Secret chats and rival frats: How NBC’s hidden duo shaped golf TV
Kent Horner/NBC Sports
Long before Dan Hicks and Tommy Roy shared a brain, they shared a rivalry.
“I’m not sure if you know this, but we both came from Tucson, Arizona,” Roy says, shooting a glance in Hicks’ direction. “We were both at the University of Arizona.”
“We were in rival fraternities. The two best fraternities on campus,” Hicks replies with a smirk. “But we never met. Tommy was actually starting to work at NBC Sports before he left school. And so he was on the road, so I never had a chance to meet him.”
But even after Roy left Fiji’s friendly confines for his first full-time TV producing job, he couldn’t escape the precocious Sig Ep underclassman.
“The funny thing is when I got hired full-time at NBC, my mom, she was living in Tucson, she called me,” Roy remembers. “She goes, ‘yeah, there’s this Dan Hicks guy on KVOA, you’ve got to see him!'”
A few years later, the dam finally broke … in a hallway 6,000 miles from home. As Roy remembers it, he was in the International Broadcast Center at the Barcelona Olympics when he spotted an unfamiliar face walking down the hall. It was Hicks, a rising on-air star who’d just been hired away from CNN.
“My first Olympics, my first time out of the country,” Hicks picks up the story. “A lot going on and finally I saw Tommy standing there.”
“Little did I know that I’d be attached at the hip to him for the next 30 years,” he says.
“Amazing,” Roy says, his eyes now showing a hint of wistfulness.
Hicks and Roy could, and often do, go on like this for long stretches of time. They can’t help it. They’ve been doing this for so long, the thoughts flow like an electric current. Sitting between the two is a recipe for a sore neck.
That’s what 30 years will do for a partnership, an anniversary Roy, NBC’s lead golf producer, and Hicks, the network’s lead golf anchor, are celebrating at the Players Championship.
They are the longest-tenured producer/broadcaster duo in golf television and among the most prolific: their work has netted Roy some 29 Emmy awards. Yet their relationship takes place largely in the dark. Few golf fans know Roy’s name, and fewer still understand the deftness required to simultaneously follow as many as 72 golfers.
On paper, Roy is responsible for steering the direction of the production, and for relaying that information along to Hicks. But after three decades, Hicks and Roy’s relationship has morphed into a collaborative art.
When they’re on the air, the two men chat constantly using a talkback system that masks Hicks’ voice from the audience.
“We almost spend more time on the talkback system than we do on the air,” Roy says. “I’m running stuff by and asking, you know, ‘what do you think he’s pointing at? … Yeah, we should probably do this.“
That, of course, is when Roy’s direction is needed at all. Sometimes, when the instructions fly out of Roy’s headset and into Hicks’, he’s already anticipated them.
And sometimes, the mindreading expands into regular conversation.
“Tommy thinks through every scenario, every show, but this was in the Olympics, it’s happened twice now,” Hicks says. “I don’t know if you know where I’m going here…”
Of course, Roy does.
“We got this amazing photo during Olympic trials,” Roy responds.
“It’s a picture of Caeleb Dressel, at this last Olympics, as a baby, in his floaties. It’s his first time swimming,” Hicks recalls.
“Typically you would use it there at Olympic Trials,” Roy says. “But we were like ‘no, he’s gonna make the Olympics, let’s hold this.'”
“So do we use it during prelims?” Hicks asks.
“Nah, we gotta save it for the semis,” Roy replies. “He made the semis. Do we do it now? Nah, he’s gonna make the final.”
“We’re talking about all of this,” Hicks says.
“So then it’s the final,” Roy says. “Do we do it before the race? No, let’s roll the dice.”
Naturally, Dressel won the gold.
“Almost simultaneously we say, ‘The picture!’“
After 30 years of sharing a brain, Roy and Hicks have begun to share a lot more than that.
“I’ve said it a million times,” Hicks says. “There’s no one that I would rather be attached to the hip to than Tommy.”
Thirty years is a remarkable feat for any pair, but particularly in this business. Sports television is a high-stress, high-stakes environment; a place where critiques are more common than praise.
“Trust,” Roy says is the word that first comes to mind for his relationship with Hicks. “Because I can throw anything at Danny and he’ll make it work.”
Hicks’ word for Roy?
They were reminded of those words a few weeks ago, when NBC lost power to the 18th tower two minutes before from going on air. Hicks was blind, unable to see or hear anything other than Roy’s voice in the production truck. Hicks and Roy talked all the way until the power came back, while Roy carefully managed the load for the broadcast.
“I think if you were looking at tape, nobody would have a clue that all went down,” Hicks said.
None of it is easy. Tens of thousands of hours on the high wire have made it easier for the two men to think, but they’ve hardly cracked the code to the perfect show — not yet, at least.
But if there is a secret to it all, it’s that Roy and Hicks legitimately care. Not just about the work, but about each other.
As it turns out, the qualities that make for good television also make for a powerful friendship.
“Over the years, we just became friendlier and friendlier,” Roy said. “And now, you know, our families are all friends.”
Roy pauses for a second.
“Yeah, he’s like my brother.”