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Nantz knows the 'greatness of Merion'

CBS Sports announcer emphasizes importance of this Open at Ardmore course

CBS announcer Jim Nantz speaks during the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class announcement, Monday, April 8, 2013, in Atlanta, Georgia. (Charlie Neibergall/AP file)
CBS announcer Jim Nantz speaks during the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class announcement, Monday, April 8, 2013, in Atlanta, Georgia. (Charlie Neibergall/AP file)Read more

JIM NANTZ isn't sure yet where he's going to be on Father's Day. But wherever he ends up, the lead voice of CBS Sports will be feeling even more invested than most other years.

He's a non-resident member at Merion, which on June 16 will be hosting the final round of its first U.S. Open in 32 years. Since NBC televises that major, Nantz won't be in the tower calling the action as he does for the Masters and PGA Championship. He'll be at the club early that week to co-host a dinner with Arnold Palmer. Other than that . . .

"We're still putting our plans together," said Nantz, one of only two men to host a Super Bowl, announce an NCAA basketball title game and host the coverage from Augusta National. "But whether I'm in Philadelphia or back home in California, I'm not going to miss one second. I'm just so into major championship golf. And Merion is such a special place. It would have been a thrill [to work it], but I'm also a realist. Before we moved, my home club was Winged Foot (Mamaroneck, N.Y.). So I had an interesting, similar experience when the Open was there in 2006 . . .

"I love to just sit back and really watch it alone, uninterrupted. See the coverage, listen to the commentary and focus on watching the tournament. My wife thinks I'm like really goofy when I'm watching these major championships. She says I'm almost a different person. But that's my thing. I'm no armchair quarterback. As a broadcast person, I don't even concern myself with how [NBC] will handle it. They'll do an outstanding job. I'm looking at it like a passionate golf fan. And with it being at Merion, I feel like I know each and every hole so well. So that'll be fun."

Nantz, who was born in North Carolina, went to Marlboro High in central New Jersey. So he has been very aware of Merion and what it was all about.

"I didn't happen to get there for the Open in 1971 or '81," said Nantz, who was Fred Couples' teammate/roommate on the Houston golf team. "I wish I had. I used to go down to the [PGA Tour's] IVB Classic at Whitemarsh Valley, a number of times. I even played in the Philly city Amateur once, at Cobbs Creek. So I'm very familiar with Philly golf."

He doesn't remember the first time he played Merion. But whenever he does, he knows it brings out the best in him.

"I always feel like, for whatever reason, my game rises to another level," said Nantz, who just turned 54. "It inspires me. I don't know how else to put it. It's a different experience than most any other place I've been. And I've been to a lot of places. I just love it.

"Whenever I get to town, and a lot of times it's out of season for an NCAA Tournament game or some Eagles games, I at least try to stop over there. Even if it's just for lunch or dinner. Sometimes, if it's too frosty out, I'll just walk the course."

Still, one snapshot truly stands out.

"A number of years ago I was there for their Bobby Jones night, which is in late September," Nantz recalled. "That's when they commemorate [where he completed] the impregnable quadrangle, as they call it [by clinching the 1930 U.S. Amateur]. It was one of my favorite nights in golf. I was the featured speaker, but they surprised me by bringing in Jack Whitaker, who's also a member, to introduce me. I didn't know it was going to happen. He's such a dear friend, so that meant the world to me.

"Everyone walks out to the 11th fairway with a flute of champagne in their hand, raising a glass to Bobby Jones. And the bagpipes are playing. It's something else."

He might be biased, yet Nantz is confident that this Open could invoke much the same reaction from a generation of fans and players who have never seen these 18 holes, which are ranked sixth in America.

"Well, I think it's been a long time coming," he said. "This is a very important U.S. Open, one that could set the course for the future. For some of the classical, iconic courses to be considered, a lot is on the line. A lot of people thought Merion might be too short for the modern players. I don't think that's going to be an issue. I think it will stand up and be stern, much like the USGA wants it to be, as usual.

"If by chance they go in there and shoot a really low score, it could have a definite effect. It could work both ways. I'm talking like something crazy. But I don't think like 10 or 12-under would be anything to be embarrassed about. What are we trying to protect here? It's absolutely one of the great courses. Still, that's the mindset.

"With [USGA executive director] Mike Davis, some neat things have been happening. He knows how to set up a course, brilliantly. The only x-factor here is the weather. If the rain stays away, it'll be a tremendous test. And it'll look so great on TV, especially in high definition. It's going to be a showcase for the greatness of Merion."

It won't be long before we learn how that plays out. Until then the only thing anyone can do is speculate. But Nantz gets the timeline. Jones has won there. So has Ben Hogan. And Lee Trevino, in a playoff over Jack Nicklaus. What would it mean to add Tiger Woods to that list, especially since the world's No. 1 player hasn't won a major since that 91-holer on one leg at the 2008 Open.

"All these courses like to have as their champion, someone who lasts and endures through history," Nantz said. "And certainly Tiger would fit right in that. That's a group he should be part of.

"Merion's had some of the game's landmark moments. Even the perfect shot-making [final] round of David Graham in '81. Two weeks ago I was in Houston hosting an event in front of 1,000 people. We had Arnie, Raymond Floyd, Johnny Miller, Lee, Gary Player all up there on stage with me. David was out in the audience. And we talked a lot about Merion. You should have heard the accolades that night. You could just feel the karma, as the Open finally approaches. I can't wait."

After 3 decades, just don't forget to hang out that "Do Not Disturb" sign.