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July 14, 2017
THE MODERATOR: On the podium we have Jon Miller, President of Programming for NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network. And Notah Begay, Charlie Rymer and Peter Jacobsen. This is Peter's first year at American Century. Charlie and Notah have been here the past few years.
Jon, give us some history of the American Century and how it's evolved.
JON MILLER: This is our 28th year here in Lake Tahoe and Edgewood. And there's no place we would rather be. We started this event in 1990, when NBC lost its Major League Baseball package, and we had a new leader in Dick Ebersol, who challenged us to come up with some programming. So we created this creatively with the help of Jim Karvellas, Mike Schreiber, and Mike Letis.
And we were fortunate, when the idea was presented, there was a young NBA star who happened to love golf in Michael Jordan. He agreed to participate. That first year we had Michael here with John Elway and a bunch of other great stars. From then on we've grown and it's gotten bigger and bigger every year. And American Century Championship has been with us now 19 years.
You couldn't ask for a better, more engaged partner, and I say that more than just, they're more than just a sponsor, they really are a partner. And the folks here in Lake Tahoe and Harrah's and Harveys are partners as well.
So, with the field we have, having our Golf Channel production team behind it, we think we are well positioned for the next 28 years.
Q. Notah and Charlie, you've covered this event for the past few years. Tell the audience about your experience being at this event, covering the event and kind of everything around this event.
CHARLIE RYMER: So let me tell you about my last hour. I've been up on this driving range hanging out with Justin Timberlake, Charles Barkley, my heroes, Larry the Cable Guy and Louie Robertson, and I get paid to be here and talk to these guys.
There's so many talented people here from entertainers and sports buffs. What they have in common is they really love golf.
When you go out, ask these guys what their game is, I've gone from a 8.2 to 7.6. When you're getting that close on your handicap, they absolutely love it.
They love being with each other. They love the competition, for the most part -- let's be honest, Larry the Cable Guy and Charles Barkley, they're not really here for the competition.
But there's just so much passion here and so much talent. They like it when the fans come out. It's one of the neatest things that I get a chance to do all year long, and this year I'll go out and walk with Justin Timberlake, and I'll go with Alfonso and Jerry Rice.
And they'll want to play their best golf, no doubt about it, but they're here to have a great time. I think it's one of the great things about golf; it brings folks together for a great time. And I know, Peter, it's your first time here. I think you've sort of been blown away so far.
PETER JACOBSEN: I am.
NOTAH BEGAY: A couple things for me. Over the years getting to play with these celebrities and athletes, golf does a couple things it does a couple of things. First, it gives these guys a little bit of a break away from the monotony and stress of their sports. Many of their athletes, Steph Curry and John Smoltz and Tony Romo during the season they play golf on a regular basis as a way to sort of break away.
For a lot of the athletes, after their career, it's a great way to stay competitive, because you can't just switch the switch off, the competitive part of their spirit, doesn't just turn off like a light switch. They still need something to drive them and motivate them. As Charlie referenced, they're very calculated on where exactly they're at.
And I think most of them lie about their handicaps, because they come here and they don't really play to them. I don't know if it's the pressure or whatnot.
But they really look at this event as probably the biggest event of their year and one of the bright spots, something that gives them a chance to look forward and work at.
And you can tell, when the pressure starts to mount, you see their individual focuses that they've imparted in their individual sports careers or acting careers, and it comes out. And it's fun to watch them come down those last few holes. And with as much opportunity as exists with the scoring format and those last three holes, a lot can change. And I think that's one of the intriguing parts about the event and the format.
THE MODERATOR: Peter, this is your first year here but you're very familiar with this area. Just tell everybody about your excitement and enthusiasm about being here and covering this event for the first time.
PETER JACOBSEN: I've heard a lot from my colleagues at NBC Golf Channel about how exciting this event is. And it's so much fun for me to come back and do this. My whole career has been about reaching outside the ropes, engaging the fans.
I've been involved in creating some celebrity events over the years. So I know a lot of these athletes and entertainers, and I admire them so much because they come away from their job. They come out here and they give back.
When I was riding around the last couple of days in the Pro-Am watching the players, to watch them, how patient they are with their fans, signing jerseys, taking pictures, it really -- I admire that, because they're here to have a good time. They're here to compete.
But they understand how important the fan is. We're so lucky to play with Jack Lemmon all the years at the AT&T, 20 years, and I asked Jack, "Why do you like playing in these events? Why do you like playing in the Bob Hope and the AT&T?" He said if it wasn't for them, the fans outside the ropes, there would be no me.
And I heard that from Clint Eastwood and Samuel Jackson and Michael Jordan. So these players here, I admire, because they're giving back to the game. They're giving back to their fans.
But I feel like this event is right down my alley. Jon's been telling me that for years. So I'm really happy to be back in this area and really happy to be involved in American Century Championship.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. You guys did a fantastic job with your color coordination today.
CHARLIE RYMER: It was planned.
PETER JACOBSEN: It's Jon Miller. He comes to our room every morning and he picks out our outfits for us. He's a stylish guy.
CHARLIE RYMER: Real quick, I meant to tell you guys: Peter, being a rookie, we sent him out to chart every piece of grass out on the golf course, analyzing, he's been out since 5:00 this morning hitting putts and he won't use any of that information this week.
PETER JACOBSEN: I'm preparing like this is a championship, which it is. (Laughter).
Q. Jon, I think this comes up every time you're in one of these types of interviews, but can you just address the solid foundation, I guess it is, that this tournament has now. Because in its first 10, 12 years it kind of seemed like it didn't really have that. And it really does now.
JON MILLER: That's true. And it's a good point. It's a credit to a lot of people. When we first started -- first year we didn't have a title sponsor. Then we had Isuzu for several years. And with management changes and different priorities, they walked away.
American Century came in, as I said, 19 years ago. Having them and having them understand it, we signed a new seven-year deal with them last year. So we have six more years to go on that deal.
We've extended our relationship out here. So having that solid foundation of a title sponsor and a location has a lot to do with it. But I would be remiss to tell you that if it wasn't for the guy standing back there with the blue shirt, Gary Quinn, this event doesn't sing the way it does.
He's put together an amazing group of people who work tirelessly year-round. This is not just an event that happens the second or third week of July. The planning for this event starts Monday morning. And we are constantly getting together and trying to find ways to make it better. We work closely with American Century.
We work closely with our production group and our marketing and sales teams, because it's important that this thing continue to improve and continue to get better.
We have, in my opinion, the single best tournament operator in the business Mike Milthorpe and his team. He's been here since day one. So that continuity and leadership has really put us in this good position.
Q. And the fact that it's seven years, I don't think I remember it being a seven-year contract in the past. It's been three or four. What does that say?
JON MILLER: Three and four years. Both sides are there. And the other thing that we've learned is that, while it's great to have Michael Jordan or Justin Timberlake or Steph Curry or Tony Romo, or Aaron Rodgers and Charles, the tournament is now bigger than any one player.
It goes to show you that this area attracts so much talent and we've been able to thrive because of that.
Q. And Peter, we talked a little bit already about your familiarity with this area. You helped a lot with the Reno-Tahoe Open in the early years. Can you tell us which courses in the area you've designed?
PETER JACOBSEN: My first course was a co-design with John Harbottle, right here, Genoa Lakes. And then I did the second course up at Tahoe Mountain Resorts, Jack Nicklaus did the first one, Old Greenwood, and I did the second one called Gray's Crossing.
I'm a Portland, Oregon native. I know this area well. I love this high plains desert, and love the water and I love seeing having 90 degree temperatures and seeing snow on the mountains.
I'm an Oregonian. So I'm used to seeing that with Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens.
Q. Notah, obviously good memories around this area. You were the champion of the first Reno-Tahoe Open. Can you just address what that meant to you and how you reflect on it 18 years later?
NOTAH BEGAY: We're going way back. That final round was on CNBC. That was my first introduction to the NBC team.
I got a call from Peter. He couldn't have been happier for me. He was my big brother on the PGA TOUR. And it really set me off on the right direction in my early career and I had a lot of fans come over from the Bay Area that final Sunday to sort of root me on.
It felt a little bit like a home game for me. And it's been sort of like that ever since. I've got fond memories of this area and such a beautiful area to come back to and look forward to it every year.
Q. For any of you, I think this is like week one of a very busy month-long stretch for you guys. There's this, the British, the Women's British, I think, all coming up. Can you just talk about, I guess, just how busy you're going to be, what that's going to be like.
JON MILLER: Well, this is a very busy time for us. We have, in my opinion -- and I'm not at all ashamed about to say this -- we have the single-best golf production team that's ever been assembled led by Tommy Roy and Tom Randolph, who is actually here producing today.
Our talent lineup, our production team, our directors with Doug Grabert and his staff, and there's just a lot of golf ahead of us. We go right from here next week to The Open Championship at Birkdale. We follow that with the Senior Open Championship and the Women's British Open from there.
And before you know it we're in the FedEx Cup in September and we have the Presidents Cup at Liberty in the last week of September. We're off to the races.
And golf is a big part of what we do at NBC. It's an integral part of our strategy and our business. So being able to take advantage of that and using this as the launching pad is great.
And I know a lot of these guys are jumping on planes Sunday night and flying over to Manchester to get there in time for next week where I don't think the weather is going to be quite as nice about this, but we'll be thinking about you when we're back here cleaning up.
Q. Jon, since you've been around for such a long time with this tournament, I wanted to know if you can talk about commitment of the players. You have a lot of guys who have played when they were professional athletes and then they retire and come back, and can you just elaborate on what it is that makes them want to continue to come back over a ten-year period?
JON MILLER: I think there's a couple things. Anybody who has played professional sports at the level that these guys have played at obviously are exceptionally talented individuals and have had to have not only the benefit of a lot of talent and drive and perseverance, and they've got a great competitive spirit. Otherwise they wouldn't be at the level they were at.
So this fuels that competitive spirit, and we've seen that, but they also love being here and they've become like a fraternity.
I think one of my favorite moments is the player meeting that we do on Wednesday night, which is a mandatory meeting that all the players come to, and you sit and you look at that group of people and you see a lot of these guys haven't seen each other for a year.
But you'll see football players and basketball players and hockey stars and entertainers all getting together and renewing acquaintances and stuff like that. This is an important thing. They become friends. Their families have become friends.
The people in this community have become their friends. So for a lot of people this has become a second home. So I think that's one of the reasons why the hospitality that we get when we come here is second to anything on the PGA TOUR, and that's one of the reasons why we get so many returning people.
The toughest thing for us, quite honestly, is we can only handle 85 to 90 players. If Mike Milthorpe had his druthers, we'd keep it at 78. Gary and I keep pushing in a couple of players when Mike's not looking and all of a sudden he calls me up, "There's 90 players in the field, what are you doing to me?"
But we don't have a cut. We have all 90 players out there. We have to be done by 3:00 on Saturday and Sunday, so we don't have the benefit of more daylight. And we only use one course.
So all those things factor into the field size. And I think guys appreciate that. And that's why they realize it's a special treat to be here. We have zero tolerance for bad behavior, and the guys know that as well. And they're encouraged to go to all the functions and engage with sponsors and fans and everything else and that's another thing that I think a lot of these players appreciate it.
Q. Do you think this tournament is a way for one to fall in love with golf? We followed Derek Fisher earlier, and he said he started thinking about it three months ago and thought this was the best tournament for him to get into.
JON MILLER: It's funny you said that. I had the good fortune to play yesterday with Dale Curry, Steph's father. And as we were walking along playing in the Celeb Am, I noticed all the young kids out there, seven-, eight-, nine-, ten-year-old kids. You're out on the TOUR, you don't see seven-, eight-, nine-, ten-year-old kids coming to PGA or LPGA or Champions Tour events. And we do see people coming out with families. We realized early on, for a lot of young people, this is their first introduction to the game.
So they see this unbelievably great game that we all love and feel so passionately about. And then you're in this setting with these unbelievable athletes, we're creating a lot of new golf fans. And I think that's a big part of it.
NOTAH BEGAY: One thing I'd like to add on that is this event is prepared and set up, and Jon and Gary and Mike have done an exceptional job of giving it a PGA TOUR feel.
I mean, the ropes and the TV towers and the way the golf course is manicured and the green speeds are kept consistent, like this is the singular biggest experience for most of the players they'll have all year.
Even the ones that go to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am might not find conditions as good as they find here. I think that's a motivating factor for them to come here as well.
Q. With the somewhat limited field and you occasionally add new guys, and so maybe one or two guys have to be disinvited -- who is the Turk? You know that term?
JON MILLER: I know the Turk. Bring your playbook, right? There's a committee that gets together. There's a group of us that sit and look.
That's one of the, quite honestly, the tough things, because we can only accommodate that many players. We're always trying to turn over the field by at least 10 to 15 percent every year. That's one of the ways we keep it fresh.
We have a bunch of new players this year, and we have a bunch of guys coming back like Tony Romo, who hasn't been here for a while. And Wally Szczerbiak and Jason Kidd, high-profile athletes and entertainers.
Unfortunately, because that happens, because you can't have everybody back, you have to make tough decisions. So what goes into the thought process is how visible these guys are, keeping their names are out there after they retire from the sport.
It's just not an automatic invite. And also it's very important that these guys engage with the clients and the sponsors. There are a lot of guys who come back because they become fan favorites and American Century favorites. That's just as important as being a single-digit handicap or being a big star.
Q. Who calls the guy up?
JON MILLER: Unfortunately that falls to me or falls to Gary. It's never an easy call. And, quite honestly, there's guys -- a lot of guys understand it. Just because you're not invited back one year doesn't mean you'll not be invited back the next year.
We try to be fair about that. But it's one of the more difficult things about this event. Wish we could handle a full 156-player field, but we just don't have the capacity to do it.
And as my wife would say "It's a white wine problem." You have this luxury of all these great stars and all this great talent.
Q. How do you balance the difference between the players that I'd say are more for entertainment value versus the serious golfer/athletes, and do you try and keep a certain mix?
JON MILLER: Yeah, we do. That's a good point. As Notah said, or Charlie said, Charles and Larry the Cable Guy, while they'll not going to win, they're every bit as important to this event as Mark Mulder and guys like that.
When you can get a Tony Romo, who is obviously a mega star and also a great player, like a John Elway or like a Mario Lemieux in his day and stuff like that, that's an added bonus. But you clearly want good golfers in here who can play and who can throw up a number.
I remember the first year we were here when Mark Rypien won in 1990, I think he won -- his average score was around 73, 74. Even though we've gone to the Stableford, a lot of these guys are shooting in the mid-60s, which goes to show you how much they've elevated their games.
And Peter, who is out there watching these guys swing, and Charlie and Notah, all world-class golfers in their own right, get a chance to see how good these guys have gotten.
PETER JACOBSEN: It's pretty impressive. First time here, I was out watching yesterday and I was impressed with Marshall Faulk and Mardy Fish. Mardy Fish, I watched him make a couple of swings and he looks like a TOUR player.
And they take it very seriously. I was talking to Alex Smith. He hit a beautiful 3-wood at 16 on the green eagle putt. It's fun to interact with them, they're stepping in my world.
They're coming into the golf world. I cannot step into their world. I do not do what they do.
But what's fun to do is to interact with them when they ask you questions about chipping or putting or driving or strategy. And I know these guys have been here forever.
This is my first time, but I look forward to coming back and doing it and getting more involved in the entire operation, because this is their Masters. This is their U.S. Open. It's the most prestigious celebrity event in the world.
These guys want to play, but believe me they want to win.
JON MILLER: I think also seeing PGA and USGA officials out here has a lot to do with it. We bring in PGA and USGA officials with their rule book and they see these guys out there and they know it's not a hit-and-giggle event. This is real golf.
CHARLIE RYMER: I spoke with Jack Wagner yesterday. He had been hitting the balls on the range for three hours, three-hour session. You look at the last grouping off the No. 1 tee today that will be in our coverage a lot today, Mark Mulder, Mardy Fisher and Jack Wagner, those three guys have got some game.
I'm telling you, Mark, we talked to Mark last night. His club head speed is phenomenal. He's borderline, could maybe look at being a long-drive guy. And he works at his game so hard.
He said it used to be the point where he was inconsistent sometimes. And he said, "I'm not inconsistent anymore." You could see it in his eyes.
He is here to compete and win this thing. There is no doubt about that.
Q. Charlie, you see this on our morning drive show when these athletes come in, they come to Golf Channel, it's almost like their Disney. They come in, get excited, they want swing tips. Talk a little bit because I know you three have been on the range about these guys, they talk about their sport all the time, right? But they love talking about golf. And you guys have experienced that. So talk a little bit about that and about the swing tips that they come to you for advice, just talk a little bit about that as they go into this week?
CHARLIE RYMER: I would say, we had Joe Theismann in on Morning Drive earlier this year. And he's one of the most amazing guests we've had on Morning Drive.
I had him up live in front of our simulator, which can be a nerve-racking situation for normal human beings, NFL quarterbacks I'm not sure they get so nervous about it. But I just got Joe talking about his game and the things that he does to play his best golf. And I've never seen this before, guys. He pulls out a laminated checklist of four things that he has on that checklist that he keeps in his golf bag all the time.
And he said he just explained it to the audience. He said, "Here's my faults. When I get a little bit off, boom, boom, boom, boom. These are the four things I go through." And I thought, I mean, that's not a real macho thing to do, and Joe Theismann is a macho guy. And I was just hoping that some of our viewing audience saw that and thought, you know, that's a great idea.
You can learn to play golf from somebody who is a very good golfer but certainly an NFL legend. But athlete after athlete, when they come in on the show, they are so into golf it's just unbelievable. And I believe that the average golfer out there can learn a lot from watching good athletes play and how they attack the game.
And so that's been one of the cool things to get these celebrities in to hit some balls for us.
Larry the Cable Guy came in to hit some balls and he missed the net. So, that was a little rough. (Laughter) But it's one of the great things of this event is getting these guys across our other platforms here.
PETER JACOBSEN: I saw Elway yesterday, and I played a lot of golf with John through the years. And one round we played at the Bob Hope, the old Bob Hope, I can't remember the name of the tournament. It's CareerBuilder now. And my grouping was Kevin Costner; Matt Williams, professional baseball player; and John Elway.
Costner was just in the middle of his golf fantasy, because he obviously played -- he was in Tin Cup. I was actually in Tin -- I won the U.S. Open in Tin Cup. Nobody ever recognizes that. Doesn't get me into the Father/Son. I don't know -- we have to talk after this, Jon.
JON MILLER: Okay.
PETER JACOBSEN: But it was probably the most interesting pro-am round I've ever played. A lot of times when we play in pro-ams you're playing with a 12 and a 25 and a 30.
These three players, Hall of Famers in their own right, they asked me questions all day. I felt like I was doing a playing lesson.
Matt Williams wanted to know about tee ball. Elway wanted to know about rhythm. Costner wanted to know about consistency.
But it was the most fun round, because I felt like I was a teacher. But it made me realize that here are these three incredible athletes and entertainers asking me questions about the game.
To Charlie's point, they have such passion for the game. And that's what this event is all about. The passion these players have for this game.
We can't go do what they do. But they can do what we do and they love it. And that's the genius of this event.
NOTAH BEGAY: Unless the player has a personal relationship with a PGA TOUR pro-like Mark Mulder does with Pat Perez, when they interact with a TOUR player that's been successful on the TOUR and has won on the TOUR, they want to know: How do you do these sorts of things?
I know Tony in preparation for coming out this week went out and had a match with Jordan Spieth on Tuesday.
So he's obviously trying to get sharp playing with the world's best. And those guys go out and they're great friends and when I lived in Dallas I was part of that game.
But they just go out and they get at each other. And I tell you what, when Tony's playing well, you give him a couple of shots a side, and he usually wins almost every time. So he's got that competitive drive, but he also has that willingness to take in information from people that have been there. And they have enough respect for the game to know that sometimes they need a little help.
Q. Sunday night or Monday morning we're all headed to England for The Open. This is year two of Golf Channel NBC having coverage of The Open. We have 78 hours of live coverage next week, which is the most in major championship history. So just give us little thoughts about going from here to the open and how you guys are looking forward to covering The Open in Birkdale next week?
PETER JACOBSEN: Last year when we were at Royal Troon, I think everybody on the team was nervous because it was our first year at The Open.
Obviously Johnny Miller and Nick Faldo both Open champions. I've played in many Opens as these guys have, but when you're on the other side you want to make sure you present the best show you can present.
And we were entertained with probably the most incredible final round between Stenson and Mickelson. It was mesmerizing.
I'm in an outer tower during the telecast, I've got my holes to cover, but I found myself totally mesmerized by what Mickelson and Stenson were doing.
And I always had to be brought back to what was happening on the golf course with other groups, because there were so many other players.
But as you know, it boiled down to the last two players. It's probably my most favorite event as a player because you need every aspect of your game to be in shape. The U.S. Open is the most defensive event you'll play, because you've got to watch out for bogeys and double bogeys, it will kill you. The Masters is the most aggressive event. You've got to make eagles and birdies to win. But The Open Championship, you have to have it all together. You play in inclement conditions and play in warm weather. You can tee off in calm weather in the morning and be playing in a windy, rainy gale that afternoon.
CHARLIE RYMER: And sometimes when you're playing in The Open, it might become necessary to tackle a streaker.
PETER JACOBSEN: There may be naked men running on the green, so you have to help out the eventual champion and take the guy down. (Laughter).
CHARLIE RYMER: If you haven't seen that, Google it.
PETER JACOBSEN: Anyway, it's such an important event in the world of golf, and I'm proud to be a part of it. I'm proud to be a part of this team. And quite honestly, going from this event, having so much fun going over there, it's as much fun, obviously it's going to be a little better golf, maybe across the board better golf. But the field here -- I've already gotten questions from The Open Championship from these guys about next week.
They're engaged playing here but they're also looking forward to watching The Open Championship next week as well.
CHARLIE RYMER: Links golf is something that -- I played in an Open when I was 20 years old. I was an amateur. And it's something that I just absolutely fell in love with links golf and The Open right there at 20. I was hooked for life.
And I think that a lot of our viewers here in the states may not understand links golf, because it looks so foreign to so many people.
And so one of the things -- I'll be in the studio in Orlando doing it this week -- introducing the golf course to our viewers, talking about it, explaining it, getting some detail on the holes, because there's so much nuance in the links game.
If you've never been there you look at it on TV beautiful picture you just don't understand it. These guys that are going to be over there will be doing a wonderful job explaining the strategy.
It's just so different. And I think maybe that's one of the reasons that I absolutely love links golf is because it takes the best players in the world and it gets them all balanced, because the exam is so much different than what they see week in week out. I occasionally run into somebody that says tell me about The Open, I don't understand it. Let's sit down and talk because it's something that's just one of the greatest forms of golf we have, links golf, over there, the oldest championship.
It's a real privilege to be involved in any way in covering that and expanding the viewer base and appreciation for The Open.
NOTAH BEGAY: Certainly, Charlie, very few sports do you ever get the opportunity to go back to its origin. And that's where golf originated, 1400s.
And many of the golf courses that are in the rota, nobody knows who designed them. It's not like here where everything is so itemized and you know exactly where everything came from. It's just a wonderful experience. And as Charlie referenced, it's a chance for us to educate the viewers.
I think that NBC and Golf Channel's a wonderful caretaker of that entire process, because we've taken it very seriously, we do it 24/7 and we go about it in a very professional and thorough manner trying to make sure that we know exactly as much as possible about the venue, about the players, about its history, and we do that to educate our viewers so that they walk away not only just seeing some world class golf like we saw last year but also having the ability to understand why it looks a little different, why is it browned out a little bit. Why are those bunkers sodded over, and those are just design features around for centuries but it's different than what we see here.
I think it's a valuable event for those that are lucky enough to get up early in the morning and watch it.
JON MILLER: Here, real early.
Q. You've got one round of golf left, and you've got one time to play it, who are you playing with and where are you playing?
PETER JACOBSEN: I would play Pebble Beach. Being a Portland, Oregon native, we would drive down as a family to Pebble Beach, spring break, we would drive down, play golf, our entire family. And I'd probably play with -- probably play with my father. Probably play with Jack Lemmon and maybe that naked guy I tackled at the British Open. I don't know. I hit him pretty hard. I hit him low and I hit him hard. (Laughter).
And I don't know what his condition was when he popped up. He didn't pop up quick. So maybe that guy. Maybe buy him a drink at the tournament, maybe that guy.
Q. I thought you said you didn't play football.
PETER JACOBSEN: Not anymore. Not anymore. I could maybe back then.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports