ESPN’s Michael Eaves jokes ex-colleague Tom Rinaldi could make somebody cry at their own funeral. But the “SportsCenter” anchor welcomes the challenge of replacing the popular essayist/storyteller during ESPN’s coverage of this week’s 2021 Masters Tournament.
During ESPN’s live coverage of Rounds 1 and 2 on Thursday and Friday, Eaves will assume Rinaldi’s role of interviewing players as they come off the course at Augusta National Golf Club. Eaves has been at Augusta all week, covering practice rounds and pre-tournament activities.
It’s a “bucket list” assignment for Eaves. During his senior year in high school, he was the first Black golfer to qualify for the Kentucky state golf tournament.
Eaves learned his love of golf from his father, a U.S. Army veteran. The two watched the Masters together year after year. Upon joining ESPN in 2015, he asked to be part of the network’s annual coverage.
“To be a part of the Masters telecast for ESPN, and do something Tom Rinaldi has done so well for the last few years, it’s really cool to be quite honest with you,” Eaves told Front Office Sports. “It’s hard to put into words how appreciative I am of this opportunity.”
After two decades at ESPN, Rinaldi bolted for rival Fox Sports earlier this year. Along with Eaves, ESPN’s Marty Smith and Gene Wojciechowski will provide essays and features. Scott Van Pelt and Curtis Strange will host coverage from Augusta’s Butler Cabin. Eaves, Van Pelt and Strange will join CBS Sports’ announce crew for telecasts.
Like most SportsCenter anchors, Eaves writes his own copy. He’s written an on-air piece on Lee Elder, who became the first Black person to play in the Masters. On Thursday, Elder will serve as honorary starter for this year’s tournament along with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.
“To be a sports reporter and even a sports anchor, you have to be a good writer. The better writer you are, the better storyteller you will be.”
Eaves is also punching up a “Sports Science” piece on Bryson DeChambeau, who famously packed on 50 pounds of muscle to boost his clubhead speed and driving distance. Like many golf nerds, Eaves is fascinated by De Chambeau pushing the physical limits of his body, his equipment and the game.
“He’s taken an approach that people have criticized him for. But look what he’s done? He won a major championship [the 2020 U.S. Open] because of the changes he’s made.”
Last November’s pandemic-delayed Masters was the least-watched on record. But Eaves notes it will be different this week, with the tournament returning to its rightful slot in April and patrons again supplying their famous roars.
“No one thinks about the Masters in November. We just don’t,” he noted. “We didn’t have the patrons on the ground. It was just different.”
The controversy over the state of Georgia’s new voting laws led Major League Baseball to move the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver. This week, President Joe Biden was asked if the Masters should be moved out of Georgia.
While the Masters could theoretically “move” the tournament, you can’t pick up and move the 365-acre Augusta National Golf Club. Eaves is curious how the club handles the issue this week.
“Augusta National is the home of the Masters — and Augusta is in Georgia. So where are you going to move the Masters to in their eyes? Where are you going to move it to?” asks Eaves.
“It’s not the U.S. Open, PGA [Championship] or Open Championship. They always move. [The Masters] is always in the same place. And the city of Augusta is in the state of Georgia.”
During a Wednesday press conference, Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley said the private club won’t take sides on the law.
“We realize that views and opinions on this law differ, and there have been calls for boycotts and other punitive measures. Unfortunately, those actions often impose the greatest burdens on the most vulnerable in our society,” Ridley said. “And in this case, that includes our friends and neighbors here in Augusta who are the very focus of the positive difference we are trying to make.”