How Mike Tirico became the most skilled ‘amateur’ in Masters history
Rest assured, Mike Tirico is the most skilled amateur in Masters history. It doesn’t look like it.
On Thursday, when Tirico arrives at Augusta National, he won’t join his fellow amateurs sleeping in the Crow’s Nest. His dinner plans for next Wednesday night — traditionally the night of Augusta National’s amateur welcome dinner — remain open. And then there’s the topic of his Augusta National tee time which, so far, is non-existent.
But by far the biggest complication with Tirico’s amateur bid for the Masters is that, well, he isn’t one. Tirico, 55, is perhaps the most professional sports media personality in the world; a man whose individual skills as a television host, interviewer and broadcaster play-by-play would put it among the best in the world in every category. He’s been going to Augusta for most of the last quarter century; a tradition that began with ESPN with Tiger Woods’ historic victory in 1997, and has continued in recent years with NBC. In 2022, he will also be the voice of the masters of SiriusXM, calling the event on radio for the second time.
A short reading of Masters history reveals that Tirico will be the first to simultaneously take on all three tournament broadcast roles (host, interviewer, play-by-player). Of course, Tirico is well equipped to handle the load. Augusta National is notoriously obsessed with its precious hours of media exposure, and the club wouldn’t dare trust just any amateur. But when it comes to calling the action, Tirico admits, the Masters are their own beast entirely.
“That’s probably the most unique set of circumstances to call an event for a play-by-play announcer,” Tirico told the Hot Mic. “Because of the location, the number of competitors and the number of balloons in the air at the same time. Also, the variety of people you work with: course reporters, analysts, hole announcers. It provides the most unique set of circumstances in the collective of all sports.
Ultimately, calling the Masters is a bit like participating in it. Those with experience and institutional knowledge end up with a big advantage.
For those without institutional experience and knowledge? Just like amateurs – start practicing, studying…and hoping.
“I can be more anticipatory in other sports, because you watch him play in front of you,” Tirico said. “Whereas in golf, if you cancel a monitor, you have to watch out for 13, 12, 10, before you get to 18. You’re watching a few different holes. You won’t see it all unfold until the broadcast.
In football, I can watch as the analysts do a replay, ‘Who’s in? Who exit ? In hockey, I can look away to see a line change. In basketball, off the fastbreak, I can see the coach making moves on the other side to replace the point guard who just turned him over,” he continued. “There are so many different things in golf. I think golf is played at such a level now that people don’t enjoy it as much as they would, it’s the only sport that if you sit in the production truck and watch it, you you’ll never look at it the same way again.
The midrange is an added wrinkle. It’s not entirely uncommon for top TV sports broadcasters to add radio assignments, but there is a difference between the two platforms. For broadcasters, calling an event for radio is a bit like speaking in a dialect – radio requires a more active hand (using precise verbiage to describe the action); while television is more about directing the direction and content of the broadcast.
“I would still consider myself a complete amateur in that part of the broadcast because I’ve only done it once,” Tirico said. “But I regularly listen in the car. I’m always very impressed with how you can follow golf on the radio. You can really do that and keep the listener captivated.
In his first Masters radio show, Tirico’s voice paints a little piece of golf history. It was 2019, and Tirico watched millions of listeners as Woods charged into the back nine at Augusta National to capture his fifth green jacket. But in some ways, that experience did little to prepare him for this year’s event. It’s easy to attract an audience when the greatest player of a generation is fighting in ways the unthinkable, but what about when there’s a tie at 12 at two o’clock to noon on Thursday?
“It was almost like everyone around us felt like they were about to see history happen,” Tirico admits.
Again, it’s all Mastery. History and disbelief are part of tournament tradition. That’s part of the challenge for Tirico, but it’s also part of the fun.
“That’s the most disappointing thing for broadcasters because we want to be able to describe things in great detail,” Tirico says. “When you get to Augusta, invariably the first thing you say is, ‘Oh my God, it’s hillier than I’ve ever seen.’ Right?You look, and you say “oh my God”.
Between his roles for NBC and SiriusXM, it’s possible no one’s voice covers more hours of The Masters than Tirico’s. It’s also possible that no one is better equipped to tell the story of the tournament week.
“It’s the only job that people will say to you, ‘I can take a nap while you work’, and that’s supposed to be a compliment,” Tirico laughs. “While The Masters is one of the most important events you stream in any sport, it’s also one of the easiest because of the inherent knowledge of the place and the people. Every time you can be involved with Augusta National, that’s a simple yes. You don’t have to ask for time to think about it.
Not too shabby… for an amateur.