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July 11, 2018
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Jon Miller, president of Programming, NBC Sports Group. In the middle, Heather Cox, making her debut here this week at American Century. She will be our interviewer for the tournament broadcast on the 17th hole. And Jimmy Roberts, who has covered this event for a lot of years, he'll be a tower reporter for our coverage this week.
And of course in the middle we have the oldest trophy in golf, the Claret Jug.
First off, let's talk about American Century. Jon, we'll start with you. So a lot of the folks in this room know about this, covered it for years, but for folks who don't, share about how this tournament originated and the growth over the years to now its 29th year of this championship.
JON MILLER: Sure. Thank you very much thanks all of you for being here and thank you for the great coverage you give this event every year.
We and American Century and the folks in this region are very appreciative of that. American Century Championship started on NBC in 1990 after NBC had lost the Major League Baseball contract after that season.
And it started off as an experiment here to see if we could put professional athletes and entertainers on a golf course playing under tournament-like conditions.
That first year, in 1990, we had 48 players. And we had maybe 3500 spectators. And we were scratching our head. We had no title sponsor. Isuzu came in the following year.
We stayed with it. And a lot of the people who were involved with it that first year, including myself and Mike Milthorpe and a lot of folks from here in Lake Tahoe, have been with it ever since.
It's grown to be a staple on the calendar. Not only for the athletes and entertainers and celebrities who participate, but also in the community and the fans who come here and make this pilgrimage to Lake Tahoe every summer to enjoy everything this area has to offer.
So we've gone -- this year we'll have 92 players competing. And last year we broke an attendance record with over 50,000 fans over the four days of the event.
So it's clearly grown a lot. It's the longest, continuous running made-for-TV sporting event and one that we're all very proud of and look forward to every year.
Q. So next year will be its 30th year of the American Century. Is there anything to kind of tease the group?
JON MILLER: We know of a few of our favorites not here this year who have committed to be here next year. We'll have some of our staples back in the field who, for different reasons, weren't able to be here this year.
We've also got some new players who couldn't make it this year who let us know that they're going to be here next year, which will really enhance the field even further.
The tough thing is having to draw a line at the limit of the field. Because we don't have a cut and because we are done by 3:00 every Saturday and Sunday, we're somewhat limited in the size of the field that we can accommodate.
This year we are pushing our tournament director's patience to the edge with 92 players. Hopefully he'll still speak to me when this is over.
The other thing I think we want to do next year, in addition to everything else, is celebrate the volunteers, because the volunteers who have worked here from the beginning have really made this event so special.
I was out, able to play a practice round this morning. I played with Tony Romo and Sean Payton and they both commented how nice the volunteers were. They weren't just saying thank you, have a nice day. They were thanking them saying we really hope you have a great week here in Lake Tahoe and everybody is happy that you're here.
They were so appreciative. And they noticed that. And that's really a credit to this community and to the volunteers who work here. So we're going to make sure we acknowledge those people, too.
Q. Jimmy, you've covered this event for a lot of years. You and Heather both have covered these athletes in all of their respective sports. I'm sure this tournament gets talked about throughout the year. So talk to us about the passion of these athletes when they play in this tournament in a sport that they're passionate about versus a sport that they play week in, week out?
JIMMY ROBERTS: Well, first of all, I just want to say that this is the type of thing, as Jon said, not only do the athletes look forward to but those of us on the staff at NBC circle this on the calendar. It's really very, very special, very, very special event for us. We've made lifelong friends here.
We've been through many, many things here. I almost lost my life here a few years ago. My appendix exploded, ended up in the hospital here for two weeks. And I can't tell you how grateful I am for the good care that was taken of me by the people in this community. It's really remarkable.
But it's funny, they say that athletes always want to be rock stars and rock stars always want to be athletes. You can tell, though, that everybody among those two groups wants to be golfers. And you see it reflected.
I'll run into some of these people in other places and it is literally the first thing that they want to talk about is Tahoe and coming back here and how much this means to them.
I think it's basically kind of -- this is the fantasy. This is fantasy camp. For everybody who kind of, who loves the game of golf, they come here and they think, they get to indulge their fantasy of what it would be like if I was as good a golfer as I dreamed of.
And some of them are. But it's really -- it's entirely unique, if that's possible.
Q. Heather, going off the same question that you've covered in your days here at NBC and also at ESPN, you've covered all these athletes in their various sports. What's it going to be like covering them and interviewing them on 17 on a sport that they don't do week in, week out but they're passionate about?
HEATHER COX: I can't wait. Because I think they're going to be much more relaxed. The atmosphere -- they're still so competitive and the adrenalin is there, but obviously they're much more relaxed.
They're outside of their day job, and it's like summer camp for grownups. And you're not kidding, Jimmy, it's what everybody dreams of.
When I was at ESPN and moved to NBC, all the calls that I got wasn't, hey, can you get me to the Super Bowl; it was can you get me on to the field here.
Still to this day I have people: Who do you know? How can you help me get in? For former analysts that I worked at ESPN and former players.
So it's a very special event. It's also, when I got hired at NBC, it's the one that everybody said: You get to do that one. It's the Super Bowl is kind of second. They ask this one first, then you get to do the Super Bowl. So that tells you how special this event is.
And in terms of the athletes, I'm really excited, because it's sort of -- I'm looking at the field. And it's my whole career. It's my past with college football and NBA. It's my current love of NFL and the Olympics, I get to reunite with Bode Miller. There's so many people here that have been a huge part of my life.
It's going to be really fun to have that experience and it's much more relaxed. And that adrenalin they're all talking about, they miss that. They miss -- the ones that are retired miss that opportunity to have that competitive juice.
I mean, you talk to Mark Mulder, who says on Sunday when I play here it's as close as I can get to what it was like playing baseball. And he said I love that focus that I could get for a playoff baseball game when I was pitching and I always wondered how do I get that for a regular season game and why can't I get it. And he said and I get that Sunday here. I think they feed off of that.
Q. Heather and Jimmy, you both mentioned Super Bowl. So it's almost like for us at NBC we have two Super Bowl weeks back to back. So we have this and then we have The Open next week. So the Claret Jug is here making its last stop. Just talk a little bit about looking forward to also to next week, going to Carnoustie and then covering The Open.
JIMMY ROBERTS: I don't know really what you can say. We've been thinking an awful lot about The Open.
And this is a special one because it's going back to a place -- we were doing a feature getting ready for next week and Jack Nicklaus said: Of all the major championship venues, all four majors, there is no course harder than Carnoustie and no finish harder than the last three at Carnoustie. And we saw what happened there in the last couple of times it's been played there.
I remember I was -- in 1999, I was with ESPN and I was actually the first person to interview Jean van de Velde when he came off the course.
And I have since seen him a number of times, actually played golf with him a couple of years ago at Carnoustie. And there's just something about that venue. If you're lucky enough to do this for a living, you get to go to some pretty special places, whether they're great baseball stadiums or golf courses or Wimbledon or whatever is, Carnoustie is one of those places, it's really extraordinary. And it's really scary for these guys.
And I just can't wait to see how they're tested in next week. It's going to be -- if the weather gets bad, it's going to earn its name of "Carnasty".
JON MILLER: We have an unbelievably strong NBC Sports production team. And I think while we do a great job with all of our sports, starting with the Olympics and Sunday Night Football, which is the number one show in all of television through our NHL coverage through the Stanley Cup finals and our Triple Crown coverage, I will tell you the one team everybody wants to be a part of is the golf team, led by Tommy Roy, Molly Solomon, Mike McCarley at Golf Channel.
And they've created such an unbelievably great environment and a great team out there, that we know we can take on these challenges and do a great job.
And while I would never even venture to think that the American Century comes close to one of the major championships that are out there, we'll treat this event with the right amount of fun but seriousness to showcase the golf and the athletes and tell those stories and then next week Tommy Roy and his team will be fired up and ready to go when they get to Carnoustie.
From "Golf Central" and "Morning Drive" all the way through to the finish of play on Sunday, you'll see some of the best that's ever been done. And that makes us all feel really proud of who we work with.
Q. Jon, is this the furthest the Claret Jug has been from England?
JON MILLER: I don't know. I don't think they've attached a GPS to it. So it's hard for me to tell. But I doubt that it's ever been this far west.
The fact that we got special consideration from the R&A to bring it here on tour, I don't know, has it ever been out to the West Coast? I don't think it has been, unless there was a West Coast winner who had a replica version.
JIMMY ROBERTS: I was going to say maybe Johnny.
JON MILLER: Johnny Miller had a replica version of it, he might have been able to take that home. That's the only way I would think about it.
Q. When does it return? When does it go back?
JON MILLER: When we get done here.
Q. I want the whole backstory on getting the cup, on shaking it loose and getting it here.
JON MILLER: We are very proud and very happy of the relationship we have with the R&A. And they have been -- Martin Slumbers and his team are very understanding of what we've been able to do and been able to deliver for The Open Championship.
They've seen how NBC makes big events bigger. They've seen what we've done with the Stanley Cup and the Triple Crown with horse racing.
We went to them with a plan to showcase the Claret Jug, one of the most iconic symbols in all of sports and I think the roadshow -- how many places has it been?
THE MODERATOR: It's been to, this year, this is its 12th stop, I believe, this year.
Q. All with NBC?
JON MILLER: Right.
THE MODERATOR: It's been all over the place. It's been at Topgolf locations all over the country. Golf tournaments. It was at the Greenbrier PGA TOUR event last week.
So the players that were teeing off on No. 1, because it was also an Open qualifying series event, they got to see the Claret Jug as they were teeing off on No. 1 at the Greenbrier last week.
JON MILLER: It's quite impressive. I hope you get a chance to get a good look at it. It's well done. It's a beautiful piece of art.
Q. Jimmy, any thoughts on, when you're covering a major, look at a major, this one being at Carnoustie, anything to key in on with players, anything that we should be watching on TV as fans?
JIMMY ROBERTS: A couple things I think right off the top, first of all, I already mentioned the degree of difficulty. I think if you watch the weather, because Carnoustie, if the weather is benign, it can actually be a very manageable course.
But if the weather starts to blow, there are a couple of holes there that are darn near impossible. And the close has been a close -- it's not only The Open with van de Velde, but when Padraig Harrington won in the playoff over Sergio Garcia, the history of Carnoustie, it's where Ben Hogan won a third of his major championships in 1953, was a remarkable year.
He won the Masters, the U.S. Open and The Open Championship, and the only major he didn't win that year was the only one he didn't compete in, which was the PGA Championship. And that was because of a scheduling conflict that year.
So there's history at Carnoustie as well. That year, we think back to 1953, it was a historic year for Hogan not only because of that but he won five of the six events he played in.
So there are these little kind of pieces of history that exist there. But in terms of being a viewer, I would watch the close and I would watch the weather, because they're both going to have a significant impact on whose name ends up on this trophy at the end of the week.
HEATHER COX: I was going to add to that. It's interesting, talking to my colleagues, everyone is so excited heading over there, it's been fun to pick their brains. They're really talking about the weather and just luck of the draw.
You look at Phil in 2016 and Henrik Stenson, them saying that the draw changed everything that Thursday and put them in a position because they were on the good side of the draw where they got the good weather.
And Bones is talking about, you're playing to the weather gods over there and that there's a favorite in the dry weather. They're talking about Tommy Fleetwood being a favorite in the dry weather, and D.J., Dustin Johnson, being a favorite in wet weather.
So much is dependent on what kind of weather. They said it's been really dry and the greens are burnt and faster than normal. Is that what you're hearing as well?
JIMMY ROBERTS: If the wind comes up, that ends up being the big story there because there are certain holes, that, with the prevailing wind, are very difficult to handle.
HEATHER COX: I think that Thursday morning they played in like three-mile-an-hour winds. Then the afternoon group had like 23 miles an hour. The scores were obviously drastically different.
JIMMY ROBERTS: I'll share one story with you. Couple years ago I was there to play, and I ended up playing with Jean van de Velde. This was two years ago. As luck would have it, we had a wonderful day. And it was very nice. I didn't really want to mention anything about the 1999 Open.
We get to the last hole. And as we're walking up to the green, he puts his arm around me and he says, "So what, Paul Lawrie has his name on some little trophy; I have my name on this bridge right here." (Laughter).
And it's true. You look and you see, on the Golf Channel doc that we did the other night, there's a shot of somebody has engraved his name on the bridge walking over the Barry Burn there. But he'll be there. He'll be a big story. It's an interesting place.
Q. Going back to this week, so Heather and Jimmy, so kind of handicap the field a little bit. Mark Mulder is three-time defending champion, going for his fourth. There's a lot of trash talking going on with these guys. They want to beat him. So what do you think about Mulder's chances to get his fourth, and then who do you think will be the people that will be contending against him come Sunday?
JIMMY ROBERTS: You know something, I think it's a better question for Jon, because, Jon, you're more involved in the field than any of us are. I think Mulder is clearly the man to beat. But, Jon, what do you think.
JON MILLER: I think Mulder is the man to beat. I think you have a couple of players who are really starting to play good, strong competitive golf. Tony Romo won an amateur event by nine strokes recently.
John Smoltz just competed in the U.S. Senior Open, which is a remarkable feat. My dark horse, not such a dark horse, I think he's ready to win this is Mardy Fish. I think Mardy Fish is an exceptionally accomplished athlete who has played an individual sport and knows the challenges of being out there and kind of playing on your own.
He's been close a couple of times. And I wouldn't count out Steph Curry because nothing Steph Curry does surprises me. When he shot 67 last year on Sunday on his own ball, I'm thinking to myself: This guy's something to watch.
We have such an unbelievable field here. We have 15 new players led by Larry Fitzgerald from the Arizona Cardinals, and there are a lot of guys out there playing for the first time. And everybody's kind of whispering how good is Sean Payton and can this guy play. Bret Baier from Fox, how good is he?
So I think we're going to have some surprises out there, too. But my advice to all of these guys is you're playing at altitude and you're walking. Pace yourself, because it's not as easy as you might think it is.
HEATHER COX: And I think it's really interesting to hear, you talk to these former or current professional athletes that talk about their nerves out here.
And it's shocking and fascinating to me. Everybody that I've talked to has said the first time they played, it was a battle. A battle of nerves. So I think the ones, the veterans that have come back and know what to expect, know what 17 is all about and know how to handle -- it's a different type of pressure because it's a sport that they don't have extreme comfort in. And it's a little bit outside of their daily life. And I think that because of that it makes them a little less sure of themselves.
And it's just different. And you asked me about 17. The closest thing I can compare it to is 17 at the PLAYERS Championship, the par-3, 17 that iconic hole. And I think players look forward to 17 here like that one. They're very different and obviously the stakes are different and tournaments are different, but the fun and festivity.
The setting, the grandstand setting they have at the PLAYERS Championship for 17 is awesome. And from what I've seen here, it's sort of that same party atmosphere, party vibe, and I think the players really feed off of it. You see Ray Allen shooting 3s, sitting down, and Steph throwing balls into the water, everybody just loves it.
JON MILLER: The guy who wins every year for having the most fun is clearly Charles Barkley. I can't say enough how important he is to this event.
Charles came here when we started the event back in the early '90s and shot in the low to mid-80s. And, sadly, the game is so hard, he lost his swing.
He still comes back. He played two years ago with two bad hips. He postponed having surgery until he could come here and play and then went and immediately had surgery. I think the world of him.
I think this community knows how giving and generous he is and how much he means to this event.
So my feeling is the guy who wins every year is Charles Barkley.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports