On the surface, Rich Lerner is unquestionably a “golf guy.” In his 25th year in golf television, he’s been at Golf Channel longer than some Tour pros have been alive. He’s one of a fortunate few who can claim a level of synonymity with the sport they cover.
But at heart, Lerner will tell you he’s still an Olympic kid.
“Growing up in Allentown, Pa., we gathered all the kids in the neighborhood — I’m talking 20 to 25 kids — and we would have a 100-yard dash down Glenwood Street,” Lerner said. “We would have our version of the 1,500 meters, where we stopped for peanut butter and jelly at the Roth’s house after 200 meters. We would have our version of Olympic Games.”
In July, the boy from Allentown and the man from Live From will have something in common: they’ll be fulfilling a lifelong dream at the Tokyo Olympics. Lerner will join Shane Bacon in handling play-by-play duties for NBC in golf’s second modern Olympic go-round.
“It took about a half a second to say, ‘uh, yeah,'” Lerner told GOLF.com. “To be part of that Olympic spirit is something that athletes cherish as time goes by, and I would feel the same as the broadcaster.”
Lerner and Bacon will join analysts Justin Leonard, Paul Azinger and Paige Mackenzie. David Feherty, Karen Stupples and Tom Abbott will serve as tower announcers, while Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay and Kay Cockerill will handle on-course reporting duties. Golf Channel everyman Steve Sands will also be used in an on-site reporting role.
The NBC Golf crew will be responsible for covering both the men’s and women’s Olympic tournaments — a pair of 72-hole stroke-play events contested over four days in the first week of August. In 2016, Justin Rose and Inbee Park became the first golfers to win the gold medal since 1904, the last time the sport was included in the Games.
For Lerner, golf’s second run in the Olympics represents a return to the play-by-play chair — a shift from his typical hosting and reporting duties. While this week’s U.S. Women’s Open has claimed the lion’s share of his recent workload, he couldn’t help but sneak in some Tokyo prep after learning about the assignment.
“I think you always try to remind yourself less is more,” he said. “You’re trying to punctuate the moment, and then just give it some context.”
And in many ways, few events are easier to punctuate than the Olympics.
“In 2016, we met a group of people from South Korea in the stands who recognized us from Golf Channel. We took pictures and we shook hands and we bonded with a group of people from South Korea at a badminton tournament,” Lerner said. “It’s this international festival of sport, and though it will be a little more difficult this time around with COVID protocols and restrictions, it’s still a coming together of countries.”
Lerner is admittedly uncomfortable being at the center of the story — particularly this story. He had his run of Olympic glory back in Allentown. In Tokyo, he’s hoping for something different.
“I do think this could be one of the most meaningful Games of our lifetime,” he said. “The world is still going through a terrible time. This, in some ways could be a light at the end of a very dark tunnel. And this will be the first global event that all citizens can experience together, even if it’s for a moment.”
Ah, to be a kid again.