Greg Parker has walked more final rounds in the final group at PGA Tour events than Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Ernie Els combined. You may have noticed Parker in the background on your TV screen with his shock of blond hair, shades, and a look more suited to surfing. Who is this golf-junkie mainstay of the traveling circus that is the PGA Tour, and what exactly does he do?
“When you find out, come back and tell me so we both know,” Parker kids.
To put it simply, Parker has the best seat in the house in golf—including a chair at the 12th tee at Augusta National during the Masters. As a longtime spotter for CBS, and now doubling as David Feherty’s go-to guy on NBC/Golf Channel broadcasts, Parker roams the fairways at upwards of 35 tournaments a year calculating yardages and relaying the clubs being used by the leading golfers in the field.
“I’m just wandering aimlessly in a field with a book and they want me to figure out some numbers,” says Parker, downplaying his role. “Thank goodness I passed math in sixth grade.”
But Jim Nantz, the voice of golf for CBS Sports, sees it another way, saying Parker is “as successful as anybody I’ve ever met in my life.” It’s a bold proclamation that begs for further explanation and turns Nantz philosophical.
“Success isn’t measured by money; it’s measured by what’s in your heart and what your calling is in life,” Nantz explains. “Success is when you are doing exactly what you want to be doing with your life. Greg’s definitely found his happy place and he gets to be there more than anybody I know.”
Indeed, Parker, 50, has enjoyed inside-the-ropes access for some of the most spectacular moments in golf since working the 2001 PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club on a lark. His boss that week told him if he’d ever like a job at another tournament with CBS to let him know.
“I was snake bit,” Parker says. “I was living in L.A., working a 9-to-5 job in insurance, just trying to survive. One day, I was just like, ‘Screw it.’”
He packed his belongings into a Mercedes station wagon he nicknamed “The Lead Sled” and drove tournament to tournament. He’s witnessed everything from Rory McIlroy’s dominance at the 2012 PGA Championship to Jim Furyk’s record-low 58.
“I don’t get goose bumps a lot, but there are certain shots that make the hair stand on the back of my neck,” he says. Like the time at the 2012 Memorial when Woods had a dicey lie in the rough at the 16th. “He had absolutely nothing. He did what he always does and holed the shot for birdie,” Parker remembers.
The spotter position began with former CBS producer Chuck Will who hired caddies whose players missed the cut to gather club and yardage information for the broadcast crew. Like a third-base coach in baseball, golf’s spotters have created their own language of hand signals: Nobody carries a 1-iron anymore, but one finger pointed up is a 1-iron, Parker adding a finger as he moves up the scale to 5-iron; one finger pointed down is a 6-iron, four down is a 9-iron, and a fist is a pitching wedge.
Parker is trusted for his accuracy—the Golden Rule is never guess on yardage—and his myriad duties include timing the order of play so the director can show as much live action as possible, playing traffic cop to stop others from walking in front of the camera, even being called on by players to determine who is away.
“It’s simple, but I take great pride in what I do and I want to be the best at it,” Parker says.