Tiger Woods returning to the top of the golf world at Augusta was instantly an iconic moment in sports. That’s a big responsibility for the broadcasters tasked with calling the action. It’s an opportunity to narrate a part of history, sure, but it’s also an opportunity to accidentally take viewers or listeners out of the moment.
On CBS, Jim Nantz walked the line very well by doing very little; after the winning putt dropped, Nantz called it a return to glory, then let the scene play out with silence from the broadcast booth (or Butler Cabin, in his case).
— The Masters (@TheMasters) April 14, 2019
That’s tremendous and well-placed restraint; nothing Nantz or analyst Nick Faldo would have said would have enhanced the moment more than the on-course video and audio. As Nantz told John Ourand for Sports Business Journal, it was an easy choice for him:
“After that putt dropped on 18, there wasn’t a chance in the world that I was going to say anything. Lance Barrow’s a great producer and we work together exceptionally well. He’s in the truck half a mile away. I’m in Butler Cabin already. And Nick [Faldo] is 300 yards away from me in the tower on the 18th green.”
“As soon as the ball dropped, I said to Lance on the talk-back switch, ‘I’m not saying anything for a long time.’ Lance and I wanted to make sure since that none of us were together, the next time somebody spoke it was going to be me. We were going ride this thing out and sit back and enjoy it. I never would have jumped on a moment that was that big. It was just so big. There was nothing you could do to add to it. You could only ruin it.”
(As an aside, there’s a fun way to read that Nantz quote that makes it sound like he and producer Lance Barrow were working really hard to make sure Faldo didn’t step all over the moment.)
Mike Tirico, meanwhile, had the radio call for Westwood One, meaning he wasn’t able to step away completely. Listeners still need a picture to be painted. Tirico told Ourand that he didn’t have anything scripted beforehand:
Tirico had almost the same reaction. When I talked to him on Monday following the tournament, he had heard his final call several times from audio clips online. But immediately after the tournament, when he was asked on Golf Channel to describe his call, he couldn’t remember. “I just did it from the top of my head,” he said.
Both Nantz and Tirico told Ourand they just went with what sounded right in the moment. They’ve both called some of the biggest sporting events in existence, after all, and they know what they’re doing. Tiger’s win was better for having both of them on their respective calls.