From the PGA Tour to the TV booth
Steve Melnykís life has been centered around golf. A Brunswick, Ga. native, he was a top high school and college player and his amateur career included championships of the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur. He played on the PGA Tour for 11 years, finishing second five times, and since has been broadcasting the game as well as designing and operating courses. The 55-year-old is the president of the Riverside Golf Group, which manages Windsor Parke and the Champions Club at Julington Creek. He and his wife, Debbie, live in Ortega and have two sons, Dalton and Butler. He spoke last month with Daily Record editorial director Fred Seely.
Question: Whatís your TV deal this year?
Answer: I just signed a new 4-year contract with ABC; Iíll do 21 events. This is my 21st year ó I spent 10 years with CBS and now this is my 11th with ABC. My role will change a little; instead of always being in the booth, Iíll be on the ground more often, walking with the lead group.
A: No, just different. It requires me to react quicker to each situation. I have to worry more about the shot, the set-up, the wind.
Q: What tournaments?
A: A good mix and I really like that. We have PGA Tour, ladies, senior and amateur. My love is amateur events. We have the Walker Cup. Iíll do the Mid-Am, too.
Q: Your anchor is Mike Tirico. You like him?
A: The best. Nothing against others Iíve worked with, and Iíve worked with people like Pat Summerall, Jim McKay, Vin Scully and Brent Musberger, but Mike works hard and prepares well. When they hired him 5-6 years ago, I thought that was the dumbest thing they could do. I worked with him one week and I realized it was the smartest thing.
Q: How did you get into TV?
A: I hurt my elbow and I realized my playing career may be over. I always liked broadcasting, so I called CBS. They turned me down twice, then gave me a chance.
Q: Your debut?
A: The 1982 Players Championship. I was paired in a booth with Tony Trabert. I was awful, but I guess they saw something, and they worked with me.
Q: What did you have to learn?
A: If you talk, talk in snippets. You have to remember that you donít get paid by the word. Silence is a wonderful accompaniment to golf.
Q: And pay attention.
A: Yes, keep up with the action ó the words have to go along with the pictures. Doesnít it irk you when youíre watching one thing and it seems like the announcer doesnít know it?
A: Well, some guys still havenít figured it out.
Q: You have a distinctive voice on air.
A: I really donít think so, but people recognize me by my voice, so I guess I do.
Q: Is it a good TV voice?
A: Guess so. They havenít asked me to do voice training.
Q: Do people know you? Are you famous?
A: No, at least I donít try and be famous. But people remember me for winning the U.S. and British amateurs.
Q: Youíre regarded well for being so prepared. What do you do?
A: I subscribe to an Internet news service. Sort of a clip service. A lady compiles stories from all over the world and puts out a daily report. It takes a half hour, maybe longer, to read it, but itís great information and worth the time. I donít retain everything, but I know that Iíve read something and know where to find it.
Q: How do you assess the health of the PGA Tour?
A: Solid. Healthy. Good young players coming up. The Tour has weathered the economic downturn.
Q: Any negatives?
A: Iím concerned that the growth pattern canít be sustained. The purses are way up there, and itís gotten expensive. Iím going to Los Angeles; the Nissan people have a $7 million annual commitment to that tournament. Thatís a big chunk.
Q: The obligatory question: how about Tiger Woods?
A: Unbelievable. There is an insatiable demand for him. Weíre embarrassed about the amount of air time we give him, but people want it. Someone did a survey and it showed he was the third best-known person in the world, after the Pope and the president.
Q: But doesnít TV overdo it? Itís nothing but Tiger.
A: In the British Open two years ago at St. Andrews, we showed every one of his shots. Every one. Some were on tape, but nonetheless you saw Ďem all. Last year, at Muirfield, we were doing the same thing until he shot that 81 in the third round. He was out of it and we backed off in the final round.
Q: Your sales people agree?
A: They want more Tiger. An example: we did the Hartford tournament last year and it had a great leaderboard. Mickelson, Love, others. It drew a 3 (rating.) The next week at Westchester, Tiger played. We got a 6. Double the audience.
Q: You love your job. Downsides?
A: The travel. Golf tournaments arenít all played at places like Westchester (outside New York City.) We have to go to some places that arenít vacation spots. I get tired of eating out, too. Itís nice to be home, either eating there or at the club [Timuquana] which is a home away from home.
Q: Your PGA Tour career ... not bad?
A: No, I donít have any regrets. I played 10 years and almost won a few. Finished second five times, three times by one shot. Twice I lost when a guy birdied the last hole. I had more years left, but I hurt my elbow [in a fall] and that was it. But thatís old news; I donít live in the past.
Q: Howís your golf game?
A: Par. I can still play.
Q: Best round lately?
A: I had a 69 at Sea Island, a very difficult course.
Q: Senior PGA Tour ... er, Champions Tour?
A: No. I have too many other things going on.
Q: Would you take an exemption into a tournament?
A: No. Iím not going to take a spot that someone else should have.
Q: But you have played in senior Opens.
A: Yes, but for another reason. I played in the U.S. Senior Open and the British Senior Open because I was eligible, but the main reason was that I wanted to play with my sons as caddies. Dalton caddied at one, Butler at the other. Then I re-retired from competition.
Q: Youíve talked about regaining your amateur status. Any hope?
A: Iím afraid not. The USGA says I played too long and too well.
Q: How much do you play?
A: Not a lot. With friends. Iíll walk nine holes in the evening. I play with my sons.
Q: They are good players.
A: Very good. Theyíre better than me, but Iím smarter. I wish I could get through to them about the mental side.
Q: Theyíre college players?
A: Dalton is finishing Florida this year. Heís on the golf team. Butler was there, but it wasnít the right place for him. That happens. I got on the phone and made some inquiries and a lot of people wanted him. It came down to Georgia and Georgia Tech, and he chose Georgia.
Q: The son of the immediate past president of Gator Boosters chose Georgia?
A: Yes. Iíll get over it (laughs.)
Q: How do you fit the Gators in with all the travel you do?
A: It isnít easy. Last year was particularly difficult, because there are so many things a Gator Booster president must do. ABC was great; they understood, and worked my schedule around the Gator obligations.
Q: How many football games will you see this year?
A: All but one home game. Iíll make a few road games. A lot of basketball games. Iím on the University Athletic Association board, so I have an ongoing commitment.
Q: Ron Zook?
A: The right man to be our football coach. Heís a great guy, a different kind of guy. Someone said heís the only 48-year-old who needs Ritalin. Heís doing a great job; the kids love him.
Q: Billy Donovan?
A: Heíll stay and our basketball will keep getting better. We just built him one of the best practice facilities anywhere. Heís committed to Gainesville.
Q: Steve Spurrier?
A: A good friend. We talk a lot.
Q: The Jaguars?
A: Iím a fan, but I donít go to games. You get just so many hall passes [from his wife] during a football season (laughs.)
Q: Favorite course ... anywhere.
A: If I had one course for one round, it would be Cypress Point. Chicago Golf Club would be next. Put Pinehurst No. 2 in there, too.
Q: Favorite Tour course.
A: Westchester. Old, short, tight.
Q: Any other?
A: Weíre sitting at one ó Timuquana. This is a wonderful club, a wonderful course. Iím proud to be a member. Iíll come out and walk nine holes, carrying my bag. Itís heaven.
Q: How about the course architecture side of your business?
A: Not a time to be in that business now. Maybe Iíll get back into it. Iíve done a few courses. Here, I helped at Magnolia Point and I did the second nine at Julington Creek. I did a project with Tom Fazio and he and I are talking about doing another one.
Q: Too many courses?
A: Too many, and theyíre being built for the wrong reasons. Developers now view golf as an amenity, just another part of the real estate deal.
Q: And your business?
A: Right now, we only have the two local courses. Our offices are at the beach. I got tired of paying downtown rent prices and bought a piece of land in the Marsh Landing business park, and put up a building. Good investment.