Steve Sands on D.C. sports, and coming home


Steve Sands is greeted by Tiger Woods during the opening ceremony for the AT&T National on Wednesday. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Steve Sands spent the second week of May covering The Players Championship for NBC  and the Golf Channel, an assignment that typically brings an 80-hour work week. When that tournament ended, Sands had five days off before catching a plane to Surrey, England for the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour.

And how did he catch his breath? By hopping on a flight the next afternoon and jetting to D.C. in time for that night’s Caps-Rangers Game 7.

“Would not have missed that game for the world,” Sands told me this week. “I’ll tell you what, aside from the [1984] Super Bowl in Tampa against the Raiders — 38-9 — it was the single worst sporting event I’ve ever been to in my life. It was so sad. I sat there quietly, but I stayed till the end, [because] they’re still your team.”

“They,” of course, being the Capitals. Because Sands — despite living in Florida for the past 15 years, while he became one of the country’s most prominent golf broadcasters — still tells people he’s from D.C., still lists Glenn Brenner and George Michael as his youthful heroes, and still counts himself as a devoted Washington sports fan.

“That is an understatement,” he said on Wednesday, shortly before emceeing the AT&T National’s opening ceremony at Congressional Country Club, not terribly far from his parents’ home in Rockville. “My brothers, my sister, my mom and dad, we grew up with the Redskins, the Caps, the Terps. We watched games together, we went to games together, we went outside and acted as if we were those guys. How does that stop?  I’ll never stop being a fan of those teams, and I could care less if people know it.”

Indeed, Sands — whose family owns and operates the venerable Calvert-Woodley Wines & Spirits shop in Van Ness — is wearing his media badge on a Redskins lanyard this week. He bought the trinket in Ocean City a few years ago, and uses it at most PGA events he covers.

The 44-year old graduate of Montgomery County’s since-closed Woodward High once dreamed of being, get this, a Washington Post sports writer, in the tradition of Ken Denlinger, Tony Kornheiser and Thomas Boswell. A journalism professor at Colorado State, though, helped encourage a change of plans, telling Sands “you’re really not that good a writer, maybe you ought to try TV.”

(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post) (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

So he worked as a sports anchor and reporter in five different states before landing a chance interview with the Golf Channel in 2000. He had never golfed as a kid, never been to Congressional despite following the sport, and wasn’t a particularly avid player. But he got the job and became a Golf Channel staple, anchoring Golf Central highlight shows, interviewing players, calling the action from broadcast towers, and setting up the network’s analysts.

NBC’s ownership of the Golf Channel has further raised his profile, and he’ll go to Sochi for the Winter Olympics next year, where he’s expected to help cover curling.

In the meantime, he’s back in D.C., as he is three or four times a year for Redskins games (his family has had season tickets since the Griffith Stadium days), and as he is a few more times each year for the Terps and Caps. He’ll see his parents daily, hang out with the local successors to Brenner and Michael, and play a prominent role in the television coverage of the closest he gets to a hometown event.

“It’s fantastic; I love coming home,” he said. “To come back and be at a place that means so much, as far as golf in this city, that’s cool. That’s really cool, and it never gets old.”

Dan Steinberg writes about all things D.C. sports at the D.C. Sports Bog.

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Sarah Kogod · June 26, 2013