The incredible story of Jim Nantz’s first round at Augusta National

jim nantz smiles with fred couples

A young Jim Nantz at the Masters with Fred Couples.

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On Sunday, Jim Nantz quietly celebrated an anniversary in front of nine million people. With Hideki Matsuyama’s putt on the 18th hole at Augusta National, Nantz officially completed the 35th of what he hopes will be 50 Masters at CBS.

After three decades, Nantz has become synonymous with the tournament he calls every April — a fact reflected by the hefty new contract handed down to him by CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus. At this stage, Nantz’s dulcet tones at Augusta are “a tradition unlike any other” in itself. A tradition that, it appears, began in the least believable way imaginable.

The story begins in 1986, where a 26-year-old Nantz was summoned to shoot promos ahead of his first-ever Masters by legendary CBS Golf producer Frank Chirkinian.

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“My first time stepping foot on the grounds of Augusta was in early March of 1986,” Nantz said. “He felt like maybe it would be a good idea to introduce me to the golf audience a little bit, even though they’re watching the NCAA Tournament, familiarize that this kid’s gonna be part of the Masters broadcast, since I’d only, at that point, been to two tournaments.”

Producer and broadcaster made it on-site together ahead of the promotional shoot, which gave Nantz time to wander the grounds for the first time. But the other members of the shoot ran into a bit of an issue.

“When I got to Augusta, of course, I was just in awe that I was actually there,” Nantz laughed. “The camera crew that was coming to shoot the promos missed their connection in Atlanta. So suddenly, there was some chaos, and Frank said, ‘Well, kid, I guess you’re just gonna have to go play until they get here.'”

Three central figures to CBS at the Masters: Frank Chirkinian, Lance Barrow and Jim Nantz.

CBS

Dumbfounded, Nantz looked down.

“I’m in a shirt and tie, and I’ve got no clubs or anything,” Nantz said. “[Chirkinian] goes, ‘Don’t worry about that. I’ll take care of that kinda detail. Just sit back and shut up, and get ready, you’re gonna be playin’ here in a few minutes.’ Right, next thing you know, he found a member that had an opening in their group, got me some clubs and bought me some golf shoes.”

Mere minutes after walking on the grounds for the first time, Nantz stood on the first tee at Augusta National living every golfer’s wildest dream. There was just one problem: the production crew was on its way.

“All the while, I’m kinda looking over my shoulder, waiting for this crew to show up,” Nantz said. “I just hit my tee shot at 13 when I saw Frank comin’ over the hill in a cart. And he said, ‘Get in the cart, they’re here.’ And at the time, I was, like, three over through 12, and I was in a good position off the tee at 13. Seeing it for the first time, I wanted to keep playing.”

Ultimately, Chirkinian won out. Nantz was yanked off the course before he could finish Amen Corner — but not before he’d put his own mark on Masters history.

“So that was it,” Nantz said. “That was actually the first time — that day, I ever uttered the phrase, ‘A tradition unlike any other.'”

James Colgan

Golf.com Editor

James Colgan is an assistant editor at GOLF, contributing stories for the website and magazine on a broad range of topics. He writes the Hot Mic, GOLF’s weekly media column, and utilizes his broadcast experience across the brand’s social media and video platforms. A 2019 graduate of Syracuse University, James — and evidently, his golf game — is still defrosting from four years in the snow, during which time he cut his teeth at NFL Films, CBS News and Fox Sports. Prior to joining GOLF, James was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from.