For more than three decades Chris Berman was a fixture in the game of golf. At one point during his 40 year career, the veteran ESPN broadcaster helped call 29 consecutive U.S. Opens for the network.
The U.S. Open’s return to Pebble Beach has given Berman a chance to reflect on his time in front of the camera at our national championship, but also think back to the many times he’s walked the fairways at iconic Pebble Beach.
SI.com’s Ryan Asselta recently caught up with Boomer, who was more than happy to talk about the U.S. Open, whether Phil Mickelson can complete the career grand slam at Pebble, and his favorite perks and memories of playing in the Crosby Clam Bake.
Ryan Asselta: Boomer, you were around the U.S. Open for decades, broadcasting the event for ESPN for nearly 30 years. You’ve also spent your fair share of time at Pebble Beach. Do you have a favorite Pebble memory?
Chris Berman: I have a lot of great memories. During the AT&T Pro-Am, no one's really practicing Wednesday afternoon, so I would go to the pro shop and see if I could go out on the course. I go up there around 1:30; 2:00 and they drove me out to sixth green. I brought 20 balls and I’d putt on six green and then go play seven, eight, nine, ten. But I’d do it like the pros do, hitting as many balls as I want. I’m hitting 12 shots on each hole and it would take me two hours to play those four holes. Then I’d call the pro shop and they’d come and pick me up.
People are falling all over themselves to try and play Pebble Beach and for me to have the opportunity to play those four iconic holes and spend two hours doing it, is my favorite memory.
RA: That’s certainly a unique way to play one of America’s greatest golf courses!
CB: Right? I hit one in the ravine over No. 8? Oh well. That’s a perk that nobody gets to do. To be able to take my time on 7, 8, 9 and 10. To soak it in and not feel like you’ve got to keep moving on and feel like you're holding anyone up. I mean that is, that is just sweet.
RA: You've played in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am for years now. What’s one of the special perks that you guys get playing in the Crosby Clambake?
CB: There are so many. Just to be inside the ropes to try to see the pros and how they think is a perk. If you love golf, it’s a huge perk. It's not necessarily the parties but who you meet. I’ve met some great friends at Pebble Beach. Getting to know Aaron Rodgers, Clay Walker, and my good friend Huey Lewis.
RA: Do you remember your first time playing in the Pro-Am?
CB: The first year I played, Bill Murray was the other amateur in the foursome! I was scared s---less! There are 3,000 people on the eighth hole at Poppy Hills! I've just come from the Super Bowl and haven’t had any time to practice. Are you kidding?
The best part of playing in front of that many people, though, is if you hit anywhere close to the green you get a huge roar from the gallery. Like you're Tiger or Phil. It's a rush. But then at the end of the day, you realize, you are who you are and don't give up your day job.
RA: You mentioned Phil and Tiger. We’ve seen Tiger dominate an Open at Pebble, and have seen Phil win five times there. When it comes to Phil, can the perfect Sportscenter script be written? Can he complete the career Grand Slam at Pebble Beach?
CB: You know, he's not playing like a 48 year old, but this is probably his last really great shot at the Open. I’m not saying he can't go back to Winged Foot next year and win, but I think he's got a great shot this year. Then you would have Tiger win the Masters and Phil win the U.S. Open at Pebble! What more do you need to sell Sports Illustrated?!
RA: You’ve always been a gambling man, playing the role as The Swami on ESPN. Is there money to be put on Mickelson?
CB: I’m in a golf pool at ESPN and you can only use a player once and you have to send in you pick like a month in advance. I picked Phil for the U.S. Open. Why not? I really think he has a great shot. As long it's going to be tighter fairways. We know that he knows every inch of that place.
RA: How about Tiger? Of course one of his greatest major championships was his 15-stroke victory at the 2000 U.S. Open. He’s one of the favorites to win, now 19 years later. Have you ever seen sports betting odds get skewed more than they do for Tiger?
CB: It’s like the Dallas Cowboys or Pittsburgh Steelers. Yeah, the odds get skewed. Teams like that, and the Patriots, cost you about a point, just because of the uniform they're wearing. The same goes for Tiger because it’s sentimental. You want him to play well, and why wouldn’t you think he has a good chance at Pebble?
I was covering the 2000 U.S. Open for ESPN and our set was out on this little dock off the fourth fairway, right on the water. Tiger wins by 15 and comes out to our set for an interview with the trophy. He was still pretty young, and halfway through the interview we decided to look through some of the names listed on the U.S. Open trophy. He was like a little kid. I’ll never forget the look on his face reading off names like Hogan, Palmer, and Nicklaus. There was just pure joy on his face.
RA: You spent parts of three decades broadcasting golf for ESPN. Recently the legendary Johnny Miller retired from the NBC broadcast booth. Do you think we’ll ever see another Johnny Miller? Or has the role of the broadcasters gotten way more conservative, way too PC?
CB: That’s a very good question. Johnny was just hard on golfers and golf shots. He didn't mind making any enemies. He was hard on golfers. He was brutally honest. Honesty and Accuracy.
I don't think we've seen the end of that. I hope not. It takes guts to analyze the golf shot and the thought process of golfers. I was always honored when NBC’s Tommy Roy called me to contribute to the network's U.S. Open coverage on Thursday and Friday. Johnny was very welcoming and I got the sense that he appreciated my work. I really appreciated that.
RA: Along with spending a ton of time in Hawaii and hopefully playing golf, you’re proud to be from Connecticut. The Travelers at TPC River Highlands is once again coming up. PGA Tour players rave about the event, often voting it as their favorite on tour. Why do they love going back year after year to Cromwell, Conn.?
CB: For one, so many different types of players can win there. That’s the golf answer. The second part is Travelers. They constantly ask these guys “How can I do better?” And then they go and do it.
It’s a hometown company that has a long history of giving back to the community. Travelers came in to a hometown event and wanted to make it bigger. They also wanted to keep some of the heritage of the event, and the Pro-Am, having celebrities take part. That dates back to the days of Sammy Davis Junior.
I'm just so proud of the tournament. The bricks were laid in this tournament in the 50s in the 60s and the 70s and it’s an honor to be a part of the Travelers and call it my hometown event.