man. “You know, you get involved in what you’re doing. We’ll start with all these conversations and start going down these paths. Matt is great at sitting back and saying, ‘Let’s think about this for a second. What’s the best direction we should take here?'”

I think we’re excellent. I think we’re f—ing world-class. Matt Hegarty

Even if he sometimes likens himself to a hardass, Hegarty’s actions show a different side. He calls Lerner his best friend. He spends hours in the lead-up to tournament weeks in unprompted, often middle-of-the-night, ideation sessions with hosts Lerner, Chamblee and McGinley, and his team of producers. In the hours after an episode airs, you can usually catch Hegarty rewatching that night’s show.

“I watch until we screw something up,” he says, only half-joking. “Then I have to turn it off.”

The sum of Hegarty’s obsession is illustrated in his show’s tone: “Live From” can be intense, but its staffers show not only a passion for golf but also for one another.

“Of all the places I’ve been at Golf Channel, when I walk in this room, I feel at home,” Lerner says. “This family is unlike anything else I’ve ever been involved with.”

II. The Geek Squad

What separates “Live From?”

“We’re f—ing golf nerds,” says Fabian, the producer. “We loved golf before we did this for a living. I enjoy watching on the weeks when I’m not working — it feels like I’m working, but I still do it.”

Golf obsession is a prerequisite, particularly considering the show’s logistical hurdles. On show weeks, the “Live From” crew is divided into two teams — one for the morning and evening shows — and split between the on-site location and the NBC Sports studios in Stamford, Conn. The constant churn places an unusual emphasis on communication, which leaves little time for understanding the course material.

“The show works because [the team loves] the game so much,” Chamblee said. “They know its history really well, they aren’t afraid to say no, they know all the topical events are going on, and they want to treat it fairly. And that’s it. Bottom line is, they love it.”

There are only two staff-wide golf discussions each day: the production meetings for the morning and evening shows. The remainder of the show — from Chamblee’s swing breakdowns to Lerner’s closing essay — is left up to the people executing it.

No one staffer personifies this reality more than Ari Marcus, an associate producer who’s quickly risen up the “Live From” ranks. Marcus, who joined the show in 2015, is a producer’s dream: both extraordinarily type-A and ravenously curious. He’s become a favorite of Chamblee’s, who shares similar proclivities.

“Brandel — I really appreciate how much effort he puts into the show,” Marcus told me. “When he gets in today, he’ll just stick his head down in his laptop and notepad and you’ll just see the wheels turning. Then he’ll come to me with something he has this. He has this walk — like I can recognize when he has something. And he’ll like to have a brisk walk and come over to me. And I’ll be like, ‘Oh, here we go.’ And I’ll get my notes ready.”

Chamblee’s preparation materializes on reams of legal paper. James Colgan

These are the relationships that make for high-IQ entertainment, and they can be found everywhere on the “Live From” staff. From Chamblee and Lerner to Hegarty and Marcus, to members of the show’s (increasingly important) standards and research team: Jake Abrahams and Kevin Casey.

“‘Live From’ is unlike anywhere else I’ve worked in TV. It’s so all-in on the event, on the moment,” Abrahams said. “It’s really the only time when our entire crew is in one place to cover something. And so to an outsider, it’s the show that gives the golf fan everything they need to know about what’s about to happen, and what’s happened already.”

In short, the people are what separates “Live From.” They are the engine that pushes the show forward, even when they’re working long hours, under stressful conditions, from two locations across the United States.

“I love this whole team, because we’re all super-passionate about golf,” Marcus said. “They’re not just coworkers, they’re good friends. Golf is all of our lives. Even if we’re not working, we’re gonna go home and watch the tournament just out of pure enjoyment.”

It’s serious work, largely because it’s work the “Live From” team takes seriously. Well, most of it.

“I gotta say, the theme song plays a big role,” Chloe Pistorius, another producer, says with a laugh. “Seriously, you just get goosebumps, you know it’s a major when you hear it.”

The scene on the “Live From” set. James Colgan

III. ‘6-and-5!’

It’s 12 minutes to showtime, and Chamblee has just heard some very bad news.

“Eighteen at Merion didn’t make it?!” he barks. “I thought we discussed that 18 at Merion made it. I can’t believe that.”

The “Live From” crew is in battle positions. Lerner, Chamblee and McGinley are in the studio, which is in a cavernous space overlooking the clubhouse at The Country Club. Fabian, the producer, is taking the team through the final run-through before the Wednesday night show, showing the team a preview of the segments that are soon to follow. The exercise is largely a formality meant to test the equipment, though it does have the added benefit of being a last-second refresher for the on-air talent.

Chamblee has just seen the final list of that night’s segment, ranking five iconic U.S. Open holes. Earlier in the afternoon, someone (likely Hegarty) cut the list from six holes down to five. In doing so, the mysterious villain omitted the 18th hole at Merion — the site of Ben Hogan’s famed 1-iron approach in 1950 — in favor of the 18th at Oakmont. Oakmont’s closer is a famous hole in its own right, a legitimate choice among the list’s other esteemed selections.

But not to Chamblee. He’s incredulous.

“Eighteen at Merion beats 18 at Oakmont 6-and-5!” he says. “Six-and-5! It’s not even a discussion.”

Ever judicious, Lerner tries to play the middleman.

“Arnie’s walk on 18 at Oakmont was absolutely memorable,” he says.

“And that tops 18 at Merion?” Chamblee says in rhetorical staccato. 

“I’m not saying that,” Lerner says.

Quickly, they’re interrupted by the stage manager, who calls out from the corner of the room.

“Eight minutes to air!”

Chamblee is stewing, making sharp pen strokes on legal paper. At least four pages of notes are weighed down by coasters on the desk.

“Five minutes!”

“Two minutes!”

Fabian gets back in Chamblee’s earpiece. Back in Stamford, a fast-moving editor is pulling together images of the 18th at Merion. The hole has been added to the list, which will feature six holes after all.

“Well, thank goodness!” Chamblee says.

“Thirty seconds!”

Chamblee flashes me a mischievous grin. At long last, it’s finally showtime.

“Hello again and welcome — Rich Lerner pleased as always to be joined by Paul McGinley and Brandel Chamblee,” Lerner says before running through the day’s biggest storylines. “All that and more as we continue … Live From the U.S. Open.”

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