Even on pre-major championship media calls, Jim Nantz is, well, Jim Nantz.
It’s as if the good folks at CBS zapped him out of your television screen and into Zoom — minus the suit and tie. He speaks in that famous voice. He tells stories. He’s affable and engaged.
Jim Nantz is a professional talker, and as such, he rarely speaks out of turn. When he does speak out of turn, it’s for a reason. Like before last year’s PGA Championship, when Nantz darn-near interrupted his boss — CBS Chairman Sean McManus — to share his call-to-action with golf media.
“No other sport can say this right now except for us: We are about to enter the greatest stretch of golf in the history of the game,” Nantz said. “Starting on Thursday, in an 11-month stretch, we are going to have seven major championships. We are going to have the playoffs. That includes two Masters, two PGA Championships, the Players Championship. That’s a big story to tell. It’s a big headline.”
Phew. Those were big words. They still are big words. The greatest stretch of golf ever.
Now, four major championships and nine months later, Nantz’s colorful proclamation seems to have taken a different hue. We’ve had three first-time major-winners, a record-breaking 72-hole score at the Masters and Bryson’s major championship coronation. But ahead of the fifth — this week’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island — it’s fair to wonder whether the first half of the greatest stretch ever has delivered on its promise.
Sure, we’ve gotten a few interesting storylines, but without fans and, in the case of the fall majors, traditional course setups, golf’s biggest tournaments have seemingly lacked their typical zap.
For his part, Nantz’s opinion is unchanged.
“If you circle back to that call that we had prior to Harding, we got into a discussion point about this stretch of golf over the next 11 months. I said I thought it was the greatest stretch of major championship golf, and you could argue in the history of the game,” Nantz recalled. “I wasn’t trying to pump anything up. It was not about hyperbole here, it was just about pure numbers of having seven majors in an 11-month stretch, it’s unprecedented.”
If his proclamation was purely arithmetic, it’s hard to argue with the logic. There will be more major championships in this 11-month stretch than any in the history of the game — to say nothing of an Olympic competition and Ryder Cup lurking on the horizon. And, Nantz wonders, is it possible we’re undervaluing the quality of the golf we’ve already seen?
“You look at what’s happened,” he said. “We’ve not had a repeat winner through the first four. But I mean, we’ve had tremendous storylines and really highly predictable players. So from Morikawa to DeChambeau, DJ to Matsuyama at Augusta, it has been really, I think, a good time for the game during a very difficult backdrop.”
There’s no question that golf has seen a resurgence over the last 12 months, but the question remains: how much of that, if any, is due to the professional game? Television ratings, admittedly a fickle metric in the digital age, tell some of the story.
Tour ratings have jumped steadily in 2021, but the majors tell a different story. The Masters didn’t rebound nearly as much in April as some prognosticators expected after a dreadful November performance, and the U.S. Open suffered ratings losses even in a DeChambeau win. Just about the only success story was that original PGA Championship, which saw modest gains year-over-year.
To that end, Nantz makes a compelling argument: maybe the first handful of majors in this unprecedented stretch have lacked juice, but with fans returning and four major champions crowned, could they be the perfect table-setter for the three tournaments still to come?
“I think this is a really neat stretch,” Nantz said. “One of these majors, is somebody is going to double up during that 11-month window, is one of those four (winners) able to get a second leg? I’m anxious to see.”
The pressure’s on, Kiawah.