By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 11, 2006
Dan Hicks will man his usual perch this weekend in the NBC booth, handling the play-by-play for the 106th U.S. Open. His vantage point will be near the 18th green at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y.
But every once in a while, his thoughts may drift to what he has described many times as the most electrifying moment he's ever seen on a golf course, when the late Payne Stewart won the '99 Open at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina with a dramatic 15-foot putt on the 72nd hole.
"You hear so many stories about guys who turned their lives around, and you could see it in Payne right there that day," Hicks said in a recent telephone interview from his home in Greenwich, Conn. "He had tears in his eyes, and he was genuinely moved by what had just happened. It was just a very palpable moment for him, and for me, something I'll never forget."
Hicks, 44, has witnessed countless memorable moments over his 14-year broadcast career at NBC Sports, in which he's handled assignments as varied as NFL football and the winter and summer Olympics in addition to his signature work as the network's main play-by-play golf announcer since 2000.
Hicks often subjugates his own ego to help set up his frequently outspoken partner Johnny Miller, a man unique among golf broadcasters for often saying what viewers watching at home are probably thinking.
It was Miller, for example, who said on the air in 1999 from the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., that American Ryder Cup player Justin Leonard might better serve his slumping team by leaving town before the start of the singles competition because he was playing so poorly.
"I had to adjust being right next to Johnny when I first started," Hicks said. "What I found out quickly is that you give your horse room to run. He's our guy. He's the best at what he does, and I admire what he does.
"I'm also not afraid to challenge him. Sometimes when he goes a little far out, I'll say to him, 'Are you sure that's the direction you want to go?' I've gotten a little bolder with him, and I can do that because we have a trust in each other."
What did he think when he heard Miller's comment on Leonard in 1999?
"I think we all said, 'Whoa!' at the time," Hicks said. "Johnny believed that was the case, but he also knew he probably could have said it better."
But, Hicks said, not once over the years has NBC Sports executive producer Tom Roy tried to put the muzzle on Miller. "You do that," Hicks said, "and you lose all the great things he brings to the telecast."
Hicks began training for the business of calling sports events on television as a teenager growing up in Tucson. In the late 1970s, he began bringing a tape recorder to Tucson Toros minor league baseball games, sitting in the bleachers and calling the play-by-play for his own edification and education. He majored in journalism at the University of Arizona, where he wrote for the school paper and handled the public-address duties for women's basketball games.
When he graduated, he took a first job at a local radio station for $5 an hour and eventually ended up doing studio sports work at CNN in Atlanta. That's where he first met his wife, then-CNN broadcaster Hannah Storm, and where NBC found him in 1992. The network hired him to do studio work and the occasional NFL game.
Hicks called his first U.S. Open at Shinnecock in 1992, working from a tower out on the storied Long Island course, and golf has always been one of his great sports passions. He's also been known to do killer impersonations of Tom Brokaw and Bob Costas, among many others -- including a wicked Richard Nixon way back when on his telephone answering machine. He usually plays it straight on the air, even more so at an event such as the U.S. Open, though he tries not to indulge in hushed reverence.
"It is the national championship, so there is a little more reverence than our usual tournaments," Hicks said. "But it is still a sport, so let's have a little fun with it when it's appropriate. I think people appreciate that, too."
Thursday through June 18 on ESPN and NBCThe Read on Hicks
· Born: June 2, 1962, in Tucson
· Education: BA, journalism, University of Arizona (1984)
· Career Highlights: Lead golf announcer for NBC Sports since 2000; joined NBC in 1992. Previously worked for CNN and news affiliates in Tucson.
· Family: Married to "Early Show" co-host Hannah Storm since 1994. Three young daughters: Hannah Beth, Ellery and Riley. He's generally home during the week while Storm is working in New York. But she's home when school lets out and on the weekends when he's often traveling -- as many as 20 weekends a year on golf when NBC's schedule expands in the 2007 season.