As the voice of The Masters, one figures Jim Nantz had tremendous leverage negotiating his appearance in the first video game featuring the tournament. Nantz paused considering that, reluctant to speak for an institution he treasures, one that prizes discretion.
"A lot of that came from Augusta National, I believe," Nantz told Kotaku on Thursday, "But please, check with them, or EA Sports."
Was Nantz's presence a requirement of the fabled golf club's license in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters? Officially, EA Sports told Kotaku, "it was a mutual decision between EA and Augusta National to secure Jim Nantz to be a part of the commentary team."
But given the club's close relationship with Nantz and his history leading CBS's broadcast of The Masters, one could imagine that all parties - Augusta National, EA Sports, and Nantz - felt it equally imperative to have Nantz in the game. Even if the club required Nantz in the game as a condition of their license, well, that would hardly be arm-twisting either EA Sports or Nantz.
For EA Sports, producing The Masters Tournament in a golf video game without Nantz would be like telling gamers they get all of Augusta National - except, maybe, hole No. 14. For Nantz, who has spent 25 years in the CBS broadcast tower over No. 18, being the host of The Masters - even in a video game - is a personally important assignment.
"Nothing is a bigger honor," Nantz said, than hosting The Masters. He's also called two Super Bowls and the the Final Four of college basketball for 20 years. "It follows me everywhere I go. Not a day goes by, so help me, that I don't have someone come up to me, smiling and asking me a question about The Masters."
These are the people Nantz, 51, will be introducing to Augusta National for the first and possibly only opportunities they will ever have to play the course.
"I'm not into hyperbole - forgive me if this sounds that way, but I really do get it, that this course for many is like finding the Holy Grail of golf," Nantz said.
In the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series, most play the game as themselves, rather than as Woods or any of the golfers licensed to appear in the game. It makes it somewhat tricky to call, as the importance of a golf tournament builds over four days in the real world, and a golfer's performance in the previous tournament, previous major, or previous year forms the context of so much Sunday drama.
Nantz couldn't prepare a script addressing the personal story of millions of virtual golfers, of course. His commentary, also, wasn't recorded sequentially, it was often dozens of lines about the same type of shot before moving on to the next situation. To keep it in character, he just went to a special place in mind.
"What I really did, for four days in the fall, I would just close my eyes, and, mentally, it felt like I was sitting at Augusta National in the tower over the 18th hole," Nantz said. "I imagined what I saw, and let the lines come out naturally.
"You know how it is," said Nantz, who also has supplied commentary for the Golden Tee arcade game. "You go through two hours of lines, hitting a shot out of the bunker, reaction shots to that, then five hours of putting situations. When we're calling a tournament live, it's all extemporaneous. Nothing's scripted, I'm a paid observer and I tell people what I see. So I had to close my eyes and imagine someone out there, in this tournament, maybe his first tournament."
Nick Wlodyka, the game's executive producer, told Kotaku last week that Nantz co-designed his script. At this, Nantz laughed modestly. "Nick's being very nice when he says that, it was a collaboration," Nantz said. "There was a script in front of me, with thousands of lines, but when I read a line, it sometimes would steer me to a different thought, maybe phrase something a different way."
Nantz supplied original content, he just did it by, well, freestyling the delivery.
"I'd be veering off the script," Nantz said. "There was a staccato, one-line-at-a-time delivery, but for maybe eight scripted lines I'd do four or five of my own," Nantz said. "I'd look back and notice they had each one of those lines coded for where it goes in the game. I'd say ‘Is that OK?' and they'd go, ‘We love it when you do that.'"
Unlike traditional voice work in a sports title, often fixated on the current season or its top performers, Nantz understood his job here was to narrate something very personal to those playing the game.
"It's like a religious experience. I know that, because I hear that from people all the time," Nantz said. "If this game gives them the opportunity to finally play Augusta National, to give them an experience that is real to them, and I'm there because I've been their tour guide at The Masters for the past 25 years, it will be just as nice for me."