Trevor Immelman had an on-course career that would be the envy of almost any professional golfer. The 2008 Masters champion is now settling into a new role. Having worked CBS broadcasts for a few years now as an analyst, the affable 43-year-old South African is taking over for Nick Faldo as lead analyst for the only network with two men’s majors in their rights portfolio.
CBS golf coverage returns this Wednesday at the Farmers Insurance Open from Torrey Pines. There, Immelman will call the action on Friday and Saturday while partner Jim Nantz works from Kansas City, where he’ll call the Chiefs-Bengals AFC Championship game on Sunday.
Trevor spoke to Awful Announcing about that logistical challenge, how playing golf prepared him for broadcasting golf, green jacket dry cleaning, and more.
Trevor Immelman: Where are you calling from?
Awful Announcing: I am calling from Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Trevor Immelman: Oh, I like that town. I actually won a Korn Ferry Tour event in Fort Wayne at Sycamore Hills. Do you know that golf course?
AA: Absolutely I do.
Trevor Immelman: It’s such a cool golf course.
AA: I’ll just jump right in: is it going to be strange calling your first event as lead analyst without Jim on-site with you?
Trevor Immelman: It’s obviously going to be different. We’re so used to everybody being in the same room. But the last couple of years, CBS has pulled that off at this tournament successfully with no issues as well. And also, we can draw on the experiences we had during COVID and when the PGA Tour came back, the whole team wasn’t always on-site because of all the different protocols.
So a number of us would be calling it from a studio in Orlando, and there would be some people on-site, there would be some walkers down on the ground, and so we got really a half a year of practice, not in the same place, calling golf. And then obviously I’m extremely fortunate to be sitting next to one of the most legendary broadcasters of all-time in Jim Nantz. Well, not sitting next to him (laughs) but working with him. I’m sure he’ll be able to shepherd us through it with no issues at all.
AA: He’s definitely one of the best all-time at doing that.
Trevor Immelman: It is obviously going to be different with him being at the AFC Championship game. But it’s also exciting because it tells a different story of the huge football games that are going to be on that next day. It’s a Saturday finish, which is the only one on the PGA Tour. So it’s something a little unique and different and exciting.
AA: That’s a change that I was excited to see as an overall sports fan, because I don’t have to pick and choose between watching the end of that tournament and trying to watch a big day of football. Do you think that’s worked out well for the Farmers?
Trevor Immelman: Yeah, I believe it has. I thought it was extremely successful last year, it was a great idea, and it was well-received by everybody, not just the players, but people like yourself who are fans of sport who want to be able to watch both unencumbered. So hats off to the Farmers, to the PGA Tour, to CBS for making all of the adjustments to be able to get it done. It’s kind of cool.
AA: A Saturday night primetime golf finish is always fun.
Trevor Immelman: Absolutely.
AA: Another big change this year: designated events being added to the calendar. CBS has 11 of the 17 this season. Do you like that change? Do you think it’ll be good for the Tour and for partners like CBS to have more top players predictably playing in these events?
Trevor Immelman: I think it’s fantastic. Having these 17 designated events that obviously includes the four majors, I’m a huge fan of it, to be able to get the best players in the world at the same event and at more events more often, it’s gonna be spectacular. And at CBS, we feel kind of spoiled really with the way it’s shaken out here for the 2023 season that we’re going to have 11 of the 17. It’s really given us some extra excitement starting out this season, right off the bat, we’re gonna have a couple designated events on the West Coast at Waste Management, and then the Genesis, so yeah, it’s gonna be awesome. Can’t wait.
AA: Is Riviera as cool in person as it seems like it is? It’s on my bucket list to either visit or hopefully get on the course at some point. It seems like such a great event.
Trevor Immelman: Yeah, it really is! It was one of my favorites when I was playing. Everything about it is just so cool. The facility is amazing, you’ve got this monstrous club house sitting on top of the hill, and then the golf course down in the valley. For me as well, it reminded me a lot of South Africa, the grass style there, the kikuyu grass, the eucalyptus trees.
That’s the type of conditions that I learned the game on down in Cape Town. So the smells were all the same, the lies out on the golf course were all the same. Reminded me a lot of my childhood. So not just that Santa Monica/Brentford area being such a cool place to hang out.
But the history behind the golf course, Hogan’s Alley, all that kind of stuff. There’s a number of things that weave together that make that tournament really special, and then over the last few years to have Tiger Woods hosting, it’s added another layer to it. So great news that that’s going to be one of the designated events, and I’m sure it’ll be one of the best stops of the year.
AA: What’s your prep routine now as an analyst on-site? Do you walk the course and attack it the same way you did as a player? Or do you try for a more overall feel since you’re not just focusing on how it fits your game specifically?
Trevor Immelman: That’s a great question. I would say when I’m walking the course, I go through the same structure, the same routine as what I did when I was playing. I’m trying to pay attention to the soft spots on the golf course. What I mean by that is where players can be attacking, where they can be aggressive, and they can try and maybe push the envelope a little bit more without getting in too much trouble. I try and notice the spots that they’ve got to be careful of, the different hole locations that could catch them out. Where are the easy spots for them to be able to get up and down if they are out of position around the greens. So the golf course prep is the same.
And then I’m paying attention to stats and trends on paper, so I’ll spend a decent amount of time going down that rabbit hole, getting lost in some of the numbers, seeing what kind of patterns I can find. But at the end of the day, the most important thing is you have to get out on the driving range. You have to get out on the golf course and see how these players are playing for yourself. What is the strike sounding like? How is the ball flying? What shots are they leaning towards, which means they’re more comfortable with them at the time? What shots are they steering away from? You can just start to see the ebbs and flows that players go through week in and week out with their games. This sport is so damn difficult.
As you start to notice that stuff, you’re just jotting it all down, and then the final piece of the puzzle is you just hope that the timing of your recollection of all this print and information works beautifully. Let’s say the producer tells us we’re going to the 15th hole. I remember something interesting that I’ve found while I was walking the course. I can get that out pretty quick, and then we can see the shot and I can analyze something that I saw with the swing, bring that back to something I saw on the range with that specific player at some point during the week.
And you just hope that you’re able to weave in and out of all of that information while you’re calling live TV.
AA: How hard is that to do organically? Has that been difficult for you as you transition to doing this more as your full-time career, or is that something that you’ve worked on and you feel good about?
Trevor Immelman: I wouldn’t say it’s been hard for me. You lean on a lot of our experiences playing professionally for 20 years and playing the sport since I was five years old. But look, absolutely, there are times when I’m lying in bed and I’m sort of playing the show through my mind and I’m like, man, I wish when such and such happened, I had said this and that, it would have sounded so cool, it would have been more impactful, it would have enlightened the viewer, it would have worked really well.
At the end of the day, that’s how you learn. You start to understand where the sweet spots are, what works, how you can involve your other teammates and put them in good positions as well. And so much like anything, and particularly like playing professionally, it takes a lot of reps to figure out the zones you’re comfortable in, and also what people tend to like.
It’s just one of those things where I don’t think you’re ever gonna get there. You’re just gonna keep learning, keep evolving, keep having fun, and at the end of the day, that’s what I’ll always lean on. My good buddy Charles Barkley said something to me that I thought was quite insightful when I was asking him about broadcasting, he said:
“Man, this is the greatest job you can ever have. People are paying you to talk about sports. If you’re not having fun doing this, then you gotta look in the mirror and start asking yourself some real questions.”
And really that’s what I always lean on. It’s such a blessing to be able to watch these elite athletes on the PGA Tour, to work with the best people in the industry at CBS. And that really excites me and gets my juices flowing. So that’s what I always fall back on.
AA: I’m sure when you were playing you probably spent a lot of nights going through your round shot-by-shot, and now you’re kind of doing the same thing on the broadcast side. You have a lot of practice with that kind of reflection.
Trevor Immelman: There are so, so, so many similarities. In golf, you can practice your butt off for months. You can feel so good about every part of your game. You’ve done your prep. Your nutrition has been great. Your body feels awesome. You’re nice and loose. You’ve got a ton of speed. You get on that first tee, hit your tee shot down the right side of the fairway, it takes an awful bounce and it’s under the lip of a fairway bunker.
That’s just like live TV. You can plan and prepare and know exactly what you want to talk about. And then all of a sudden, because live TV, Jordan Spieth makes a hole-in-one as we’re coming on the air, and the whole start to the show changes because we’re going to be right there with Spieth, one of the biggest names in the sport who just made a hole-in-one. So you do the prep and then you’ve got to be light on your feet, you’ve got to be able to adjust with whatever’s happening.
AA: Do you think there are any Tour rule changes that might help make the broadcast better? I’m thinking of pace of play, specifically, but if you have anything else…
Trevor Immelman: Look, I’m not a producer. Our producers and directors would be able to answer that question much better than I would. I really do feel for them. If you look at the differences between producing football, for instance, compared to golf. In football, you’ve just got the one ball that you have to worry about, whereas with golf you’ve got half the field in that afternoon broadcast. You’ve got 70 to 80 golf balls in the air almost at one time and you’re trying to weave your way through and mix that in with commercials and all that kind of stuff. The process that these producers go through and the speed at which they’re able to make decisions is fascinating to me.
You’re probably correct that pace of play would help, but it’s a dual-edged sword as always. Why at times is pace of play a little slower? Well, the golf courses have gotten longer and longer. As the players have gotten better they’ve had to grow the rough, they’ve had to firm the greens, they’ve had to make the greens quicker. When you start to do all those things it becomes extremely difficult out there, and so pace of play is much different than if you just go to your home club on the weekend.
It’s really a tricky one. I will say that I know for a fact that everybody involved at CBS, and I’ve seen this on the calls and going in the trucks and stuff like that, is always thinking about ways to improve the broadcast, bring more technology, and showcase these players even better.
AA: CBS has really made vast strides in recent years. I really enjoy watching the CBS broadcast now. But you kind of hit on something I’m curious about. With courses forced to get longer and rough getting grown in and everything like that, are you in favor of any kind of equipment change to try to rein distance in?
Trevor Immelman: Once again, it’s so tricky because when I turn on the TV, is it a lot of fun for me to watch one of these players just absolutely smash a tee shot 350, 360? Yeah! I enjoy that. I enjoy these guys showing how athletic they are, how much explosion they have, how amazing it is that they can control the club face to be able to be pinpoint accurate and hit the ball so solidly. The hand-eye coordination that it takes to pull that off is absolutely incredible. I get a kick out of that, and so I don’t necessarily want to get rid of that. It’s a tight rope that’s going to have to be walked if there’s any kind of rollback.
But on the flip side of the coin, I definitely don’t want us to not be able to go to some of our most famous venues around the world for championship golf because with the distance that guys are hitting it those courses have now become obsolete. You’re definitely going to have to find a way to walk this tight rope to where we can have both.
AA: Last one: I’ve never talked to a Masters champ before. Are there any rules for the green jacket the public isn’t aware of? Did Augusta National get the fit right immediately or did it require adjustments? Is dry cleaning awkward? What’s that like?
Trevor Immelman: (Laughs) They are so brilliant at being able to dial the size in immediately. But if there are any adjustments that need to be made they have a tailor on-site to be able to do whatever needs to be done. While you’re the champion you’re allowed to leave the club with your jacket. And they really do enjoy it if you do go out wear it at different events or functions or what have you.
That’s really the reason for that. They allow you to take it out for the year that you’re champion. After that, what happens is it stays at the club. The jacket goes into your locker. So as I get on-site, I go to the champions locker room, open up my locker, and the jacket will be there. And they take care of dry cleaning and all the rest, I’ve never had to worry about that.
(This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)