I watch a lot of golf on television. I watch a lot of golf on television alone because my wife and dog can’t stay in the same room with me because I spend a lot of time shaking my head and yelling at the “tube”, while I watch a lot of golf on television. I am indiscriminate in my criticism. Camera operators, audio people, directors, producers and especially announcers all incur my wrath. I do it because I have the benefit of knowing exactly what’s going on behind the scenes.
I have spent more than three decades producing, or helping to produce, golf on television (first for ESPN and then Golf Channel). I have hired, supervised, worked with, or watched, from the inside out, nearly every person who has walked the fairways with a microphone since 1989. I have also watched them, as a fan, on television. It is with both of those perspectives in mind that I make the statement that Jerry Foltz is the best in the business.
Full disclosure… I have known Jerry for decades, first meeting him when he was a teenager playing junior golf with my younger brother. We have been friends for years, in fact I consider him my best friend, and he was the best man at my wedding. I gave him his first job in television. In 1995 he was nearing the end of his playing career and looking for the “what’s next”. The Golf Channel had debuted in January of that year and I was responsible for producing all of the network’s live domestic tournament coverage including, what was then, the Nike Tour. Jerry found out where we were working on site at a tournament in Tallahassee and came in the truck to reintroduce himself. As fate would have it, I was looking for help in identifying the players with whom none of us at the time were very familiar and Jerry volunteered.
A few weeks later he expressed an interest in working as an announcer. It was clear he knew and liked the tour and its players and officials. It was equally clear that they knew and liked him back. He was interested in learning, clever, and social and, after working as our “spotter” for a while, I had him shadow our lead on course announcer, Gary Smith, for several events. Then I made the decision to send him out, without supervision, for the first time at the Nike Wichita Open in 1996. But that is NOT why I am writing this particular piece. I write it because I believe it to be true. Here is my list, from #10 to #1 why I put Jerry Foltz at the top of his class.
10) DURING HIS CAREER HE HAS SERVED AS HOST, PLAY-BY-PLAY, ANALYST, HOLE ANNOUNCER AND ON COURSE COMMENTATOR
I am fairly certain no one covering the men’s game can make this claim (Kay Cockerill, who is also very good, may have done it on the women’s side). Many have done two of the five jobs and several have done as many as four of the five but Jerry’s experience as tournament play-by-play man, host, lead analyst, hole announcer and on course commentator makes him unique. Why do I think it’s important? Simply because knowing the duties, responsibilities and demands of each position and then actually having to perform them all on live television gives Jerry the advantage of empathy for each role that no one else has. In my mind that helps make him better at the job than anyone else when he walks the fairways.
9) HE ALWAYS STATIONS HIMSELF IN A PLACE WHERE HE CAN SPEAK IN A NORMAL TONE OF VOICE
There are few things that ruin a golf television viewing experience more than an announcer that you can’t hear or understand. The on-course commentator is the producer’s and the viewer’s “eyes and ears” on the course and if either or both has to strain their ears to understand what someone is saying then it’s a double bogey. Jerry is never at a loss for words and always in a position to make those words clear and understandable.
8) HE INCLUDES THE OTHER TALENT IN THE “CONVERSATION”
A simple concept, and one to which many announcers adhere. Many “conversations” are limited to “what’s he got there?’ or “how’s the lie?” but when Jerry engages his fellow announcers it’s more substantive. I believe this is connected to number 10. Because Jerry has been on the air in the other roles he knows how to include his fellow announcers in the conversation.
7) CADDIES AND PLAYERS KNOW HIM AND TRUST HIM
Jerry is not unique here. Many of the network on course announcers have great relationships with both players and caddies. That said I would bet my bottom dollar that Jerry has better relationships with more players and caddies than any other announcer. Jerry works the practice tee, putting green and the hotel bar. Guys and women on tour know him and know they can trust him and because of that Jerry gets not only the standard club, yardage and “how’s he/she hitting it” information, he gets more of it from more sources. When he gets more that means we all get more.
6) HE IS AN EXCELLENT INTERVIEWER
In my experience this is the hardest thing players-turned-announcers have to do on television. Being an exceedingly social animal Jerry Foltz is an exception to this rule. I believe Jerry can talk to anyone, about anything and, on many occasions, does just that. I have seen player after player, now wearing a headset, struggle with this part of the job. Not Jerry. In The Golf Channel’s early days we aired a show called SCORECARD REPORT for thirty minutes after every tournament round. The show consisted of interviews on the practice tee and putting green with players who, depending on the time of day, had just completed a round or were just getting ready to start. Jerry (and colleague Kay Cockerill) NEVER had a problem getting someone to talk and when they did, ALWAYS talked to them for as long as I needed them to talk. It could have been one question or ten minutes, it didn’t matter to Jerry. The best quality in an interviewer is the ability to listen and Jerry listens.
5) HE NEVER PRETENDS HE’S CALLING A PREVIOUSLY RECORDED SHOT “LIVE”
There are announcers in this business who lead you to believe they are “smarter” than they actually are. You can spot them easily because they are the ones who tell you that a player “has to do this” or the “shot has to land here” and then, magically, the player does do that or the shot does land there. All the while the announcer knows exactly what the player is going to do or where the shot is going to land because he or she has seen it already. Jerry will always tell you that the shot happened, “ a moment ago” or “earlier” despite, sometimes getting explicit instructions from a producer to, “play it like it’s live” It may be a small thing but in this viewer’s (and producer’s) mind it’s a critical one.
4) HE HAS A GREAT SENSE OF HUMOR AND NEVER TAKES HIMSELF TOO SERIOUSLY
After all golf is a game and it should be treated as such. That’s not to say that certain tournaments, shots and situations aren’t important but keeping things in perspective is important and one of Jerry Foltz’s strengths.
3) HE DOESN’T TELL YOU WHAT YOU CAN ALREADY SEE AND NEVER TELLS YOU WHAT HE CAN’T SEE
For me there is nothing more aggravating as a viewer than watching a putt for birdie come up just short and hear an announcer say, “That comes up just short.” Thanks so much for that insightful information. I can SEE that the putt came up short, tell me why or, better yet, don’t say anything at all. Additionally you will never hear Jerry Foltz say something like, “I can’t tell if that ended up in the hazard,” or “I’m not sure where that ended up.” If he can’t see it he won’t say anything even when put in an uncomfortable position by a fellow announcer who asks, “How’s the lie?” when he’s not sure Jerry has had a chance to get a look at it. We are all better off as viewers if we don’t have to hear, “I didn’t get a chance to take a look.” While I’m at it a television announcer should never say, “Look at this!” It is on television, I’m watching.
2) HE PUTS 100% INTO EVERY ASSIGNMENT REGARDLESS OF TOURNAMENT OR TOUR
Jerry has been part of hundreds of broadcasts, in various roles, working for a variety of producers, on most every professional tour and some amateur events. I have never once seen him, heard of him or observed him doing less than his absolute very best at each. When we worked together on PGA TOUR events he treated those telecasts like it was the most important programming on the network. It was. When we worked together on the Nike/Buy.com/Nationwide Tour he treated those telecasts like it was the most important programming on the network. It wasn’t. Now he works LPGA telecasts and I know for a fact he treats those shows like it is the most important programming on the network. It isn’t. There is no lay up in Jerry Foltz when it comes to broadcasting. He puts in the work, puts the “give a damn” on high, and gets the job done no matter the tour, the time of day, duration of the broadcast or the player or group he follows.
1) HE NEVER TALKS OVER PLAYER/CADDIE CONVERSATIONS
EVER. Because of this reason I didn’t really need to list the other nine as to why I think Jerry Foltz is the best at his craft. He is always aware of when a player is talking to his caddie and never thinks what he has to say is more important than that. Even when another member of the broadcast team isn’t listening and asks Jerry a question, Foltzy will clam up and not speak until the more interesting, more important conversation is over and then he still might not saying anything if there is nothing to add. This is not only rare in the business of on-course golf commentary it is unique. And so is Jerry Foltz.