Trevor Immelman was out early on Thursday walking the South Course at Torrey Pines as the Santa Ana wind blew tumbleweed across greens and cardboard recycling bins tumbled down hills.
“It’s a perfect day if you’re a fan watching, but as a player you’re freaking out. I just watched Patrick Rodgers rinse his third in the water on 18,” Immelman said. “Kind of happy with just being in the tower this week.”
Immelman, who won twice on the PGA Tour, including the 2008 Masters, will be in the CBS Sports “super tower,” and beginning Friday becomes just the fifth person to serve as “The Eye’s” lead analyst, following in the footsteps of Ken Venturi, Lanny Wadkins and most recently Nick Faldo, who stepped down in August after 16 years in the big seat.
Faldo’s departure came as a bit of a surprise to Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, who said he had no intention of replacing Faldo until they had their annual breakfast during last year’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February and Faldo broke the news that he planned to retire and build a ranch in Montana.
“The first name that popped into my head was Trevor’s,” McManus said during a recent Zoom interview with Golfweek. “And I thought, you know, who can go into that booth in a seamless way? You know, he’s done television, he’s proven how good he is at television. So it really for me, listen, we thought about other people and we discussed other, you know, other possible folks to go into that slot. But no one came up to the level of Trevor. Every time I listened to him, I thought, boy, full time role working with Jim Nantz on most of our tournaments and Andrew Catalon on the others, he’s my choice.”
Nantz, who is kicking off his 38th year with CBS, has broken in new partners before, but as put it, “we’re not having to put the training wheels on here.”
Added Nantz: “I am not bringing in a new partner, I’ve got a partner who has got a tremendous amount of experience. I’ve worked with him numerous times and he is very skilled at this. He is a naturally gifted communicator, who carries himself in a way that exudes class and integrity. And there’s a high warmth quotient to the man; I think he’s going to be just such a hit for people to have in their living room.”
Immelman didn’t give TV a thought until he began battling various injuries and his game hit the rocks. In 2017, a Golf Channel producer convinced him to do a try out at the Wyndham Championship, and a new door was opened.
“I love the sport of golf so much, I was trying to think of ways that I could still stay involved and stay a big part of it, and fortunately, that’s when I got the opportunities to dip my toe in the water for TV,” he said. “I thoroughly enjoyed it, I could feel the energy. At the tournament, I felt the excitement and the adrenaline rush of trying to find the right words to explain to the viewer what was going on with the action.”
Nantz remembers distinctly that once Immelman started working with CBS as a hole analyst, Immelman would call him seeking constructive criticism on how he could improve at his new craft.
“He was so anxious to be great at this, and I was flabbergasted how good he was right away,” Nantz said. “He would call all the time. I was completely at a loss for words. I didn’t know how to tell him to get better. He was already there. And I think there was a period where he thought maybe I was just passing it off, didn’t want to invest in the hard truth. This is what you need to do. I was being truthful with him. You’re doing really well. Just keep getting more reps…He’s going to be brilliant.” (Immelman noted that broadcaster Brian Anderson has been a mentor and that his wife, Carminita, is his toughest critic – “My wife is straight to the point, always has been,” he said.)
With Nantz in Kansas City to call the NFL’s AFC Championship game on Sunday, Immelman and Nantz will call their debut this week at the Farmers Insurance Open from many miles apart. But Immelman said he expects at some point next week at Pebble Beach when they are seat side by side, “I’ll be like, Whoa, this is, you know, he’s the voice of – I don’t want to sound negative – but he’s the voice of my youth.”
Immelman, a native of South Africa, recalled being six years old and staying up after midnight to watch his first Masters in 1986 and hearing Nantz call Jack Nicklaus’s heroics.
“That moment is like etched in my memory,” said Immelman, who 22 years later sat next to Nantz in Butler Cabin as the champion and received his green jacket.
Immelman served as captain of the International team at the 2022 Presidents Cup and is deeply entrenched among the current players he’ll now be covering. He got some additional reps as analyst for Golf Channel this fall. His preparation also included a trip to Cincinnati in December to see how Nantz and partner Tony Romo called a football game (Bengals vs Chiefs) and sit in their production meetings.
“That was his idea,” Nantz said of Immelman. “And it’s typical of Trevor trying to find every means possible to try to make himself better.”
Making his debut at Torrey Pines is fitting for Immelman, who first visited these sun-soaked shores to play in the 13-14 age group of the World Juniors and won the 1998 U.S. Amateur Public Links here. In the years that followed, Immelman experienced the highs and lows of professional golf, and he believes that will serve him well in his new role.
“I wasn’t an elite player, was nice player, I won the Masters, which is, you know, huge. But, so I know what it takes to get to there, I know what it takes to play at that level. And to mix it up with the best,” he said. “But then I also have all the experiences of being on the other side, where it’s not quite going your way, where you’re struggling to keep your card. And it’s two different worlds, I can promise you, it’s two different worlds. But when you’re in it, you don’t realize how fine the line is. And so that’s what I think I have to bring to the table is the understanding of both sides of the spectrum. And I have a real passion for the game and love for the game. So hopefully I can find a way to tell those stories with the appropriate energy and enthusiasm to where people at home enjoy it.”
In his role as Presidents Cup captain, Immelman was an outspoken and opinionated leader. Will he be that strong a voice in the 18th tower and able to criticize players for whom he’s developed deep ties?
“I’m going to be myself, I’m going to be authentic and I’m going to be honest. If there’s something that I see that a player or a caddie or a coach or anything that’s happening on our air takes place that I disagree with, or if I have an opinion on, I’m going to go ahead and say that, that is my job. That’s what I’ve been put in that seat to do,” he said. “And if I don’t do that, we’re going to have millions of fans sitting at home, who can see that call me out. So, it’s up to me to make sure that I go ahead and be honest and be authentic.”