CBS announcer Jim Nantz started as a runner at the 1979 Houston Open. He had skipped Friday classes at Houston, where he played on the team with Fred Couples and Blaine McCallister, thinking he would stroll the Woodlands Country Club fairways as a spectator. On a whim he wandered over to NBC's compound and asked a security guard, "Would you please go get Don Ohlmeyer for me?" Ohlmeyer, then the executive producer of NBC Sports, met Nantz, then 19, and rewarded the kid's temerity with a job driving players like Dow Finsterwald and Bob Goal-by from the parking lot and other spots to the 18th tower.
"I thought, My gosh, this has got to be one of the top 10 jobs in network television," Nantz says. "I drove enough accident-free that Ohlmeyer offered me the chance to go to Dallas and work as a runner at the Byron Nelson. Of course I took it immediately, and when they told me they were going to pay me $20 a day, I thought, This is unbelievable. This is what they mean when they talk about the big network dollars."
Graham also started as a runner, at the L.A. Open in 1977, the year he bought a $375 lime-green Chevy Vega hatchback. "It was beautiful," Graham says. "I slept in the back of it once in Flagstaff, Arizona. I was driving from L.A. to Tulsa and couldn't afford a hotel room. God, I was getting paid $25 a day at that point." In 1978, while a senior at Southern Cal, Graham did 60 shows in 52 weeks. "My very last final exam was on a Tuesday afternoon after doing a Monday-night baseball game at Yankee Stadium," Graham says. "My parents still aren't sure how the hell I graduated."
Arledge, who was president of ABC Sports from 1968 to '86, was never a runner, but he did get his start doing menial tasks for the Dumont network in 1952. Couples once worked as a runner at the NCAA basketball tournament. Matt Lauer, co-anchor of the Today show, was an NBC golf runner. Their stories are great motivators. Runners who want to climb higher can always look Lauer.
"I want to be an announcer for my sport," says Russell. "I would be good at it." Russell, 39, is not a golfer. He really is a runner. In 1981 he set the UCLA record of 3:42.10 in the 1,500 meters, a mark that stood for two years. Since then Russell has worked part time at his parents' office-supply business and as a paralegal while flying hither and thither on the European track and field circuit and the golf tours and anyplace else that offers proximity to TV's power brokers. Russell still lives with his parents, a common condition among runners, in Santa Monica.
The others of my five running brethren are Joe Worth, a 22-year-old senior at Florida State, and Garrett Hartough, 27. Both are fairly new to running, as evidenced by their lack of nicknames, and both see it as their last shot at a job in television. "If this doesn't work out," Worth says, "I'll coach football with my brother-in-law." It isn't easy to break into television. When Hartough graduated from South Florida, the best thing he could find with his broadcast degree was a job at a local religious station, midnight to 5 a.m., for $5.50 an hour. Instead, he started running.
"There are so few jobs in television it's ridiculous," says CBS senior associate producer Chuck Will, who has started more broadcast careers than the invention of cable has. Will, who worked his 30th Masters this spring, hired Shirley at the 1972 Florida Citrus Open. When Shapter's car broke down at last year's Buick Open, Will floated him a loan for new tires and a brake job. Will can be a runner's best friend, and a tough teacher. "You can go through communications college, or you can come to me," he says. "Hang with me for a summer, you learn more than in four years of college."
On Saturday I learn. My biggest assignment, one that could actually affect the broadcast, sounds easy: Go to the tee on 15, a par-3, get the players' club selections and radio them back to Sharky Lee. I play golf. I know golf. So it surprises me how difficult this is. My headset is attached to a cord in the ground. I haven't been tethered like this since the womb. The problem is that the JCPenney features men and women pros teeing off 40 yards apart. I have enough line to get to the men's tees but not to the women's. The caddies try to help out, but their hand signals are much tougher to decipher than I thought, and I'm at a loss when Lee tests me: "What'd [David] Ogrin hit there, Cam, any idea?"
Oh, do I feel stupid. "Urn, no, I'm not sure yet," I say.
"O.K., the thought process is to kind of stick your head in the bag and get the club before they hit."