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Comcast's Hernandez Speaks Fluent Tiger

By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, June 30, 2009 3:42 PM

Anyone who knew Chick Hernandez back when he was at Silver Spring's Blair High School, a member of the Class of 1981, surely has to be astounded watching him these days as an on-air Chick-of-all-trades performing almost daily at Comcast SportsNet, the Bethesda-based regional sports cable network.

There once was a time when the garrulous, wisecracking Washington sportscaster was, by his own description, "a very shy kid, actually petrified to talk to adults. Back then, I talked so fast, it was almost a stutter. People couldn't understand what I was saying half the time."

That obviously is no longer the case, and really hasn't been ever since he took over as athletic director of his Sigma Chi fraternity house at the University of Maryland. In that role, Hernandez frequently had to stand up in front of his fraternity brothers and give reports on past results and upcoming events. He still credits that sort of impromptu public speaking for giving him enough self-confidence to show up at the campus radio station one day and audition for an announcing job.

He's been talking into a microphone or gazing out at a camera virtually ever since, and this week will be seen every evening live from Congressional Country Club starting Tuesday night through Sunday. He'll be co-hosting Comcast's "Tee Time at the AT&T National" at 7 p.m. along with Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams and native Washingtonian Steve Sands from the Golf Channel, a show that also is on the Comcast schedule every week from June through August.

For Hernandez, a longtime maniacal golfer himself who plays 30 to 40 rounds a year at courses all around the area, this week's assignment is among his favorites. A parade of golfers will march over to the set during the day to discuss their rounds or anything else on their minds with him and his co-hosts, and Tuesday night's show also will include an exclusive Hernandez interview with Tiger Woods.

Woods does not often make himself available for extended one-on-one sessions with the media. Hernandez started to develop a relationship with Woods when he came to Washington three years ago to announce the debut of his signature tournament on the PGA Tour.

During a five-minute session at the National Press Club that day, Hernandez and Woods started talking about raising children.

"I just came out and asked him on camera what was going to happen the first time the kid throws up on your golf shirt right before you're ready to go out and play," Hernandez said. "Tiger said, 'You just wipe it off and go out and make birdies.' His people told us afterward, 'You made him laugh.' "

Woods has since done several more interviews with Hernandez and came on the "Tee Time" set at Congressional the first year of the tournament in 2007 a few months after his first child, Sam, had been born. Hernandez and his crew were ready for him.

"We gave him some baby gifts," Hernandez said. "I told him at the end of the interview, 'Before you go, we've got some things for you.' We gave him diapers. There was a Tigger doll, but the most memorable was a stool that said 'Sam' on the back of it. I think he said to himself, 'Hey, these guys really thought about this.' I'd like to think at this point, he's comfortable with me, and I'm certainly comfortable with him. He knows my name, anyway."

Washington viewers have known Hernandez's name ever since he came back to his home town as a weekend anchor at Channel 5 in 1993. He has been mentored over the course of his career by many people, including the late Channel 9 sportscaster Glenn Brenner and fellow Washingtonian James Brown of CBS Sports. His friend Steve Buckhantz, then the sports director at Channel 5, recommended him for the job, and Hernandez stayed at the station until he was recruited to join Comcast SportsNet in April 2001.

"Glenn and J.B. taught me so much," he said. "Glenn always said to go with your first instinct on what tickles the funny bone. And J.B. was the standard for how you treat people properly. I owe them both so much."

Hernandez clearly has paid his own dues, including a three-year stint at a television station in Augusta, Ga. He spent most of his daylight hours during Masters week positioned under the massive oak tree behind the clubhouse with a microphone in his hand, interviewing anyone and everyone in spiked shoes as they passed by his post on the way to the players' locker room.

"I was there from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. from Sunday to Sunday," Hernandez said. "I'd lose seven pounds during the week. But it was the greatest experience for me. I was at the station three years, played three and four times a week. And Masters week was phenomenal."

Things won't be quite as frenetic for Hernandez this week at Congressional, and the actual show "is just a blast to do." Williams, himself a serious golfer for the three months a year he's not coaching or recruiting, also said he thoroughly enjoys the back and forth with the players who come by, many of whom often pick his brain about college basketball.

"For me, it's a great way to get closer to the game," said Williams, who belongs to Congressional and nearby Burning Tree and plays to a 13 handicap. "I get to meet some of the players. They like to watch basketball and I like to watch golf. I love the game. I'm really not a natural golfer, but I definitely can get into it. Doing the show is a lot of fun, a real bonus."

Hernandez said players occasionally approach him about coming on the show, just for the chance to meet Williams.

"Jim Furyk actually demanded that he be a guest," he said. "When Phil [Mickelson] came on, he asked Gary about the difference between referees in college and pro basketball. Most people think of Gary as this raving maniac on the sidelines, but he's a golfer, and he deals with athletes so he asks questions I wouldn't necessarily think of. They all know him, and they love talking to him."

Hernandez will continue talking at Comcast long after the golf season ends. He anchors news shows, hosts studio pregame and postgame Redskins shows and goes out in the field to report from a wide variety of events. This fall he'll show up every Monday at Redskins Park and do an exclusive one-on-one with Jim Zorn, now under contract with the network, to dissect the previous day's game.

Hernandez recently was honored with a local Emmy Award, his fifth, for a piece he did last season on the one-year anniversary of the slaying of Redskins safety Sean Taylor during a botched burglary at Taylor's South Florida home.

"When I got up and accepted the award, I said, 'This was a show I never, ever wanted to do again,' " Hernandez said.

The same, obviously, cannot be said for "Tee Time at the AT&T National," what Hernandez describes as "a real labor of love. It's well thought out. We've got a lot of stuff in the can, but every day, you have no idea what will come out of that day's play. Is there a star? What's the back story? You've always got to find a nugget."

And every once in a while, Tiger Woods might even drop by to say hello.

Leonard Shapiro can be reached at Len.Shapiro@washingtonpost.com.

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