WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — Legendary CBS announcer Jim Nantz never plays favorites, whether he’s doing a Final Four game or a golf tournament.
But he knows a dramatic moment when he sees one, and he envisions how it would be if part-time Greenbrier Sporting Club resident Bubba Watson won the Greenbrier Classic.
Nantz, emcee of the Neighbors Loving Neighbors luncheon Tuesday, painted the picture as only he can do.
“There’s this confluence of a great sporting event approaching, with a wonderful story,” Nantz told the audience. “Great event and a great story coming together. That story, this week, no matter who wins, is going to be a dynamic, great moment.
“But can you imagine what it’s going to be like if that champion is Bubba Watson?”
As CBS and Golf Channel crews continued setting up for the tournament which begins Thursday, Nantz came to town early to get a jump on the network’s many stories of tragedy, and of the recovery.
“Yes, we’re going to cover a golf tournament; let’s not kid ourselves,” he said after the luncheon. “But we’re going to be coming in and out of commercials with the stories we want to tell, and I’m in early this week to start working on some of those stories.”
At least one story will center on Watson and his wife Angie, and their relief efforts. The Watsons have their stories to tell, both horrific and uplifting.
They were at their West Virginia home on June 23, 2016 when Howard’s Creek, which runs through White Sulphur Springs and the Old White TPC course, raged well above all previous levels.
The next day, Bubba was in the office of future governor Jim Justice, participating in flood relief planning. The Watsons’ camouflage-colored truck — Bubba describes it as “mean” and “bulletproof” — was put to use in otherwise inaccessible areas.
Eventually, Bubba had to go back to work. As he went to Akron, Ohio, for the Bridgestone Invitational, Angie stayed in Greenbrier County, earning a “superstar” compliment from Nantz.
Angie Watson learned about flood mud, and the difficulty in cleaning up a house covered in it. But she also learned about West Virginia hospitality.
“What people I helped did for me was more astounding than what I could have done for them,” she said. “It was the definition of true biblical hospitality and love. I walked into people’s houses that had lost everything a couple of days before, and they had coffee for me. They had lunch for me.
“They showed me love. They were so happy to have me. To me, that’s the true definition of love and what West Virginia’s all about.”
As the Watsons returned, they were delighted to see familiar faces, and a more upbeat town welcoming the tournament back. Bubba is trying to regain the form that made him one of the stars of the sport.
In his last six events, he has missed four cuts but finished fifth and sixth in the others. He briefly led on Sunday a month ago at the Memorial Tournament.
As Nantz notes, most of Bubba’s nine tournament wins, including two at the Masters, have aired on CBS.
“I think his game is rounding into shape,” Nantz said. “Look, he’s in a really good place in his life right now — he’s got two beautiful kids, an unbelievably supportive wife. He doesn’t want to miss a minute with his kids.
“It hasn’t been the year that he wanted it to be, but one week we’re going to wake up and he’s going to be walking off with the trophy. It might as well be this week.”
Nantz has broadcast every Greenbrier Classic since the tournament began in 2010, and fell in love with the place from the start.
“There are a lot of 72-hole, stroke-play golf tournaments we do, almost 20,” Nantz said. “But you know, this tournament has always a little bit different for us to broadcast, because of the pride that’s in this state. I’ve tried to represent that.
“I don’t know if there’s anyplace we go that takes such ownership of an event. Not just Greenbrier County; I’m talking about the whole state feels like this is a showcase for them.
“I realized that the very first time I came here, 2010. I went to speak to some folks at the hospitality tents. Over and over again, they said, ‘Say nice things about West Virginia, say this means a lot to us.’ And I felt a responsibility to do that.
“Some major cities you go into, it’s another big sporting event. In West Virginia’s case, this is arguably one of the biggest national exposures of the year. Look, I relish the chance to document it, to handle it with the right finesse and touch and sensitivity, and I think this weekend’s shows will reflect that.”
He expects an emotional trophy presentation on Sunday, which he will handle a few minutes after CBS signs off.
“The champion, regardless of whether it’s Bubba or not, is going to feel a certain ownership of this being a significant victory, bigger than themselves,” Nantz said. “And I expect that when that eventual champion is interviewed, they’re going to reflect that in their comments.”
But what if Watson wins?
“In my 32 years, that would be one of the greatest stories I’ve ever had a chance to tell,” Nantz said.