JUPITER, FLORIDA | In the middle of the ninth fairway at Dye Preserve Golf Club, Mark Loomis has his hands raised to the heavens.
His last full swing on a warm winter day at the National Senior-Junior was a low, penetrating effort from 157 yards that finished 6 feet from the hole. Loomis, who makes his living as an Emmy-winning TV producer for USGA tournaments on Fox Sports, knows his job requires understanding how to attract and sustain an audience. With a club in his hand, Loomis is that audience. This last crisp strike is his parting gift, the nugget of perfection that will lure him back to the course for another try. He wouldn’t dare change the channel.
The 52-year-old man affectionately called “Loomie” is known in golf circles for what he does in a production truck, but few would recognize this other side. He grew up in Larchmont, N.Y., playing the East and West courses at Winged Foot, soaking in each U.S. Open contested on the venerable grounds. Six months from now, he will be the storytelling architect when the event returns home. As it so often does, Loomis’ golf obsession and prowess in the production truck will intersect.
That meeting is the result of a deep golf background, three years of playing golf at Vanderbilt University and a satisfying career that started way back when Loomis was a runner for ABC’s telecast of the 1989 Tip-Off Classic, a college basketball tournament in Massachusetts. He got his start in golf as a lowly researcher in the 18th tower for ABC/ESPN-televised events, but quickly ascended to coordinating producer where he led five Open Championship telecasts. During that time he also led three Bowl Championship Series (college football) National Championships and five Rose Bowl broadcasts. One segment in particular stood out – Loomis and college-football analyst Todd Blackledge came together to make a “Taste of the Town” spot during each game that featured a popular food locale on the host school’s campus.
The creativity and drive came as no accident. His mother, Carol, enjoyed a 60-year career as a business writer and editor at Fortune magazine, while his father, John, was a collegiate tennis player at Vanderbilt and introduced his son to sports as a youngster. The attention to detail, passion and work ethic blended together to create what is one of the golf industry’s most innovative minds.
In an exclusive Q&A with GGP+, Loomis touches on a wide range of topics about playing golf, how his career developed and how he sees Fox Sports golf coverage evolving.
How often do you get to play?
My son, Ben, is a sophomore in high school and he likes to play, so I play a lot with him. I don’t play in competitive stuff much. When I do, I love to play in events like this because of the people you meet. Eight years ago, this is where I met Nathan Smith. Two years ago, I played with Brett Boner and then eight months later we were broadcasting the U.S. Mid-Am and he was in the finals. Stuff like that is why I do it. I don’t do it because I think I’m going to win. It’s a good check-up for me to come and see what I’m doing well or not doing well. And I definitely have a lot of feedback.
How cool will it be to go back to Winged Foot given your history there?
For me, it’s amazing. I have a great history there. When I was 7, they played the ’74 Open there and I remember the practice rounds there were no ropes. My dad and I walked nine holes with Gary Player and he gave me a golf ball that I still have to this day. I actually told him that story eight years ago and he loved it. In ’84 I was the standard bearer in Fuzzy (Zoeller)’s group, another year at the Senior Open I was a standard bearer for Bill Campbell’s group and he finished second. So for me, all that history of the U.S. Open, I’ve kind of lived it. To be able to be a part of it this year is a real thrill.
How does that history affect your work and how you go about preparing for a telecast?
Well, it gives me a big advantage in terms of preparation. I already know things that I would normally have to go find out. It probably puts a little bit more heat on me to do it right, but I’m getting a lot of ideas from my friends. The preparation is easier in some ways but harder in others. When I was at Pebble last year (for the U.S. Open) I’m kind of an unknown. Nobody knows who I am and I can kind of be on my own in the truck and nobody bothers me. When I’m walking around Winged Foot, I’ll know everybody.
How does your playing ability and passion for the game affect how you do your job?
It’s starting to be a negative (laughs). No, what I would say is, because we do a lot of the amateur events, being around these guys makes me a lot more familiar with them. I’m not as good as they are, but I play in similar conditions as they do, so I get what they are going through. And I think that has helped me. I probably ask better questions to our team. When I hear Brad (Faxon) or Paul (Azinger) or any of our announcers heading in a certain direction, I kind of know where they are going. I used to produce football but I didn’t play football. I can still produce it but I was never going to have that in-depth knowledge like I do with golf. I’m not a good golfer anymore but that’s all right.
How often do you get asked about the “Taste of the Town” segments with Todd Blackledge?
That was fun. You know, when I used to watch that, I would think, ‘Why are they doing food segments in the middle of a football game?’ It used to bother me. But then when I started producing them, I really got it. We were bringing in the flavor – no pun intended – of these towns. I went to Vandy and we stunk. But my daughter is a freshman there now, and last year we went to the LSU game, two years ago we went to the Georgia game … and you forget that for those people, it’s not only about the football game. They make it a weekend. They make it a celebration that is part of their identity. So they are looking for food places that Todd Blackledge likes. I learned to appreciate that it really does tell the story of the game more than I thought it did. And I’ll tell you what, I went to Starkville (Miss.) this year and I knew a couple good restaurants.
At what point when you were at Vandy did you realize that professional golf wasn’t going to happen for you?
When I came out of high school in the Northeast, maybe deep down I thought I had a chance. I wasn’t going to school to play golf, but I knew pretty quickly. My freshman year I walked on and played two rounds and that was it for the whole year. I started my sophomore year and I got to a point where I thought I was playing pretty well. But then you start playing with some other guys and you realize you have no chance. For me it was a great thing I got it out of my system.
When Steve Flesch and I were juniors we played together and he said to me, ‘When are you going to turn pro?’ and I said ‘Steve, I am not turning pro, are you crazy?’ And he said ‘Well why not?’ and I said ‘Well I’m not good enough.’ And he looks at me and says ‘Well then why are you playing?’ And I said ‘Well I love it and I just want to play golf.’ He walked away and I thought to myself, that guy is going to do whatever it takes to play professionally.
“We’ve gotten better year to year. If you are putting any team together, it takes time to put it together.” – Mark Loomis
How did your mom’s career influence your progression in your own career?
First of all, I saw the dedication she put in. If she was going to write a story, she would put every second of time into research for that story. If it was due in four months, she would work four months. For me, every football game I did or any broadcast I do, I try to do the same thing. I try to put as much into it as I possibly can.
Some of the amateur events we do, we show up and there are 256 people there and we are only showing four of them. You kind of feel like you should be doing more, but you have to wait a little bit. It’s odd. For a U.S. Open, I work all year on that. I get that from my mom.
Do you get tired of being asked about how Fox Sports’ coverage has evolved since (the 2015 U.S. Open at) Chambers Bay?
No, because it’s a lot easier to answer now (laughs). When I got the job, I told everyone that it was going to take time. Wherever we start, I knew we were just going to keep getting better. I think that’s right. We’ve gotten better year to year. If you are putting any team together, it takes time to put it together. I would also say that if we did the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay this year under those circumstances, it would look different than what a U.S. Open is supposed to look like anyway. It just never felt like a U.S. Open. That didn’t make it bad, it just felt more like a British Open. I think that had something to do with the whole thing.
When you look at some of the amateur events you guys have with no commercials, what are some of the challenges that come with that?
For the viewer, it’s great. For us, we are sometimes in there for five hours without a second to think. What I learned after the first year was how to fill the time from shot to shot, so that’s why we have Michael Breed out there setting up the next shot and things like that. Where we used to do five features, let’s do 10 of them. When we do a two-person event for several hours, I will say that we have used most of what we know about them. As the week goes along, it is important to hit the practice tee and get to the lunch room to talk to these kids. We want to know them personally. And the good news is that three years from now, we will probably see them at the U.S. Open and we already know them.
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