CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA | Blame it on the blonde.
She’s the reason CBS Sports golf announcer Peter Kostis straps what looks like a microwave oven to his chest every weekend telecast and trudges up the hills and through the heat, documenting a golf tournament from ground level, sharing with the audience what he sees as one of the game’s most respected teachers.
Kostis proves that television work isn’t always glamorous. Jim Nantz and Sir Nick Faldo sit with their neckties and blue blazers in an air-conditioned perch above the 18th green wherever they might be that week while Kostis is doing what amounts to road work, lugging that contraption around the course so he can get a look at the swings he’s asked to critique on a moment’s notice.
Blame her, whoever she was.
Sitting in the catering tent in the television compound at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, ceiling fans stirring the warm muggy air around the buffet line, Kostis is a short par-4 away from where it happened.
“We’re in the old first fairway here. Lance (Barrow who produces the telecasts) comes to me at the beginning of the show and says he wants me to do a (Phil) Mickelson Swing Vision. I literally get five seconds notice when I have to do one of these.
“I turn around knowing I’ve got to do it right away and the college kid who’s carrying my monitor is about a hundred yards down the fairway talking to this beautiful tall blonde behind the ropes and he has my monitor.
“I hit my talkback button to Lance and said tell me when the swing starts. He said it’s starting now. I did a whole Phil Mickelson swing analysis from up here,” Kostis says, pointing to his head.
From that moment, Kostis decided to mule his own monitor. Dottie Pepper, his foot soldier counterpart, has someone carry hers around the course. But the 71-year old Kostis lugs his own.
With an engineering background, Kostis helped concoct the harness that gets strapped around his chest, holding the screen in a metal box so all he has to do is look down to see what he’s being asked to talk about. The harness and monitor weigh about 7 pounds but by the time Kostis straps on everything else, he’s added close to 15 pounds of equipment.
Kostis plans to do this for two more years, retiring from television work after the 2021 season. He won’t retire completely. He will continue to teach golf at home in Scottsdale, Ariz., because the game is too much a part of Kostis to step away entirely.
Even now, as he’s in the midst of working 16 tournaments in an 18-week stretch, Kostis flies home on Mondays and is giving lessons on Tuesday. Paul Casey is his highest profile student now but Kostis is just as happy working with double-digit handicappers, helping them shave a shot or two off their scores.
There was a time when he had more players and, through an odd set of circumstances, it’s what led him to television work. He had five players among the two teams in the 1989 Ryder Cup matches at The Belfry in England. So he was on site as a teacher.
That was before the Ryder Cup was the all-consuming event it is today. The three major television networks – CBS, NBC and ABC – had passed on televising it so the Ryder Cup wound up on USA Network, which paid $225,000 for the programming as Kostis recalled.
The network needed one more announcer to join Jim Simpson, Gary McCord and Ben Wright. So when the PGA Tour’s Donna Orender asked Kostis if he was interested, he asked what he had to do. She explained it to him, handed him a microphone and 30 years later, he’s become part of the game’s soundtrack.
Kostis excels at succinctly explaining what is happening and why. McCord can be irreverent and Faldo is insightful. Kostis brings nuts and bolts with an ability to quickly distill the good, the bad and the ugly. He talks to the average player when he’s doing his instant swing analysis, teaching to a bigger audience like he does one-on-one on the practice tee in Arizona.
“The worst thing you can do is start giving people two or three things to look at,” McCord, his longtime friend, says between bites of a chocolate-covered ice cream bar. “He’s really good about focusing on one thing. It is one thing. You hit that thing hard. You show them how it affects their game.
“He’s able to pick it out in two seconds.”
Kostis has jokingly called himself the greatest golfer in the history of the University of New Hampshire but that’s because a knee injury stifled his football career. Kostis went to New Hampshire as a quarterback but multiple surgeries on his left knee ended football for him.
He could keep a portion of his scholarship money if he played another varsity sport so Kostis joined the golf team. He played a handful of PGA Tour events when he got out of school but it was a different time. The money wasn’t what it is today, there was no senior tour and careers tended to fade when players reached their late 30s.
“He’s always on a quest to continue to learn. He just loves golf. He’s forgotten more than I’ve ever learned.” – Paul Casey
Kostis liked to teach so he went that direction, applying the structure he learned as a chemical engineering major to the golf swing.
“He’s never stopped learning himself. He loves golf. He’s always on a quest to continue to learn,” Casey says. “He just loves golf. He’s forgotten more than I’ve ever learned.”
Kostis said his approach to teaching golf has never wavered.
“My philosophy is there is no one swing for everybody but everybody needs one swing. I teach individuals. I don’t teach a method. I don’t teach a system,” Kostis says.
The game Kostis grew up playing and eventually teaching has evolved. What was taught in 1975 isn’t taught today. Training has changed. Equipment has changed. Information has changed.
Kostis has changed with it.
“It’s Darwinian roulette – you better adjust or through evolution you’re going to be taken out of the mix,” McCord says.
That doesn’t mean Kostis believes everything has changed for the better.
“For 400 years golf was played, pick an example, with the left heel coming off the ground. You release your left heel, you release your left knee, big hip turn, bigger shoulder turn and you disperse the energy of the golf swing throughout your entire body,” Kostis says.
“Then all of a sudden 30 years ago it became a fundamental – I don’t know how it became a fundamental – that you have to keep your left heel down and resist with your lower body and coil against your lower body with your upper body. That’s just a disaster waiting to happen.
“They use the reverse C and certain back injuries in the ’80s to formulate the modern golf swing saying it would eliminate back issues. All it did was create different back issues.”
He’s not wrong but Kostis can be controversial. There was a time when Tiger Woods would not consent to post-round interviews with Kostis. He felt Kostis had been critical of his swing. For a year or more, Kostis didn’t do the short post-round Q&As with Woods.
“When Tiger flares a shot 30 yards in the trees and my producer says, ‘Tell me what he did wrong,’ I can’t say ‘He was aimed there and it was a good swing,’ ” Kostis says.
“We’ve subsequently made up and everything is all good.”
All is well health-wise with Kostis these days, too. In 2013, Kostis was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer. He had surgery and underwent eight months of chemotherapy, emerging healthy.
Ask Casey and McCord if the cancer changed Kostis and neither have seen a big difference. They liked him before and after.
“He was a grumpy bastard, understandably,” Casey says of the cancer fight. “I can’t imagine what it was like.”
“He used to hold the reins back, very structured,” McCord says.
“He’s letting the reins out a little more as he’s getting older and less grumpy.”
There’s a dose of irony in what Casey and McCord say about Kostis. The grumpy guy doesn’t tolerate negative energy around him.
“I made a vow, I was not going to hang around with negative people again,” Kostis says.
“I don’t put up with it anymore. Life’s too short to have a bad attitude.”
Which brings him back to the college kid who went to talk to a tall blonde and left Kostis hanging on national television, commenting on a picture he couldn’t see.
“You cannot get upset about that,” Kostis says with a smile.
The harness, the monitor and another sweaty afternoon of watching golf await.
Peter Kostis lugs 15 pounds of equipment around the course, critiquing swings at a moment’s notice. Photo: Chris Condon, PGA Tour
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