By Matt Tullis
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Jim Nantz is the first person you run into when you walk into the TV tower and studio along the 18th fairway at Oak Hill Country Club at the PGA Championship. He welcomes you, tall and sharp-dressed, ready for the live television coverage.
At the same time, David Finch melts into the background. He's wearing a black CBS Sports shirt, black slacks, black tennis shoes and black-framed glasses, all of this in a room that is, well, black. The walls are black. The ceiling is black. Many of the cables snaking their way around the temporary structure is black. The only color is on the desk where Nantz and Nick Faldo will sit for the next five hours, what with the blues and reds of the CBS Sports logo on screens and the green of the golf course, which can be seen out the window.
Finch takes a fruit plate and places it on a table. Then he scoots around the tight space, doing other things that need to be done. When Nantz walks behind the desk to start reading billboards for the upcoming telecast, Finch walks over to his seat behind his camera, the one facing the 18th green and the full bleachers behind it. He waits for Nantz to finish reading and then he's ready to talk.
After all, you're here to write about Finch, not Nantz or Faldo or any of the other people you see all the time when you watch professional golf. You're writing about Finch because, while Nantz is the man you see, the man you feel as though you've come to know through all these broadcasts, Finch is the man who makes sure you get to see Nantz and some of the shots the broadcaster will narrate. And he may very well shoot the moving picture that sears itself into our collective memory from this tournament.
But here's the thing about being a cameraman, Finch says. Sometimes, many times, you don't get to be the one to grab that iconic shot. And sometimes, there's not an iconic shot to be had. So when you ask Finch to name the most iconic shots he's ever given to the American sporting public, he has a hard time thinking of them.
"Oh god," he says, before pausing, then jumping up to help fix Faldo's telestrator. When he comes back five minutes later, he's got a better idea of what he wants to say.
"I wish it was Tiger on the 16th, his ball going in," he says of Woods' holing out on the Par 3 16th at Augusta in 2005.
Then he talks about another shot he didn't have from the tournament before the PGA Championship, the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron. After winning, Woods hugged his son. A cameraman on a hand-held camera, the camera Finch would have been holding had he not moved up to the TV tower at the start of this golf season, got that shot. Finch loved that shot because it showed something no one had ever seen before -- Woods hugging his son -- and it harkened back to the 1997 Masters when Woods won by 12 strokes and, afterword, embraced his father for 30 long seconds.
But Finch has been there, and finally he thinks of a couple shots any golf fan would remember. He was in the scrum outside Butler Cabin at Augusta in 1986, waiting to see if Jack Nicklaus's nine-under par would be good enough for the 46-year-old to win his first major in six years (and, ultimately, his last).
"He was waiting for the other groups to finish," Finch says. "When he came out, he walked out, to be in that inner circle, the feeling was just pure excitement. Jack Nicklaus at 46 had just won his last major. It sent chills up your spine."
But what about a shot on the golf course? Easy. Finch was standing behind Sandy Lyle in 1988, also at Augusta, when Lyle hit from the bunker on 18. He was shooting as Lyle hit the shot and put it six feet from the hole, which led to a birdie and one-stroke victory.
Now, at Oak Hill, a historic course for sure, he's hoping for another iconic shot, but not counting on it. He looks out from his perch, a two-story tower along the left side of the 18th fairway, the flanker position, it's called, looking directly at the green and the sun-bathed crowd that has filled the bleachers behind the hole. He's looking at tall, regal oak trees that sway in the breeze, and big, white fluffy clouds skidding by in the sky. And he waits for players to come up and make their putts.
He knows that if there's a magical putt, if there's a putt that wins the championship or a putt that sets a record, he'll likely be the one to capture it. And with this set up at Oak Hill, he'll also get the reaction from the thousands of spectators jammed around the green.
A magical putt and the roar of a golf crowd. That's what Finch, who was inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2010, lives for nowadays.
Finch didn't set out to capture the videos that sports fans would remember for all of time. He knew from a young age that he wanted to be a cameraman, after seeing Johnny Carson perform and being more impressed with the guys behind the camera than the man in front of it.
While he was in college at the University of Tulsa, he started laying cable for an ABC affiliate and worked his way up. Then he left for Hollywood, where he worked on game shows and variety shows like Tony Orlando and Dawn. Then one weekend in 1977, a producer was looking for someone to run a hand-held camera at a PGA tournament.
Finch volunteered. He was hooked.
He started doing golf every weekend, walking up the fairways with a hand-held. At the time, CBS only used two hand-held cameras during broadcasts. At one point in time, a producer told Finch to get to know the golfers off the course. It would help break down the barrier when they were on the course, help him get closer, get better shots.
"I did start talking to them," he says. "It started way back when Fuzzy Zoeller was in a playoff at Colonial."
Finch doesn't remember what year it was. But at the time, Zoeller looked at Finch and said, "Davey, what are we going to do here?"
"Aren't you nervous?" Finch said.
"Why should I be nervous," Zoeller said. "It's just a golf game."
From then on, Finch became known as the cameraman who would talk with the players as they walked up the fairway. Eventually, he started shooting them as he walked with them. He got closer than any cameraman ever had to the best golfers in the world. They let him into their space.
Finch has spent a lot of time with Woods, particularly because he was always the guy following the last group with a camera. In 2006, Woods was in a playoff with Stewart Cink at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron and it was dark. The only way anyone could see was with flashes and strobes from cameras. Finch walked up the fairway on the fourth and final hole, alongside Woods, who had just stuck a shot close to the pin. He would go on to birdie and win the tournament, but at this moment, he still had to hit the putt as he walked with Finch in the dark.
"Wasn't that great, Davey," Woods said.
For Finch, it certainly was.
The game of broadcasting golf is changing, and so is Finch. Now 60 years old, he finds himself not holding a hand-held camera on a golf course for the first time in 36 years. Making the move up to the TV tower was not an easy decision. The position became open when Ricky Blane, who had been on the 18th green for 20 years, retired.
The deciding factor, he says, is the fact that in 2014, the wireless transmission device, which is currently carried by a second person, is going to be put on the camera. That will add about 10 pounds to what a cameraman has to carry for 18 holes, making it weigh close to 40 pounds.
On Thursday, as Finch talks on the phone about how some things have changed and how some things are the same, he's recording as Sergio Garcia walks onto the green.
All of a sudden there's a loud sound in the background.
"Sergio just made a long 40-foot putt and the crowd went wild," Finch says.
Those are the types of putts he waits for. Had Garcia done better in the tournament, that might have been a more memorable putt. As it is, Garcia finished tied for 61st place at six-over-par.
Go back to Finch's train of thought before Garcia's putt interrupted it, though, and Finch still loves to shoot golf for a living. He's one of the last CBS network men who shoot golf (most of it is shot by freelancers now), but that hasn't changed the atmosphere, Finch says.
"We're all one team," he says. "The way (coordinating producer) Lance (Barrow) structures the crew, it creates a family atmosphere. We spend 22 weeks a year on the road, so this entire crew is like my family."
Sometimes Finch will watch golf on television if another network is covering a tournament and he's not working. After all, he knows the golfers. He cares about how Woods is playing, how Ricky Fowler is doing. He tries not to be a critic as he watches, but that can be hard when you've been doing something for so long and then you become a spectator.
He's even gone to a tournament once off the clock.
"I went to the U.S. Open at Shinnecock as a spectator," he says. "It's not the best seat in the house. I think the best seat in the house is right up here, with my camera right here with me. Right over the divide, I can see it all with my own eyes."
And he is right. His perch over 18 is by far the best seat in all of Oak Hill Country Club for this tournament. His tower is two stories tall, but that makes it virtually level with the elevated green. From his perch, you can watch the bleachers fill up. You get to watch the golfers as they chip up onto the green out of the deep rough on the hill. You can watch them putt and then walk off the course.
You can see it all.
Finch almost got his one magical putt. Almost.
On Friday, Jason Dufner had a birdie putt on the final hole that would have given him an eight-under 62 for the day. It would have been the greatest round in major championship history. Instead, Dufner left the putt 18 inches short.
"I put a wide shot on that final putt," Finch says. "I framed most of the gallery. If he had made that putt -- it was just a little short -- but if he had made that putt, he would have made history and you would have seen that shot replayed over and over again."
Lance Barrow, the producer for CBS Golf, says before a telecast that you never know which part of your shot will be the shot of the show. It's impossible to know what will be that defining shot, so Finch just focuses on making beautiful videos that tell the story of what is happening in front of him.
In this tournament, he almost had the shot. Almost.
Once the tournament was over, Finch along with the rest of the crew tore down all the cameras and all the platforms. They pulled miles and miles of cable up. They packed it all away in trucks that were heading south to Greensboro.
Then Finch went back to a hotel for sleep. On Monday, he would be on a plane, along with all of the other camera operators and microphone holders and technicians, hundreds of people that make it possible to watch golf, following that equipment, because starting on Monday evening, they would do it all over again, chasing balls in the air, hoping to capture magic.
Matt Tullis is a journalism professor at Ashland University in Ohio and is the host of Gangrey: The Podcast. He has written for SB Nation Longform, The Post Game and many other publications. You can follow him on Twitter @matttullis.