As is the case with his passion for baseball and football, Joe Buck says it was his father and legendary sportscaster Jack Buck who sparked his interest in golf.
He doesn’t think his father ever called a golf tournament and he didn’t think he would either until Fox Sports secured the rights to broadcast the next 12 U.S. Opens, starting in June at Chambers Bay. Suddenly, Buck is the network’s lead golf announcer.
When Fox hired veteran golf-producer Mark Loomis, one of his first questions was, what does Joe Buck know about golf?
“Quite a lot, as it turns out,” Loomis said.
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Jack Buck’s Hall of Fame career was rooted in baseball and football, but on his days off he’d unwind watching other sports. His favorite sport was horse racing. (He couldn’t broadcast the races because he was colorblind and couldn’t differentiate between the silks, Joe Buck said.) But he also loved to kick back on the family couch and watch golf.
“I remember as a kid going ‘My God, how can you watch this stuff? It is the most boring thing I’ve ever seen on television,’ ” Buck said. “Then as time went on and life became more and more hectic and I got married, and I had kids and I had a job and I had another job, I realized what an escape golf is.
“… Just being at home and watching that golf course come alive on a flat-screen television is the most tranquil time I’ll have in my living room.”
Buck started playing golf in his 20s as he traveled the country calling St. Louis Cardinals games. And it wasn’t very pretty. “I decided I needed to either quit or try to get good at this game,” Buck said.
He chose the latter and now describes his game as “good enough to not embarrass myself.” His handicap index has been as low as 2 but it’s currently at 5, Buck said. Buck played Chambers Bay last summer, hit every green in regulation and finished with a 3-over-par 75. (“Proof I can’t putt,” Buck said.)
As Buck’s passion for golf grew, he revered announcers like Jim Nantz at CBS and Mike Tirico at ESPN and ABC. He never expected he’d one day be calling them for advice on how to call the sport.
He was surprised when he learned of this career twist. He first got wind of the opportunity via a cryptic comment from his boss, Fox Sports president Eric Shanks.
At a 2013 company meeting in Los Angeles to discuss Fox’s NFL coverage, Shanks approached Buck at the back of the room.
“He says, ‘For the first time ever, I think we’ve kept something quiet at Fox Sports, and if this comes to pass, you’re going to be really excited to know what it is,’ ” Buck said. “I said, ‘That’s what you’re leaving me with?’
“Obviously, I was dying to know what it was. He just said, ‘You’ll know soon.’ ”
Buck says Fox Sports’ deal with the United States Golf Association was signed before he even knew there were negotiations. Then he got a text message from Shanks asking if he was interested in being a part of the coverage.
“You could have knocked me over with a feather,” Buck said. “There were no real negotiations. It was, ‘Let’s do this and get the schedule to work with baseball.’ ”
And since then, Buck has studied to get ready to cover a game dramatically different than those to which he’s accustomed.
While the entire game unfolds in front of him from his perch in the press box at baseball and football stadiums, he’ll rely on video and information relayed from others while broadcasting at Chambers Bay.
“The beauty of growing up in the booth with my dad is that I knew the mechanics (of calling football and baseball) before I was 10,” Buck said. “This will be the first thing I’ve done where you’re not looking at the action in front of you.”
He and the rest of the Fox crew took a test run at the Franklin Templeton Shootout in December. Buck, who worked alongside Greg Norman as he will at Chambers Bay, was happy with the coverage.
“Believe me, everybody was watching us — especially the networks that cover golf — and wondering what they were going to get from golf on Fox,” Buck said. “And I would submit to you that they came away really disappointed because it sounded like golf and it looked like golf.”
Buck said Shanks addressed the crew afterward and said, “That was the best launch of a sport we’ve had at this network.”
Golf fans are curious to see the twists Fox might try to put on their coverage. The network is famous for innovations such as permanent display of the score (the Fox Box), cameras buried on baseball infields and microphones on foul poles and outfield walls.
Buck is excited to try new ways of covering golf, too. Fox Sports wants to use drones at Chambers Bay (it is awaiting Federal Aviation Administration approval), plans to have a leaderboard constantly displayed on the screen, is experimenting with cameras and angles in hopes of giving viewers a better idea of how the course plays and will use graphics to better show the contours of the greens.
Buck says Fox is also looking for ways to add more natural sound (including golfers’ conversations with caddies) to the telecast. It is sound he says he’ll be careful to not talk over.
For now, Buck is taking a quick a vacation. He’ll visit Chambers Bay April 26-27 to play a round with other members of the Fox broadcast crew and shoot their first show from the course. He’ll spend most of May calling baseball games. But when June arrives, he says his focus will be entirely on golf.
This much he already knows about the course: “You play it and, 10 minutes in, you know you’re in a really special place.”
But before Fox tees up its coverage, Buck wants to know Chambers Bay inside and out. He plans to arrive a week early to walk and study the course.
“We all know the holes at Augusta,” said Buck, who attended the Masters on April 9-10 as a spectator. “You see one sliver of a hole and you know where you are. I think Chambers Bay is going to be a little tougher being a links-style course. …
“I need to know it better and I need to know it by sight better, hole by hole. That’s what I want to get under my belt.”