As player, Koch trying to suppress the analyst in him
The ball is lying slightly in the rough, approximately 100 yards from the hole. The pin is tucked tightly in the front-right corner of the green. The wind is blowing briskly to the left.
Gary Koch can take a look at this situation and immediately have dozens of ideas. What to do. What not to do. Recommendations. Alternatives. Statistics.
In his job as a golf analyst for NBC, such an approach is needed. But in his job as a first-year player on the Champions Tour, it can be a problem.
Koch has finished 17th, 24th, 78th and 68th in his four starts on the Champions Tour this season. He has broken par in only five of his 12 rounds. He has shot a 76 twice and posted a fat 83 midway through the Verizon Classic.
So what would Koch the golf analyst say about the troubles so far of Koch the player?
Well, actually that is part of the problem. Too much analyzing.
''I tend to be somewhat analytical anyway. It's just kind of my nature and personality,'' Koch said earlier this week as he prepared for his first appearance in the Bruno's Memorial Classic. ''The TV work is a lot of analysis. That's really what it's all about, trying to analyze situations and inform the viewers and help them understand.
''If there has been a fault that I've found so far (on the Champions Tour), it's that I'm probably not out of that mode as much as I should be when I'm on the course playing. There's maybe too much thought going on out there.''
Koch said he had heard that was a common problem from other players who spent time as television analysts, including 1993 Bruno's champion Bob Murphy.
''They said, 'You just have to go play golf. You have to use your instincts and trust your impressions,''' Koch said. ''Early on out here, I've had a little bit of a hard time doing that. I'm always thinking 'Maybe I should do this. No, how about this?' It's something I'm aware of and am trying to work through and figure out.''
Koch had many of the answers during a 13-year period from 1976-88. He won six PGA Tour events and was consistently one of the better players on the tour.
But his game began to fall apart in 1989, and by 1990 Koch realized he no longer enjoyed being a professional golfer.
''I got to the point where my career was not going anywhere,'' Koch said. ''I was disappointed with how things were going and I didn't like what the future looked like playing golf. I needed to do something else.''
Sure enough, something else came along. Murphy was working as an analyst for ESPN at the time, and he informed Koch in 1990 that the network was looking for someone to replace Jim Colbert in the booth. Colbert was leaving television that year to join what was then known as the Senior Tour.
''I said, 'Right about now, I'd love to try anything,''' Koch recalled.
For Koch, it turned out to be love at first sound bite. He signed a full-time contract with ESPN in 1991, then moved to NBC six years later. He has enjoyed the television work so much that he is splitting his time this year between NBC and being a Champions Tour rookie.
''I just enjoy doing the television so much. It's been a very large part of my life the last 12 years,'' Koch said. ''I have some great friends there and I enjoy being with them. I enjoy what we do. There's nothing quite like being part of the telecast for the U.S. Open or a Ryder Cup match. Selfishly, I just didn't want to give that up.''
So Koch is trying to do both jobs. He will be part of 12 PGA Tour telecasts on NBC this year (down from his normal total of 19), and he said he hopes to play in approximately 20 of the 31 tournaments on the Champions Tour.
Koch said he hopes to emulate the performance of Gary McCord, who has two victories and 31 top-10 finishes in five years on the Champions Tour while continuing his television work for CBS. But Koch admits that the early results have not been encouraging.
''Right now it's been a little hard juggling the two. I really want to try to do both. But at the end of the year, I might have to reassess that and figure out whether I'm trying to do too much. We'll see.''
If he decides not to do both jobs, then which one will he give up: playing golf or talking about it?
''It's hard to say,'' Koch said. ''I'm probably not thinking that way yet. We'll see what happens. I haven't thought to that extent yet.''
After all, Koch is learning that it is best not to over-analyze things.
Cary Estes writes for the Birmingham Post-Herald in Alabama.
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