WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Augusta National. Pebble Beach. St. Andrews. The "holy grounds" of golf that test the best players in the world. Todd Lewis has walked the fairways and greens on those plush golf courses and many others in the past decade, as a reporter for the Golf Channel. It's a dream job for some one who grew up loving the game.
"I love the game because it challenges your personality," Lewis said during a Skype interview from his home in Orlando, the headquarters of Golf Channel. "Besides it being so difficult, I like to call golf 'the pursuit of perfection that is never attainable'."
Lewis learned the sport playing on a course near his family's farm in Reidsville, near Greensboro. "A club in the country, not a country club" is how he describes it. Lewis' parents would drop him off in the morning, and he'd spend the day on the course. He continued playing the sport into high school, making the team that finished third in the state in 1986. He enrolled at UNC Greensboro, looking to combine his love for sports and telling stories, launching a career in sports journalism.
Lewis' first full-time job in television came at WECT-TV in Wilmington. He worked as a sports reporter and weekend anchor. He says living close to the beach and learning the process of how to put together an interesting story and sportscast, were two of the biggest benefits of his time in the Port City. He shares advice for people wanting to get into the business at 7:30 of the podcast.
"I learned the viewer is by far the most important person I'm working for," he remembers. "More than working for WECT, I'm working for the person whose watching who wants to be informed. In my case with sports, not only informed but entertained. It's the responsibility of mine to give that viewer that information."
Stops in Spokane (where he learned to snowboard) and Raleigh followed before Lewis landed a job as Sports Director at a station in Orlando, Florida. He got experience covering the two PGA tournaments the city hosts annually, and after eight years at the network affiliate, Lewis got the opportunity to cover the sport full-time with the Golf Channel, which operates out of that same southern city. He realized he needed a crash-course in the game.
"I realized immediately when I walked into the Golf Channel and started working there, that I had a high school diploma when it came to the game, and everyone there had a Ph.D.," Lewis said. "It's amazing how much I have learned about players, scoring, clubs, you name it."
Since starting with the Golf Channel in 2008, Lewis has reported from the biggest tournaments in the world. The Masters, U.S. and British Opens. He has interviewed the top players after both good and poor rounds, seeking the answers amateur players and fans want to hear. A relationship of trust and respect he's built over the past decade.
"I hear this a lot, like 'how do you establish relationships (with the top players)?," he says. "You establish it by being good at your job because people are watching, including the people you're talking about. The players watch, and their wives watch more because you're talking about their guy."
Lewis says he has struck up friendships with players on tour, but makes sure to never cross the line to get too friendly with someone he might have to report on. He admits to having some "oh wow!" moments, personal memories created by legends of the game. He shared a special one involving his wife Melanie and daughter Addison, when fan-favorite Arnold Palmer took time to say hello in his office. The touching story begins at 19:00 of the podcast.
The International Olympic Committee reinstated golf as an Olympic medal sport for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio. Lewis was part of the team on hand to cover the event for NBC. The top players were not competing for money. Instead, gold, silver or bronze medals awaited the winners, along with the pride of competing for their country. Lewis remembers the experience at 22:45 of the podcast.
"It was phenomenal," he says looking back. "Our hotel was right beside the Olympic Village, and you look out at all these high-rises where all these great athletes are staying, and you see the flags of their country over the balcony. You get that spirit of competitiveness, but also togetherness. It really is a unifying event."
Lewis had the chance to visit his old stomping grounds last May, when Eagle Point Golf Club in Wilmington hosted the Wells Fargo Championship because it's usual home, Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, was home to the 2017 PGA Championship. He said at the time he was impressed at the city's performance hosting the event.
"I think it did an awesome job," Lewis said. "The golf course was tremendous, players loved it and the fan turnout was tremendous as well."
While many may consider Lewis' job a glamorous one, it also has its' disadvantages. Travelling and living out of hotel rooms can be grueling, especially with a two-year-old at home. Addison's Dad says Golf Channel has been great, working to limit his schedule a bit to make more room for quality family time.
"It's harder being on the road," he says. "I missed my daughter's first words. I missed her first steps. Those things, you just have to manage those emotions unfortunately and understand you're providing for your family."
Todd Lewis is not just a talented reporter and anchor, he is also one of the genuinely nice guys I've known in my career. Always prepared, willing to help if he's asked. He also does an awesome rendition of "Sweet Child of Mine" by Guns' N 'Roses. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did reconnecting with a friend.
You can hear the entire conversation with Todd Lewis by clicking on one of the links listed below.
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