Nantz is no stranger to having a front-row seat for iconic moments featuring the world’s most famous golfer. He was in the broadcast booth for Woods’s first major title at the 1997 Masters, and he punctuated that victory with a legendary line, “A win for the ages.” The Washington Post caught up with Nantz to chat about the two events and whether Woods’s win Sunday is the most memorable event he has ever covered (spoiler: it is).
The transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
The Post: Okay, Jim, first things first. Was “the return to glory” line off the cuff, or were you planning it down the back nine or even before that?
Nantz: It came to me right at the very end. I didn’t have anything locked up in my head because it could have gone so many different ways on Sunday. It was different in 1997 when Tiger won. I called it “a win for the ages.” That win was much bigger; it had a social significance that transcended the sport. . . . In 1997, he had a nine-shot lead going into Sunday, so on Saturday night . . . I thought through what that last scene was going to look like and what I would say over the last putt. That night I remember sitting in my hotel room and feeling the weight of great broadcasters who had come before me — Dick Enberg, Jim McKay [and others] — so many giants of golf broadcasting peering over my shoulder asking, “How are you going to handle this?” I felt tension, anxiety, over what I was going to say.
This one, Tiger was two shots back going into Sunday, and he was still a couple back on the 12th hole. . . . I didn’t know when it left my lips, but I think it’s been pretty good based on the hundreds of texts I’ve gotten that thought “glory” captured the spirituality of the moment. That captured the glory that’s in his life, the fact that he’s a remade man — at least from what we can tell. Part of the reason I went with the word glory is because when he was on the 18th, [my director] Steve Milton found his family behind the green. When I saw the shot of his mom and son and daughter — assuming he could finish the deal with a five to win — I knew it was going to be an incredible scene that was going to be something similar to ’97. I thought the word glory captured this accomplishment and comeback that was truly unimaginable.
The Post: After Woods’s winning putt, there was 2:43 of silence on the air as Woods hugged his kids. Was that a conscious choice to let the moment speak for itself?
Nantz: That was an easy one. . . . I was feeling it. I don’t mean to sound like a wacko who’s spinning off in some crazy hippie orbit, but I was feeling the moment. I call golf with my head and my heart. I don’t have any notes in front of me — it’s different from basketball and football in that feel. . . . There was no way I was going to say anything over those images of Tiger with his family. The chanting was in the background, and the scene was rich. I knew instinctively I wanted to sit back and enjoy it. All I could do was ruin it.
The Post: Are there other times you’ve taken that approach — silence — with a broadcast?
Nantz: When Arnold Palmer played his last hole ever at the Masters in 2004 we were on live on CBS. And we made the decision we were going to follow him all the way up the 18th. He was such a beloved demigod or icon or whatever you want to call it. . . . He got on the 18th tee, and I said we’re going to sit back and we’re going to watch this last hole of his Masters career and we’re going to let you walk with him. And I didn’t say anything for the next 20 minutes. Not second shot, not third shot, never said a thing. It didn’t take a usual 13 or 14 minutes because he was stopping and signing autographs, hugging people. Didn’t say a word for 20 minutes. That felt like the right thing.
The Post: Where does Sunday rank in terms of most memorable events you’ve called?
Nantz: When I walked out of there Sunday night I said it might be the greatest event I’ve ever covered. . . . Maybe there’s a little bit of you’re caught up in it and you haven’t digested. The one I compare it to would be 1986, when I did my first Masters and Jack Nicklaus’s historic [sixth Masters title]. I thought I would never live to see another day like that. But I think we just did. I think I could go a lifetime and not beat it.
The difference is Sunday had the scene at the 18th. Nicklaus was four groups from the end. He still had to wait for [Tom] Kite and [Greg] Norman to come through. . . . We didn’t get to have Jack have a celebration scene. Tell me when you’ve seen a better celebration scene than this one Sunday? The chanting and the moment with his family, I’d have to rank that number one.
I’ve done 34 Final Fours, had Super Bowls, Peyton [Manning’s] farewell. It’s been 48 hours since it ended, and I’d say it’s going to feel about the same 10 years from now. It’s the best event I’ve ever covered. And I feel very fortunate to have been in that spot. It inspired millions, watching people see what he did. And the visuals that came with it — it was a showpiece for the world that I think is relatable to people and shows the power of the human spirit. I’m veering off message now, but he could touch just about every person that saw that. It’s spiritual, and I’m into that.