ESPN’s Van Pelt has some very personal connections to the Masters

ESPN golf commentator Scott Van Pelt (left) and Andy North at the Masters.

Credit: Photo courtesy of ESPN

Credit: Photo courtesy of ESPN

ESPN golf commentator Scott Van Pelt (left) and Andy North at the Masters.

AUGUSTA – When ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt refers to Masters week as not only the best week of the year, but also as one of his most personally defining weeks it’s not just the usual floral verbiage that flourishes here.

The host of the network’s weekday coverage of the Masters can draw a straight line between Aprils in Augusta and some of his most important life events.

Most of the connections are very good.

As Van Pelt glances back, he sees Masters week as his big career break. While with the Golf Channel, his interview with young Masters champion Tiger Woods in 1997 caught the eye of the “worldwide leader in sports,” as ESPN bills itself. And just look at him now, anchoring the network’s late-night SportsCenter and getting some prime daylight work in golf. At 6-foot-6, with a sharply angular mug and shaved pate, Van Pelt kind of stands out in his field.

And if he’s not working at ESPN, he’s not meeting the woman who became his wife and the mother of his three kids.

“In a way, my life doesn’t exist without Tiger Woods. It does not, literally,” Van Pelt said earlier this week. " I owe my life to this event.”

Some of it is traumatic.

While he worked last year’s Masters – and fortunately while his family was away on break – an electrical issue sparked a sweeping fire at his home in Maryland.

No matter. Homes can be rebuilt. For Van Pelt Masters week endures “hands down” as his favorite. That trumps even his travel to the many ports of call of the NFL as part of ESPN’s Monday night coverage or to any of golf’s other majors. Should you doubt it, just ask him about his habit of stopping by a gorgeous corner of the Augusta National par-3 course just to pause and reflect.

“It’s gratitude, prayer – whatever you want to call it,” he said. “Thank you, God, for letting me stand in this place. My father and I used to watch the Masters – he passed away when I was in college. I tell him, ‘You’d think this was pretty cool.’”

“There are many places on the property where your soul feels still,” Van Pelt waxed. “I don’t know if that sounds corny but I feel like that’s accurate. Standing there, I don’t feel stress, I don’t feel anything but gratitude. It’s a really good place to be.”

Many times in his job Van Pelt can show his funny, blithe side, like when he’s cutting up with some coach or athlete during an interview or doing his regular “bad beats” segment dealing with the cruel vagaries of gambling. But when he reports here to the Butler Cabin to play traffic cop for ESPN’s afternoon coverage, he’s bound to play it pretty straight.

The chances are very good Van Pelt is not going to suffer a “bikini wax” moment while working the Masters. (It was CBS’s Gary McCord who said the Augusta National greens had been bikini waxed, and, deemed too irreverent, was never seen again on the telecast.)

“There are things I would do at 12:30 at night on SportsCenter that I wouldn’t do here,” he said. “(SportsCenter) is my show. This isn’t my event. I’m a guest here.

“If you get invited to a black tie party you dress and act accordingly. If you get invited to a cookout, you wear flip-flops and shorts. I’m not saying this is black tie, I just feel I come prepared to show a respect for the place and the event.

“If there’s a funny moment that presents itself that doesn’t preclude you from being light. No one is telling you that you can’t do that, if that’s how you chose to to approach it. It don’t feel that anything governs me other than me. It’s just how I want this to sound.

“There’s a gratitude being here, you’re just grateful to be back in this place. If that’s reflected in the tone and the voice you have, then great.”

In furthering the argument for the Masters uniqueness, Van Pelt recalled a conversation he recently had with one of the Augusta National members. He asked the member to stop for a moment and just listen. Do you hear that?

“You hear the warm laughter of people who are happy to be here,” he said. “That’s the soundtrack of this place. Even for the most cynical among us, you got to work at it to be in a bad mood here.

“It’s a hell of a place to spend an afternoon.”