Verne Lundquist misses calling college football and basketball games. “Big time,” he said.
But there still are two events on his annual work schedule, totaling a mere eight days on the air – “It’s not heavy lifting,” he said – and he remains a big-time presence on both.
The first is the Masters, site of iconic calls of shots by Jack Nicklaus in 1986 and Tiger Woods in 2005, and likely the last thing he ever would give up professionally.
The second is the PGA Championship, which at Bethpage Black for the first time means a short turnaround after his annual visit to Augusta.
So there he was on Wednesday, appearing at a news conference with other members of CBS’ tournament team, ready for another week in the spotlight before getting back to retirement until next April.
Lundquist said he stepped away from college football after the 2016 season and college basketball in 2017 for fear of overstaying.
“It was time,” he told Newsday. “I did not want to make the mistake of staying one year too long, and we all know guys who have. It’s so intense that it can be fraught with peril. So I escaped unscathed.”
When CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus asked whether he would like to continue working Augusta and the PGA, Lundquist responded, “Yes, I’d still like to work Augusta and the PGA. It was easy for me to say, absolutely.”
Lundquist will be stationed at the 17th hole this week. Ian Baker-Finch was supposed to work that hole but left for Australia because of two deaths in his family.
The shortened time frame for the two tournaments starting this year makes it easier for Lundquist to plan the rest of his life, he said.
He and his wife, Nancy, live primarily in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. But they also bought a condominium in downtown Austin, Texas, Lundquist’s hometown, and spend time there, too. He will head there after Sunday’s final round.
Lundquist was, and is, a popular figure with sports fans and said he still is recognized, just not as frequently as he used to be.
“It’s very heartwarming,” he said. “I can do a four-hour flight and I’m an anonymous passenger, but if I’m here or Augusta or particularly an SEC site, people are generous and thank God, I think I rode out on a wave of good will.”
Lundquist, 78, had major back surgery in November 2017 and this summer is due for a follow-up procedure.
“I looked like Frankenstein,” he said. “I’ve got screws on either side.”
But he said he is in reasonably good health. “I keep reading obituaries to make sure I’m not in one,” he said.
Lundquist’s last NCAA Tournament game was a regional final between South Carolina against Florida at Madison Square Garden.
“I said [on the air], ‘I never dreamed I’d ever say this again, but welcome to the SEC on CBS,’’’ he said. “It got a giggle.”
Lundquist stayed away from SEC football in 2017 to give his successor, Brad Nessler, and his old partner, Gary Danielson, space. But he went to a game last year and plans to attend Notre Dame at Georgia in September.
“Gary called me last year and said, ‘So how are you spending Saturdays?’ ” Lundquist said. “I said, ‘I’m emulating millions of others. At 3:30 Eastern Time I hear the theme song, I get an iced tea, put my feet up on the couch and when you come on I start screaming at you: Why would you say that?!' "