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Original Issue

Q+A: Ernie Johnson After 12 years as TNT's NBA studio host, the hip hoopster takes his game to the British Open

SI: You'll be in the booth providing coverage of the first two
rounds at Royal St. George's, as well as early-morning commentary
on the weekends. What's the biggest difference between working
with Charles Barkley in Atlanta and Bobby Clampett in England?

EJ: One of them has a filter between his mind and his mouth.
Charles was born without that. They both know their stuff, but I
enjoy the serenity of the 18th tower. I can say five words
without hearing about how big my forehead is or being asked, "How
are things going in Mayberry?"

SI: You look pretty fly on the Inside the NBA set. What's the
sartorial adjustment for golf?

EJ: Sartorial does not apply in golf. In basketball I'm trying to
hang with Charles and Magic and Kenny Smith. In golf it's a
Century 21 kind of look, the standard-issue blazer with the TNT
logo on the left pocket.

SI: How do you change your on-air style from hoops to golf?

EJ: It's the country club versus Rucker Park. In basketball we
are constantly interrupting each other. We talk whenever we get
sick of hearing the other guy's voice. In golf, if we happen to
interrupt each other, we apologize. We're a much more courteous
bunch in the 18th tower.

SI: What's your golf background?

EJ: My dad got me playing when I was nine, and I'd go to the
Atlanta Classic every year. I play left-handed, so I always liked
to watch Bob Charles.

SI: Were you a better golfer or basketball player?

EJ: I had a stellar basketball career: a couple years of jayvee.
I was on the bomb squad--if we were up 20 points or down 20,
Coach would look down the bench and say, "Hey, Johnson, you're in
there." I'm not great at golf, but when I play regularly, I can
shoot in the 80s, which is fine for a guy who for a long time was
shooting a radio station, you know, Lite 107.

SI: Have you ever played with Sir Charles?

EJ: Charles and I mean to play but haven't yet. He keeps telling
me how badly he's going to can me. I say, "Chuck, I've seen your
swing." He says, "Oh, I only swing like that in front of people.
When I'm with friends, I hit it like a god." I think what has
happened is that he has watched a couple of instructional videos
where they have stopped the action in certain points, and he
thinks you're actually supposed to stop like that too. Kenny
says, "You know what? He has to be an athlete to still make
contact after what he does."

COLOR PHOTO: GREG FOSTER GETTING SERIOUS A trip to England means that EJ will ditch theflashy threads in favor of a network blazer.