Gary Koch is in his 12th season as a full-time course reporter for NBC Sports. He started his broadcasting career in 1990 as a Senior PGA Tour reporter for ESPN before joining NBC in 1997. Koch, who moved to Tampa when he was 15 and attended King High and the University of Florida, also has enjoyed a successful PGA and Champions Tour career. He has won six times on the PGA Tour since becoming a full-time player in 1975. Koch, 56, joined the 50-and-over tour in 2003. He was home on Monday for the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am media day. Koch, who was in contention last year before tying for 12th, is the official host this year for the April 17-19 Champions Tour event in Lutz. Sunday, he had a front-row seat for Tiger Woods' 18th-hole win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Was it at all surprising what Tiger did on Sunday?
After watching the stuff I've seen from him over the last 10 years, nothing surprises me. You almost have to say, if you had to bet your life on a situation like that, you'd bet on him. Because of my age and the generation I played, I've held onto the belief that (Jack) Nicklaus was the best that ever played. But in the last couple years, (Woods) is clearly the best that has ever played.
Do you think it's true that players in the final group with Tiger tend to melt?
Sean O'Hair (who took a five-shot lead into Sunday) was trying to say all the right things, but the bottom line is it's easier said than done. When you're right there next to him, it's awesome to see what he is capable of doing. He starts making these putts or these shots that you have the sense nobody else can do. Then it's like, wait a minute, how do I beat this guy? The problem is that most guys try to play perfect golf, then you usually end up making mistakes.
Did Nicklaus have the same affect on your generation?
I hate to beat on the younger generation of players, but it seems like in my generation there were more guys that would at least challenge Nicklaus. They could perform when they had the opportunity. (Tom) Watson took him down several times. Arnold (Palmer) did it. (Lee) Trevino did it. Raymond Floyd did it. They didn't get it done all the time, but at least occasionally they got it done. … I'm a little prejudice because it was my generation, but they had more of their own swings. Homemade swings. They developed them by beating them out of the dirt and playing money games. Now you've got this new generation and they all learned to play by swinging the club. They've all got teachers. But your teacher isn't holding your hand when you're on the 16th fairway. You've got to be able to produce something that is comfortable to you. I don't see enough of that with the young guys right now.
You've scaled back your playing schedule in the past few years. Will you continue to play in the upcoming years or focus on announcing full time?
I still enjoy the competition. I like putting myself in that position to see if I can perform. I think once you've done it, you enjoy getting back in that situation. The other part of it, I think it helps my announcing. It helps you to remember that the game is very difficult. Sometimes I listen to Johnny (Miller), who I work with, and he gets in the habit of saying, "That's an easy putt.'' Ya know what, there aren't that many easy putts. A guy's got an 8-foot putt and it breaks a little right to left. It's not terribly difficult, but it's not an easy putt. It means something. He doesn't play anymore competitive golf. I think that filters in sometimes. He says things that players don't like. That's why I like to play a handful of tournaments. I know that sometimes I can't hit it left, but I do. I hit it in the water. It helps my perspective. And I guarantee you it garners a little respect from the players that I'm talking about.
So you will play about five or six tournaments a year?
I played in Naples and did okay (tied for 29th). I play here in the Outback, I'll play in Birmingham (Regions Charity Classic, May 15-17), the Dick's Sporting Goods event in New York (June 26-28), where I was tied for second last year, and the Senior British Open (July 23-26). Hopefully one more after that. About five or six a year is about right.
Who is the better golfer/announcer, you or Gary McCord?
When we're playing well it's probably pretty even. I'll always check to see how he's playing. Usually when he's playing, I'm doing telecasts, and when I'm playing, he has telecasts. He's a little like me, erratic at times, which is to be expected.
Rodney Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or (727) 893-8810.