Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Frank Nobilo

Below you will find a fantastic Q&A with Frank Nobilo.  Frank comes out of New Zealand.  I didn't have the guts to ask him any sheep questions, I did throw many questions at him.  Depending on your age you either know Frank as a golf channel announcer or a former world class player who was derailed by injury and now is a world class commentator.  Frank goes into great detail on some of his answers, which in my opinion is fantastic.  I love asking questions and enjoy even more detailed responses.  The Pirate, his given nickname on Tour, could golf his ball during his playing days.  He was truly a world class player as he played all over the world.  Frank won 15 times during his professional career, and won 2 major amateur tournaments.  Personally I enjoy listening to him on the Golf Channel. He is knowledgable, prepared, experienced, and not afraid to let Brandel know he's wrong.  Plus the watches he wears are pretty sweet.  The time and effort Frank spent answers the questions from a helmet like me tells me a lot about how sincere a person he is.  Ok, enough with the brown nosing, lets dive into the Q&A.

Who introduced you to the game of golf?

My parents had a beach house at Piha Beach in New Zealand and there were a few old golf clubs left in there when they bought it. I would occasionally take the clubs out and hit along the iron sand beach, but I didn't play my first round of golf until I was 13.  My two best friends at the time, Chris Treen and Mark Lewis were my partners in crime that day. The course was Chamberlain Park, a public venue that had supposedly hosted Nicklaus and Palmer in the 60's.  Chris's parents had got him into golf early on so he was well versed in the game I on the other hand was playing every other sport except Golf. Mark, younger brother of Chris Lewis was on his way to following his older brother’s career in tennis. We ran out of daylight that first day, (people played slowly in those days as well!) but I do remember shooting 101 for 15 holes. It was more than enough to wet my appetite and make me want to play again.

How old where you when you decided you wanted to play golf professionally for a living?

My parents divorced when I was 17. By the time I was 16 I had quickly got down to scratch, engrossed in the game part distraction and part lifeline. While the game ticked so many boxes the thought of turning professional didn't happen until the following year. I played my first New Zealand amateur in 1978. The week was like a dream and I won the 36 hole final 10 and 8 over a very experienced Peter Maude on May 14th, my 18th birthday . The Eisenhower was also in 1978 and getting picked to represent New Zealand was an opportunity to see the best amateurs in the world and it was after that when I knew Professional Golf was where I wanted to be. 

What’s a few differences about Australia and New Zealand, both in the culture and the people?

While New Zealand and Australia sit so far out in the Pacific there are commonalities that we aren't necessarily proud of. Upon meeting an Antipodean for the first time, that chip on the shoulder mentality that both countries have can easily be taken the wrong way but once you see past that, most of what you hear really is water off a duck’s back .... Quintessential laid back. Growing up a Kiwi so close to that large continent Australia, it was hard not to be envious of how prolific they were in so many different sports. Golf was no exception, playing in the Australasian junior series I got to see first-hand their fabulous courses and wealth of talent. But it didn't take long to realize that their open-door policy aided my own development and I’ve lost count of the number of times one of those "across the pond brethren" came to my defense. 

Tell me something about Frank Nobilo that maybe us golf nerds don’t know? (can be anything, not necessarily golf related)

Personal Trivia:  None of my family had ever picked up a golf club prior to me playing golf; My first ever golf coach was a woman ... Gillian Bannan.  Every now and again I would go for a lesson and I would leave with a book on golf course architecture ... she believed in educating the mind; Love taking things apart to see how they work. It often backfires and we would finish up having to buy a new one. My wife takes it in her stride now, it used to drive her crazy but as I have managed to fix the odd thing my stock has gone up. I build my own desktop computers ... I call them rocket ships; Love photography, Motor Racing and Tennis. Because golf was a winter game in New Zealand I only ever got to see the All Blacks (Greatest Rugby team on the Planet) play live once and that was at Twickenham of all places ... even that's a long story.

Do you read a lot?  If so fiction, non-fiction?  Favorite subject?

I start each year about 20 books behind. I'm a great reader of chapters, not necessarily the whole book ... consequently most of what I read is nonfiction. As a kid growing up my library card was like gold dust. As I moved from sport to sport I would get out every book I could on the subject. Golf with all its changes in eras, technology and equipment is perfect for the inquisitive mind. I’ve lost count of the times I've picked up a book to just read about one particular part of the swing or for example, why Jack Nicklaus never grounded his club at address.

Who if anyone mentored you early in your professional golf career?

Mentorship in golf or life is essential. Coaches; Three will always stand out. Gillian Bannan my first, Alex Mercer (who coached Elkington as a junior) was very instrumental in my decision to turn pro at 19 and Denis Pugh who I played my best golf under.  Player mentors are equally important. Terry Kendall who was a marvelous striker of the ball, allowed me to play practice rounds with him when I was still a wet nosed amateur schooling me by example. When you see a ball struck properly it stays in your mind forever. The Australian Billy Dunk held more course records than anybody at one stage. But the little man from Gosford was huge in my books, organizing practice rounds with the Thompsons and Nagles of the world so I could be in the company of men who knew how to get the job done. My tenure in Europe was aided by South African John Bland who provided a gateway to that other Rugby loving nation and laughter along the way. A book on John Bland would rival that great book on tennis in the 60's "Handful of Summers" by Gordon Forbes.

Is Johnny Miller misunderstood?  He seems to get a bad rap amongst the players, but I loved listening to him.

Three players I admired growing up … heroes in fact, were Nicklaus, Weiskopf and Miller. The ‘75 Masters probably had a lot to do with it. I got to play with Nicklaus and Weiskopf but never Miller … but I can say I worked with him as a broadcaster. In his TV role he is a pioneer, not unlike a Longhurst. Colour commentators I believe fit in one of three categories: those that talk about what they have just seen (past) those that talk about what is happening (present) and the crystal ballers (future).  Two sports that I am very familiar with - Rugby and Cricket had their Bill McClarens and Richie Benauds to set the standard. There are many that have tried to go down the Longhurst route, the most successful being the genius in Peter Allis but as far as American Colour commentary Johnny Miller with his crystal ball, set the benchmark. His love for the swing and distinct belief in the way in which the game should be played always rings loud in his work.  Descriptive with his words .... “Powder burn” while describing a bunker shot is a nice departure from our stat driven world. In my snapshot of Johnny’s world, three things come to mind 1) there is no deliberate malice in his announcing,2) there is no attempt to play a role to strike a nerve and 3) honest .... forever a pioneer.

The prep work that goes into ‘Live From’ always amazes me.  You must have a tireless team behind the scenes.  Do the analysis like yourself ask someone to provide stats on certain topics/players or are you pulling all that information out yourself?  I imagine Justin Ray plays some role?

My first year at the Golf Channel was 2004 which coincided with the birth of "Live From". The show has grown in leaps and bounds over the last dozen years and evolved to quickly mirror the game with its new band of players and ever changing technology. What was originally an opinion based TV show is now a slick, stat driven Sport show that just as often starts the narrative as reports it.  While the show is formatted with a rundown, akin to a roadmap designed to get you from a to b, but I assure you the show is not scripted, which explains why at times it appears we are arguing a nuclear treaty. With that comes the constant chaos of trying to prepare for each and every show during a Major Championship week ... probably something similar to childbirth in the hope that pain will produce joy. What the viewer doesn't see is the "money ball" approach by many of our statisticians, the Reed Burtons, Gil Capps and Justin Rays of our team come to mind.  They always seem to find the right coordinates for our search. All of that is put into play by Chyron operators (those whose typing makes it straight to the screen) or weaved into the narrative of those you see in your living room. That orchestra is constantly conducted by producers like Matt Hegarty or Ben Daughn who are barking in our ear to stay on point. In a dozen years that show has never lacked passion from all who work on it. 

    Did Chambers Bay get a bad rap?

The US Open for me was always golf’s toughest test. Over the last decade there has been a push away from that and the introduction of ultra-modern and often untried venues. If you are a believer in climate change then you have to champion the USGA in adopting a browner Pinehurst number two and their endeavors to highlight the issue at Chambers Bay along with fescue fairway and green with virtually no delineation. If they had stopped there, Chambers Bay might have escaped with more of its virtue intact with focus being more on the beautiful vistas but the changeable par concept on 1 and 18 added in with the 90 degree different tees for the par 3, 9th was always going to draw attention. I voiced my opinion early on in my "Tee to Greens" that 18 was designed as a par 5 echoed by eventual champion Jordan Spieth on Saturday. Every now and again we need reminding that golf is and will always be a conservative game.

You can pick only one car to drive the rest of your life, what brand and model are you going with? 

My favourite car was, and will always be, a Ferrari 348TB. I wish I never sold it. Those things are a work of art with a sound to match. I was Living in London in the early 90's far from the era of Austin Powers but certainly a fun time, lots of good memories. Back to car, the colour you ask? Red ... it's a Ferrari.

You played in 27 majors and made the cut 21 times, that is very impressive.  What, if any, was your most memorable?
‘94 US Open. They didn't use the Top 50 WR in those days so it was tough to get in the American majors. The 94 US Open was my first US Open and I got to play in the final group on Sunday with a good friend in Ernie Els. Earlier in the week Arnold Palmer played in the group in front for the first 2 rounds with Rocco Mediate and John Mahaffey and bid farewell at his beloved Oakmont. As I have referenced more than once in my current job watching him in the media center was a great lesson, he made it ok for men to cry. A lot happened that week.

    In your opinion, out of all the athletes (not necessarily just golfers) you’ve seen,
    who is the greatest?

     Athlete and Golfer were rarely synonymous. Gary Player might have started the trend,          Greg Norman pushed it but Tiger Woods actually changed the Golfing Gym culture and        now it’s a case of which players don’t go to the gym. The modern day professional                Golfer has garnered a lot more respect from athletes of other sports because of the              change in our culture. Sports are so specific these day but a few athletes still stand taller,      Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt are simply incredible.

     Frank, you are the great grandson of an Italian Pirate!!! Are you kidding me?  Any        stories from Grandma or Grandpa about Great Grandpa?

Both sets of my Grandparents hailed from what was then Yugoslavia. Sunday lunches were spent trying to decipher what they were talking about as neither my sister or I could speak the language so it was tough to ask where we came from. My Dad tried to track the lineage on his side and he was the one that came up with the story of Pirates from southern Italy with their unique way of making a living and then eventually settling in Yugoslavia. Part of me thinks it's not true as I am horrible in boats, seasick all the time. As for the nickname it was Steve Elkington that first called me the Pirate.

     Toughest TV moment for you thus far in your television career?

Passing of Seve. I got my US citizenship on the Friday before he died. (I now possess both a US and NZ passport) my wife and I were going to celebrate over lunch. She had my cellphone during the ceremony and was the first to see the message that I had to go into the studio asap. That show was more of a blurr, trying desperately to find the validity of the information and how much time he had left. When I finally left the studio that night it had come to light that it was simply a matter of hours or minutes.. The news came quickly in the morning and when I went back the studio day the goal of the show was two fold,  deliver the news and secondly talk about Seve’s impact on the game. It's the most professional I have ever been on the set trying to tell the story of the man I knew. There are two ways off the Golf Central set the main way and a side corridor. The others veered out the main route and I went the side route to be met by the then head of studio shows Joe Riley, a big 6 ft 5 plus of a man who was there waiting for me. He gave me hug and I burst into tears. Some people know you more than you know yourself.

    Most underrated player of your generation?

I'm going finagle this one because I actually played with him. No question, Billy Casper. Prolific winner at all levels and for those that are lovers of the 50's 60’s and 70's check his record against Nicklaus, Palmer and Co.. Then when you are done with that check his Ryder Cup record. Those that say he could only putt never saw him hit a shot. Wonderful player.
You get one last meal what are you going to order?
Penne Arabiatta with shrimp. But it has to be from Angelos in Little Italy New York.

Do you have to have playing experience at the highest level to be a golf announcer?

There is a reason why a Faldo or a Miller sits in the main chair at the biggest events. Their experience is invaluable and often a conversation starter. Fortunately there are many TV platforms, studio shows and live golf are vastly different and if Golf keeps its current niche there is still a career to be had for those with a golfing knowledge and quick to learn it is not just limited to those on golfs Mount Rushmore. Things could change with the tail end of this generation purely because the amount of money available to the very best resulting in less need or desire to develop a second career as a broadcaster.
    Funniest professional golfer you have known?
Richard Boxall. The name should ring a bell - famous for breaking his leg on his tee shot on the 9th hole on Saturday of the 1991 Open Championship while playing with Monty and he was in contention. He was to go on to say " the lengths you go to not have to play with Monty". Baker Finch went on to win that Open but the sound of Richard’s leg was nearly as memorable. Boxall has that classic British comedic delivery that comes out whether you are about to hit a 3 iron across water with a strong left to right breeze onto a pimple for a green or stuck in Geneva airport waiting for a flight home. Boxall took no prisoners and yet still made himself the brunt of the joke so no harm was ever done. He now works for Sky TV. (side note by Paul: I must meet Boxall)

When you were playing what were your strengths and weaknesses?

I've always enjoyed hitting mid irons; 4 iron through to 7 and I think that became the best part of my game. A mid iron was that perfect blend of ball then turf contact. Wasn't ripping divots out with a short iron or sweeping of a long iron it was just right...sweet. I holed out well and in my mi-thirties just before I got diagnosed with inflammatory poly-arthritis I learnt to be "my best friend on the course”

Does the lifestyle of a worldwide golf announcer ever get old or since you’ve done it your entire professional career are you used to it?

Oh it can grate on you. Puts a lot of pressure on the people close to you. Consequently I fluctuated between nomad and hermitover the years but never tourist. Two thirds of my life have been on the road. The first 23 years of my travels I chased a little white ball around the globe and the first fifteen of those flew by, I was doing exactly what I wanted to do ... play golf.  Now going on 14 years I’ve chased the people chasing the little white ball around the globe. Long may it continue.


  1. I've known Frank for nearly 2 decades and yet I still learned a lot about him. Thanks Ghost. And just to let you know, Frank has the best soul and most loyalty of anybody I know. He's also one of the least selfish broadcasters in a business where that's rare. It's a trait that all of the best possess.

    Jerry Foltz

  2. I love it when Frank walks across a green and tosses golf balls out to show the breaks and character of a green, absolutely genius.