Jim Nelford has dreamed about the Masters his whole life, and
last week he finally made his debut in the event. But the debut
wasn't on the course. It was above it--about 20 feet above it,
in the CBS TV tower behind the 17th green. Nelford, who had a
winless PGA Tour career from 1978 to '91, was the announcer who
replaced Gary McCord.
Nelford, 39, considers the CBS assignment the first really good
break he has received in golf in a long time. ``Maybe the golf
gods have a sense of humor after all,'' he said while sitting
atop the tower. ``My career has been a series of ugly twists.''
The ugliest twist in Nelford's playing career came on the last
day of the '84 Bing Crosby National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach.
Nelford was in the clubhouse with a one-shot lead over Hale
Irwin, who was on the tee at the par-5 18th. Irwin snap-hooked
his drive into Carmel Bay, only to have it bounce off a rock
back onto the fairway. ``Probably the luckiest break a golfer's
ever gotten,'' says Nelford. Irwin's third shot, a wedge, took
one hop, hit the flagstick and stopped five feet from the cup.
Irwin holed the birdie putt and beat Nelford in sudden death.
In July 1985, Nelford nearly was killed in a water skiing
accident on Saguaro Lake near Phoenix. He was treading water
when the boat that had been pulling him suddenly came roaring
toward him from 15 feet away. No one knows whether the driver
accidentally pressed the accelerator or the engine malfunctioned
and started on its own. Says Nelford, ``My last thought was, Get
to one side of the boat or you're dead.''
Nelford moved quickly enough to avoid a direct hit, but the
boat's rotor did tear into his right arm between the hand and
elbow. ``I should have been shredded,'' says Nelford. As it was,
the bones, cartilage and tendons in his arm were damaged so
badly that the doctors wanted to amputate. Nelford was
unconscious, but his mother, Frances, said no. ``My boy's a
golfer,'' she cried. ``Save the arm, please.''
Doctors put 13 screws in the arm and reattached tendons,
cartilage and nerves. Miraculously, Nelford was able to play
golf after only five months, but his game never recovered, and
he floundered on the Tour. Nelford had done occasional golf
telecasts in his native Canada, and in 1991 he abandoned the
Tour for good when ESPN hired him as a full-time on-course
commentator. He soon became known for his terse, incisive and
``It's never my intention to be the show--the golf's the show,''
says Nelford in his soft, gravelly voice. When Frank Chirkinian,
the producer and director of golf at CBS, dropped McCord for the
Masters last summer, his first choices as replacements were Dave
Marr and Andy North. But neither was available; Marr was in
negotiations with NBC, and North's contract with ESPN prevented
him from changing networks. So Chirkinian hired Nelford to work
for CBS at the World Series of Golf, the Presidents Cup, the
Masters and this year's PGA. Then in January, the Golf Channel
hired him to be its chief analyst at men's tournaments.
Nelford handled his first Masters telecast well, but even before
last week he had so impressed Chirkinian that the CBS chief
talks openly of trying to lure him away from the Golf Channel.
``Nellie's got that savvy from his days as a player,'' says
Chirkinian. ``He's frightfully good-looking, he's got a keen
sense of humor and he's a damn nice guy.''
-- Rick Lipsey
COLOR PHOTO: JACQUELINE DUVOISIN[Jim Nelford.]