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Ranking Golf's Top TV Voices, Including a Part-Timer Who Belongs

John Hawkins's list of golf's top 10 broadcasters has household names in the sport as well as one who makes an indelible impression despite limited reps.

Being on television is easy—just wear something nice and make sure to see the makeup lady on your way to the studio. Being good on TV presents a far more complex challenge, a test of cognitive skill, reactive dexterity and verbal precision. A lot of smart people have trouble transmitting their thoughts. A lot of dumb ones talk way too much.

The harder you try to be perfect, the more difficult TV becomes. Preparation usually trumps pressure, but there are banana peels everywhere, especially on a live telecast of a golf tournament, when there are 50 balls in the air at any given moment but never more than one microphone in play. Natural talent goes a long way toward mastering the process, but poise and proper diction are worthless unless you have something to say.

Most TV people don’t. This collection of the game’s 10 best broadcasters features a pool of on-course reporters, studio analysts, 18th-tower anchors and stationary commentators. Those who sit behind a desk and read a teleprompter were not included, although none would have made the list, anyway. It’s all about providing original content to millions of viewers in a manner that enlightens and entertains the audience. Insight + Perspective = consideration for a spot in the top 10, and from there, the ranking becomes a simple blend of rationale and personal preference.

Many will disagree. Some will be outraged, others pleasantly surprised. Ten voices in one little bundle, all of which excel at the elusive art of enhancing a golf telecast. Ten people who deserve a shout-out for a job well done.

10. Mark Immelman

His younger brother was CBS’ choice to succeed Nick Faldo in the seat next to Jim Nantz, but Trevor isn’t even the best analyst at the family dinner table. A man of many hats and surely the most obscure name in this compilation, Mark’s role at the network is limited to a handful of tournaments per year, either because he’s too busy doing other stuff (swing instructor, author, college coach) or because CBS still doesn’t realize how good he is. Immelman’s explanatory abilities are superb, an asset likely derived from his technical expertise. His levelheaded take over live action is far superior to that of his little bro, who gushes over everything and suffers from a common aversion to dispensing substance.

Perhaps Trevor could spend a few days with Mark over the holidays. Even better, perhaps something will rub off.

9. Curt Byrum

His recent promotion to the big leagues (Golf Channel to NBC) came not a week too soon, as the former tour pro carried the coverage of lesser events on GC for a whopping 20 years. As a commentator, Byrum hits a ton of fairways and lots of greens, forgoing flash for a workmanlike approach and one of the smoothest deliveries in the business. He ostensibly replaces David Feherty, whose unlikely leap to LIV Golf was a loss of easily disputable magnitude—nobody personified the Peacock’s wacky feathers better than the game’s class clown—but Byrum has the wisdom, if not the wit, to do the job well.

8. Charles Barkley

Go ahead and laugh. That’s what the Round Mound of Reverb is looking for—a chuckle off Chuck’s irreverent contributions to the one or two made-for-TV matches he does for TNT each year. Seriously, Barkley brings a lot more to the game than a few stupid pet tricks. He’s the only African-American wired for sound at a high-profile golf event. He’s also exponentially more famous than any other broadcaster, a guarantee to widen an audience on his Q rating alone. Barkley’s sense of humor and self-deprecating style make him worth his weight, so to speak, offering an unsubtle reminder that the little white ball could use a few more Black guys who don’t interpret an 8-footer for par as a life-or-death scenario. Charles likes to have fun. Absolutely nothing wrong with that.

7. Rich Lerner

The epitome of versatility and consistency, Lerner’s penchant for venturing outside the box brings a valuable commodity to any telecast. His duties as a Golf Channel tournament anchor are handled flawlessly, buoyed by a seamless method of showcasing any analyst sitting next to him, as evidenced best by his rock-solid presence on “Live From.” The postgame/pregame show has never been better, strengthened by the addition of Paul McGinley while still rooted in Lerner’s insistence of keeping things moving—and interesting. A pro’s pro, augmented by a dash of panache.

6. Dottie Pepper

She can run with the boys, no doubt, having proven herself as an obvious strength at a network in dire need of heavy lifting. Pepper’s role at CBS, which has her on the ground with the final group during a weekend round, has helped to compensate for the lack of analytical significance coming from the booth. Dottie hustles, tells you what you need to know and might throw a fastball or two into the mix for appropriate measure. She’d do even better to become more opinionated. The guys upstairs are half-asleep.

CBS on-course reporter Dottie Pepper is pictured at the 2019 PGA Championship.

Dottie Pepper, a fixture with final groups on the weekend for CBS, offers the credible perspective of a former player.

5. Dan Hicks

Having deftly piloted NBC’s presentation since 2000, Hicks has been a stark departure from the days when the network didn’t really have a specialized golf anchor. He was the perfect partner for the irascible, indomitable Johnny Miller, standing behind the analyst around every dark corner, often with a dose of droll humor. By any definition, Hicks is an ideal teammate. An air-traffic controller who maintains a high level of composure no matter how many jumbo jets are waiting to land, an ordinary guy whose selfless form is punctuated by his immense knowledge of the game. NBC should pay him well. He’s worth every penny.

4. Paul Azinger

The same fiery, energetic qualities that made Azinger such a popular player have transferred nicely to the tower, first at ABC, then briefly with Fox before he replaced Miller at NBC. Conscientious of comparisons to his predecessor, Azinger has turned down the dial on criticism in recent years, but he can still drop a bomb when he needs to—his performance the 2022 U.S. Open was as good as it gets. Nobody does a finer job of articulating the effect of Sunday afternoon pressure than a man who won a few and lost a few in similar situations, which is what you’d expect a straight shooter whose career was decked in both heartbreak and heroism. Azinger is literally the real deal. The viewer can tell that he’s been there, done that.

3. John Wood

He’s already the top on-course reporter in the business, a natural inquisitor whose curiosity and intelligence are amplified by uncanny observational skills. All that wouldn’t make Wood the best if he couldn’t parlay his thoughts into concise, highly informative statements—he’s an unparalleled master of the seven-second morsel. His value at NBC escalated considerably when Jim Mackay left the network in late 2021 to caddie for Justin Thomas, and though Wood came from that same background, his hyperactive mind got the best of him after carrying bags for 24 years. “If I’m any good at it,” he says of TV, “the biggest reason is that a caddie has to think on his feet.” When you’re a rising star at a major network, you don’t have to clean clubs for a living, either.

2. Brandel Chamblee

There is nobody in the industry like him, which isn’t to say nobody in the industry likes him, but he has ruffled some feathers and arched some eyebrows over the years. That alone validates the notion that Chamblee is the most important member of golf’s indigenous media, a fully consumed student of the game who spends hours toiling over research for a 30-minute show. Beyond the hard work and innate knowledge, the ex-tour pro is also a fascinating blend of credibility, arrogance and brilliance. A franchise player for a cable network with clout. A sniper with a sharp eye one minute, a softie with sensibilities the next. Yes, he’s a handful. And undeniably essential.

1. Jim Nantz

In the land of rare air, Nantz may already own one of the most illustrious titles Americana can muster: Greatest Sportscaster Ever. Nobody wants to hand such a crown to someone still active, but the CBS golf anchor has covered so many balls for so many years, it’s almost silly to think he’s not worthy. He approaches his 30th year in the network’s lead chair with a portfolio substantially deeper than that of Jim McKay, Curt Gowdy or Brent Musburger. He trips over his tongue maybe once a decade. You can count the number of mistakes he’s made presiding over PGA Tour events on one hand, but Nantz’s greatest career feat might be spending 17 seasons sitting next to Sir Nick Faldo and behaving as though he liked it.

Unflappable. Unerring. Iconic. Nantz has a way of setting the viewer at ease, a trait that will last until the day he retires. The only way to rank him second on a list like this is to leave first place blank.