Media

Roger Maltbie was at the 1988 US Open and 1999 Ryder Cup, but neither is his favorite memory from The Country Club

Maltbie played in the 1968 USGA Junior Championship in Brookline when he was 16 and bumped into a living legend.

Roger Maltbie was hired by NBC in 1991 and debuted as an on-course commentator in ‘92 while he was still an active player. DAVID CANNON/GETTY

Roger Maltbie estimates he’s been to The Country Club four or five times. That’s not an extraordinary number of stopovers considering that he began playing on the PGA Tour in 1975 and his broadcasting career — which will bring him back to Brookline in his familiar role as an on-course reporter for NBC’s coverage of the US Open beginning Thursday — started in 1992, while he was still playing.

But he has been on-site for two of the most unforgettable moments at The Country Club. When Curtis Strange won the 1988 US Open in a playoff round over Nick Faldo, Maltbie was there, albeit some distance down the leaderboard, finishing tied for 54th. And when Justin Leonard buried a 45-footer on the 17th hole to cap a furious comeback for the United States in the 1999 Ryder Cup, it was Maltbie who informed NBC viewers that the putt was right on line.

“Standing on the 17th green, I was directly behind the hole, where Justin putted on a lower level,” recalled the affable Maltbie. “On the replay of the thing, you see the ball coming up the slope and approaching the hole, my voice comes in and says, ‘This looks good!’ and then Dick Enberg comes in with, ‘Oh, my!’ I about jumped out of my skin.”

Advertisement:

Yet neither playing in the ‘88 US Open nor calling Leonard’s instantly legendary putt 11 years later stands out as Maltbie’s favorite recollection from The Country Club. No, it’s those scenes from the first visit, 54 years ago now, that remain the most vivid for the San Jose, Calif., native.

“I played in the USGA Junior Championship there in ‘68,” said Maltbie, who was 16 then and is 70 now. “First time I ever played out of the state of California. It was quite a deal. I remember flying to Boston. I had never been on the East Coast, obviously. We had host families that would put us up for the week and whatnot.

“They picked me up at the airport. I remember looking out the window of the car and saying, ‘Wow, everything here is so old.’ ” He laughs. “Turns out it’s been around a little longer than San Jose, Calif., has.”

During that first visit, Maltbie put together a dazzling practice round that caught the attention of one of golf’s legends, Gene Sarazen, who won seven majors and is one of just five golfers to win each of the four.

Advertisement:

“I played a practice round and had a heck of a back nine,” recalled Maltbie. “I shot 32 or something like that, and one of the guys I was playing with from Northern California said, ‘Wow, man, he just shot 32 on the back half!’ And Mr. Sarazen said, ‘What?’ Turned out he was behind the green and overheard us. He came down and shook my hand and said, ‘That’s great playing, young man.’

“It was a great thrill then and still is.”

Maltbie will be one of four on-course reporters as part of NBC Sports’s coverage, which will include numerous hours of live golf on Peacock and USA beginning with the first round Thursday. Mike Tirico will be the host and handle some play-by-play. Dan Hicks, Terry Gannon, and Steve Sands also will call the action, while analysts include Paul Azinger, Leonard, Faldo, and Notah Begay. David Feherty, Gary Koch, and Peter Jacobsen will be among the commentators situated in trailers.

Maltbie chuckles when it’s mentioned that he’s been doing this for a long time now. He was hired by NBC in 1991 and debuted in ‘92 while still an active player, and he pulled double duty for four years. Maltbie’s easy, humorous manner helped him make the role his own.

Advertisement:

“When I first started broadcasting, I was one of them,” he said. “I played with them, I’d competed with them, I knew them, I knew their wives’ names or girlfriends’ names or kids’ names.

“That familiarity with the players kind of came through and made some things easier for me at the start. And then you go through the years, and now we’re at the point where there are a lot of guys out there playing on the tour that don’t even know I played.”

Maltbie, who is on a one-year contract and will work 11 events this year, acknowledges that it’s a little easier to be totally candid because those are no longer his peers out on the course. But otherwise, not much in his approach has changed.

“The only thing I’ve really done over the years is just try to stay in my lane, talk about the golf,” he said. “I don’t want to talk about other stuff. I’m not the storyteller. That comes from the guys in the towers.

“I’m here to report on golf. There are good shots and bad shots, and one thing I’m qualified to know, a bad shot when I see one and a good shot when I see one.”

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com