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Rolfing Has Developed a Niche in Golf

July 24, 1998|LARRY STEWART

Sometimes it pays to recognize your limitations.

Once Mark Rolfing saw he wasn't going to be the next Jack Nicklaus, he looked for other worlds to conquer, and things worked out quite nicely.

Rolfing went on to fortunes as a resort developer on the Hawaiian island of Maui and also became one of the best-liked and most respected golf announcers in the business.

This week, the NBC announcer is working the U.S. Senior Open at Riviera Country Club, mainly as an on-course reporter for the coverage on ESPN and NBC. Roger Maltbie is the other on-course reporter.

Rolfing, 48, never planned to be an announcer. It just worked out that way.

Rolfing grew up in suburban Chicago, raised by his mother after his father was killed in a plane crash when he was 11. He attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., where he and his roommate, former Vice President Dan Quayle, both played on the golf team.

He twice tried to qualify for the PGA Tour and failed both times. He spent two years (1975-76) playing in Europe and Asia before deciding there were easier ways to make a living.

He ended up in Maui, where his first job was washing golf carts in the starter shack on the Bay Course, the first of the Kapalua Resort's three courses.

"I had been promised a job as assistant pro, but I started at the bottom," Rolfing said.

By 1982, he was the Kapalua Land Co.'s director of marketing and recreation and in charge of golf operations.

In that job, he created the Kapalua Open, a PGA "postseason" tournament, the first of its kind. A year later came the Skins Games, and a glut of made-for-TV tournaments followed. The Kapalua Open had a successful 16-year run that ended last year.

Rolfing was playing in the 1985 tournament, and after a second round of 71, he was invited up in the TV booth for an interview. Vin Scully was working with Lee Trevino on the coverage that was shared by ESPN and NBC--just like at this week's Senior Open--and Scully asked Rolfing to explain a controversial ruling.

Rolfing did such a good job, the producer, Don Ohlmeyer, asked him to come back and join Scully and Trevino after his round the next day. That led to a job as an on-course reporter for ESPN at the World Cup at La Quinta the next weekend, and an announcing career was born.

He was with ESPN for three years until 1988, went to NBC for three years, spent six with ABC, and is now back with NBC.

The key factor in his return, Rolfing says, was NBC's strong schedule that includes such U.S. Golf Assn. events as the U.S. Open and the U.S. Senior Open. Also, he prefers working as an on-course reporter, the assignment NBC gave him, rather than as a tower reporter.

"I have a good relationship with the players, and I think my strength is to be down there among them," Rolfing said. "I think what the players like is I'm just myself out there, with no shtick.

"Another thing about coming back to NBC was rejoining a lot of my friends, people such as [executive producer] Tommy Roy. It feels like I'm back home."

Rolfing, along with two business partners, started a corporation in 1984 that, in conjunction with the Kapalua Land Co., developed the resort there, which is regarded as one of the finest of its kind. With the development pretty much completed, he says he now considers himself a full-time announcer.

He is also the host of a syndicated winter series, "Golf Hawaii," which ended its fourth season on ESPN in March.

Life for Rolfing and wife Debi, who also have a summer home in Montana, is good, no doubt better than if Rolfing had spent years trying to make it as a pro golfer.

SHORT WAVES

Fox's entry into golf will come Nov. 21-22 with the World Cup at Auckland, New Zealand. Then on Thanksgiving Day, Fox will televise the $1-million Par 3 Challenge, which will be taped Aug. 31 at Aviara, a Four Seasons resort in Carlsbad. . . . The Golf Channel and the LPGA on Thursday announced a five-year extension on an agreement that calls for 10-12 events a year and now runs through 2004. . . . CBS has completed its NFL lineup of announcers with the addition of John Dockery as a commentator. He returns to CBS after a seven-year stint at NBC. CBS' executive producer, Terry Ewert, said the hires were made from more than 130 applicants. He said he viewed more than 60 demo tapes and conducted 15 auditions.

Chris Myers, in an exclusive interview on ESPN's "Up Close" Thursday, got Tim Floyd to say he would step aside from coaching the Bulls for any other coach Michael Jordan would prefer, not just Phil Jackson. . . . Summer Sanders, an Olympic gold medalist in swimming, is making her mark in broadcasting in basketball. She has moved up from special correspondent to co-host of "NBA Inside Stuff," replacing Willow Bay, and makes her debut on Saturday's show on Channel 4 at 10:30 a.m.

RADIO DAZE

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