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Wednesday, January 10, 2024

LIV Golf Vegas at Las Vegas Country Club brings home Vegas’ own Jerry Foltz

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Hello Jerry!

LIV Golf Vegas at Las Vegas Country Club brings home Vegas’ own Jerry Foltz

Story by Brian Hurlburt

Photography provided by Jerry Holtz

 

As I write this, I am listening to the new Fairway to Heaven Podcast, hosted by LIV Golf broadcasters Jerry Foltz and Su-Ann Heng. Major champion and LIV Golf League star Sergio Garcia is their guest. In this age of professional golf, there is a pang of guilt as I indulge in something related to the “rival” of the PGA TOUR, but with a pending agreement between the TOUR and the Public Investment Fund that backs LIV, all should be fine and dandy sooner than later, right?

Foltz, 61, grew up in Las Vegas, and has been part of the LIV Golf broadcast team since its inception in 2023. His wit and candor on the podcast and during the broadcasts is always front and center. He will return to Las Vegas February 8-10 when the LIV Golf League plays the historic and iconic The Las Vegas Country Club.

The course and facility are near and dear to me because I authored The Las Vegas Country Club: Chronicle of an Icon. The membership commissioned me about a decade ago to create the 240-page coffee table book that oozes Club and Vegas history. When new ownership—the Samick Corporation led by Chairman J.S. Kim—took over in 2018, they published a second edition that featured a new chapter detailing the new ownership and its plans to embrace the club’s illustrious history.

A Western High graduate who also played in the Southern Nevada Junior Golf Association (SNJGA), Foltz relishes any chance he gets to visit his hometown. Even though he will be in the city that glitters during the first-ever Super Bowl in Las Vegas while also broadcasting a LIV event, his thoughts will reflect first to his Vegas youth. “All of my memories of Las Vegas revolve around Las Vegas Muni, of all things,” says Foltz during a recent phone conversation. “That is where I fell in love with the game, where my dad introduced me to the game, where I ended up getting a job to further the passion I had for the game as just an 11-year-old. Muni is where I played 99-percent of my golf until I left for college.”

In 2015, Foltz, who now lives in Florida, was inducted into the Las Vegas Golf Hall of Fame. He spent the day before the event playing Muni with old friends. Not only did he learn the game on those tees, fairways and greens, he learned about life. When you’re a kid, your whole world is so small, such a microcosm of the actual world, and Las Vegas Muni was my world. The characters that I knew back then, which looking back on them now, they seem like characters, but back then they were just the people in my life. I was essentially raised by a bunch of golf-loving, gambling knuckleheads, who shared a passion for the game with me. I was raised by adults in a golf environment. I think a lot of what my life has brought me is because of those days, and those people who cared enough about a kid who had a passion for the game to always go out of the way to help.”

He took lessons from legendary Las Vegas Golf Hall of Fame inductee Jerry Belt and vividly remembers some of the other Muni characters, including Monte Carlo Money, John and Bruce DiFloure, who operated the course, and Mel Hayes, a larger-than-life personality in the golf shop.

While Muni was the foundation, playing in the SNJGA expanded Foltz’s horizons and allowed him to tee it up at the best Vegas courses, many of which are not around anymore. “Playing in the Southern Nevada Junior Golf Association was great because it was our chance to play courses like the Dunes, the Tropicana, and the Desert Inn. I came from a family of humble resources and junior golf introduced me to those courses. That was a big deal for me, as it was for a lot of the other juniors.”

He says he did well as a junior, but it wasn’t until he won a big high school tournament as a sophomore that he felt like he belonged. “I really didn't feel like I had made it until I won Southern Nevada Zone High School Championship in the AAA division, which was the highest level at the time. That is when I realized that golf wasn't just a sport for kids who sucked at everything else. When I got to school the next Monday, many of the cool jocks acknowledged me differently and welcomed me into their worlds. Before that, I wasn't one of them. That was very eye-opening to understand that if you had success in golf, it transcended a lot of the other social barriers as an adolescent.”

After leaving Vegas, Foltz first played golf at McLennan Community College before transferring to Oral Roberts. He soon realized the school and setting were not a good fit for a Vegas kid.

He ended up at the University of Arizona where he earned all PAC 10 honors in 1984. A vision to play professional golf was also born. Then, a car crash—not his fault—nearly derailed that vision. Overcoming his injuries, he pursued playing on the PGA TOUR for more than a decade.

In all, he made 102 of 195 cuts on the Nike Tour (now the Korn Ferry Tour) and won the 1995 NIKE South Carolina Classic. He also played in seven official PGA TOUR events, including the 1991 U.S. Open at Hazeltine National, where he missed the cut.

As with any of us at a certain age, Foltz says he would do a few things in life differently, specifically when it comes to his playing career. “I fell into the trap of listening to too many others about how to get better, and as a broadcaster, I have seen the same thing happen many times to young men and women playing on the professional tours. Players at the highest levels of professional golf, whether it is the Korn Ferry Tour, the LPGA Tour, the PGA TOUR, or wherever, obviously have enough talent to get that level, yet they start listening to people that tell them they need to change this or change that to get to the next level. The fact is, I believe if I had only ever done with the golf club what Jerry Belt told me to do, I probably would have played professionally for a highly-extended time. I knew where the golf ball was going when I did what he taught, but once I started seeking that elixir, I lost what got me there. Very few people ever get it back once they start chasing that. I started changing and seeing different instructors instead of looking internally at what really got me there.” 

A New York Times Magazine article from 1998 revealed that Foltz understood he was in the middle of a struggle, even back then. ''The way I'm hitting it right now, I am as liable to shoot 86 as I am 65,” he told writer David Noonan. “It's all I can do to pull the trigger on most tee shots without panicking. I've changed my swing quite a bit. The new swing is far superior to my old swing, but it's kind of like my brain still feels the shots with my old swing while it's trying to execute them with the new swing.''

He realized around the time of that article that the end was near for his time on the course, but he wanted to stay connected to the game. A fateful conversation with Ken Venturi helped chart a three-decade broadcasting career on Golf Channel. Foltz sought out the advice of Venturi, a CBS television legend and major champion, during a corporate event. Venturi asked, “Are You serious about what you asked?” I replied that I was. “All right, shave this and cut that” because I had a bad mullet and a goatee at the time. And then he said, “Always remember that you are doing television, not radio. Less is more. And always call it as you see it without any loyalty to anybody else. Your loyalty is to the viewer. And, most importantly, always respect the game.” Foltz reflects, “His advice, in addition to my mother's advice to ‘always be yourself because the moment you're not, everybody will know,’ is the only advice I have ever listened to in my entire career.”

Foltz spent many years covering the LPGA Tour before a few fateful conversations with Keith Hirshland, a friend and former Golf Channel executive who had made the move to LIV Golf, eventually led to his current LIV Golf gig. Initially, Foltz rebuffed Hirshland’s efforts to entice a move. “I finally told Keith that I would at listen to the LIV Golf pitch, and the LIV bosses called me the next day and we had a nice long talk. They explained to me that they weren't going anywhere and they had a commitment to do this for a number of years.”

The discussion made an impression, but Foltz looked to his son, Jackson, for final approval. Jackson is an engineer by trade and a golf executive with a keen understanding of business and golf. “I called my son and asked him, ‘What do you think about the LIV Golf thing?’ and he said he was a believer in the actual business model that included team golf, which I hadn't even thought about. He is a big Formula 1 fan, and was excited that something like this was happening in golf. Then I asked, ‘What would you think if your dad was part of it?’ His exact words were, ‘Dad, you don't have that many years left, and you don't want to spend them thinking that you didn’t have the balls to take a chance for once in your life.’”

Foltz called Hirshland and the LIV Golf bosses back the next day, and the rest is history. He then had to share the news with Golf Channel executives. “It was tough. I was at Golf Channel for 27 years, so to make that call to tell them I was leaving was very difficult because that was like family.”

Now LIV Vegas is hitting one of Vegas’ most historic courses. By the time the event is played in February, a new agreement between the PIF and the PGA TOUR may be in place. Other big names, including John Rahm, may or may not be part of LIV.

So much (was?) is still up in the air, and even with his seat so close to the action, at the time of this writing in December, Foltz didn’t know what the future of professional golf would hold, but he looks forward to the journey. “Being a part of LIV Golf has been nonstop fun since our first broadcast when our bosses told us to be ourselves and have fun,” he says. “If LIV hadn't made the bold move to launch that first event in London in 2022, somebody else was going to eventually launch some type of competition to the PGA TOUR. I am not sure it has been handled as well as it could have been by those who feel threatened by LIV. I think the writing is already on the wall for where this will end up. I don't believe LIV is going anywhere and it's not going away. It is certainly not going to get absorbed in the ecosystem of golf in a way that would fundamentally change the nature of what team golf and LIV Golf are all about.”

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