Jim Nantz talks of playing golf with Bush and Bill Clinton

Jim Nantz speaks at the 2016 Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center.
Jim Nantz speaks at the 2016 Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center.

In a silky smooth voice and a cadence built around years or broadcasting many of the nation’s most recognized sporting events, CBS sportscaster Jim Nantz told a story of two presidents and an unlikely friendship.

Speaking Monday at the 11th annual Columbus State University Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum in the Convention & Trade Center, Nantz talked of an unlikely golf getaway he was invited to in 2005.

The invitation came from former President George H.W. Bush. Former President Bill Clinton then joined. The two political rivals had developed a friendship after they left office.

“Between us, we had served three terms as president,” Nantz said, bringing laughter to the more than 1,200 people attending the annual event.

But there was a point to Nantz’s message in this season of political rancor.

“What I said then, and still say today, if you could see these two guys together talking, you would take all of the polarizing cable news talk and throw it out the window,” Nantz said.

He brought it home to the most recent game he worked as a broadcaster.

Nantz called the Cincinnati Bengals-New York Jets game Sunday and said he was moved by the patriotic tribute of 9/11. He used the experience he had with Bush and Clinton to relate it to what he saw Sunday.

“I know times are different and we are 10 years down the road, but we are Americans,” he said. “... One of the Benglas had a flag. All of the Jets players had American flags. What broke out was a patriotic celebration. It didn’t matter if you were Democrat or Republican, black or white, we all felt that yesterday.”

Nantz, who has had a front-row seat to great moments such as Jack Nicklaus’ dramatic 1986 Masters victory, spun story after story Monday afternoon. But the most compelling were about his two golf outings with Bush and Clinton.

“I was the ultimate fly on the wall,” Nantz said.

They filled out the group the next year in Maine with a young New England Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady.

There were a couple of takeaways from that experience. First, they played partners and when Brady and Nantz found themselves playing against two former presidents, the competitiveness kicked in. Nantz gave Brady a little pep talk.

“I unleashed the guy and we dominated the last six holes,” Nantz said.

Clinton, also competitive, asked them why they didn’t take it easy on the old guys. Nantz was quick to respond.

“I said, ‘Welcome to the National Football League, Mr. President,’” Nantz said.

After the round, they took Bush’s boat to lunch at a coastal restaurant. Word quickly spread through the two who was eating there. When the party came out of the restaurant, Natntz and Brady stood to the side unnoticed.

“Watch them work the crowd and shake every hand,” Nantz told the star quarterback.

And they did.

“We were in the heart of Patriots country, and no one asked Tom for an autograph or a picture,” Nantz remembered.

Nantz, because of his more than 30 years of broadcasting the Masters at Augusta National, has a personal relationship with retired Synovus Chairman Jim Blanchard, an Augusta National member.

Blanchard introduced Nantz to the forum attendees, calling him the greatest sportscaster of all-time.

Nantz told Blanchard he wanted a tape of the introduction, “so I can send it to my mother."

Chuck Williams: 706-571-8510, @chuckwilliams