The 2023 professional golf season will begin in Hawaii. So does the rest of Mark Rolfing’s career.
I’m on the phone with Rolfing, excited to discuss his new deal with NBC, the deal that will have him on TV this week in Kapalua and beyond.
But first, he would like to discuss the weather.
“Everyone thinks it’s like riding a bicycle, where I can climb in the cabin and get to it, and start another year,” Rolfing says. “But you know, the weather conditions in Kapalua are so different every year that it’s really like playing a new golf course. Last year, with no wind and the course was poor, they shot an incredible number, 34 under. But there are years when the winds blow and the sun comes out Then it dries up. It’s dictated by circumstances and I always look forward to that – because you never know.”
This is Rolfing in his comfort zone: a little nerdy, a little eccentric and a Much Enchanted by the Hawaiian trade winds that swirl across Maui and form the opening event for the next golf calendar.
At seventy-three years old, Rolfing wasn’t the face of NBC’s youth movement. But he’s still a likable and versatile member of the crew, and now he says he’s “so happy” to be back for more: Rolfing says he’s just back for a multi-year deal with the network starting this week. (NBC confirmed the news.) He’ll call live golf at the Sentry Tournament of Champions this week as well as the Sony Open next week—Hawaiian Swing is known among its most ardent esteemers as “Rolfing Season”—before settling into a hybrid role consisting largely of studio shows and “Live From” at big events (including the majors), as he has done for the past few years. It will also call for some live golf.
Kapalua is where every golf season begins. But it’s especially fitting that Rolfing is embarking on the next phase of his broadcasting career, considering it’s where he likely made his debut.
The year was 1985 and Rolfing—who had grown up in Chicago, chased the pro dream long enough to realize it wasn’t meant to be and moved steadily west until he found an assistant pro position in Kapalua—was given an exemption from a PGA Tour event on Maui, which It was played at that time in the fall. Producer Don Ohlmeyer was so impressed with his appearance that he offered him a tryout. Rolfing never looked back.
“It was an accident,” Rolfing says of his big break. “I went up in the booth on Friday and it was Vin Scully and Lee Trevino. And Ohlmeyer — he was an icon, from Monday Night Football and everything else — took me back the next day, and then Sunday too.”
The following season, ESPN signed Rolfing full-time. He worked there for two years. Then he made the jump to NBC.
“It was the annoyance of all time because at the time you had to win a major championship, pretty much, to become an analyst,” he says. “That was before McCord. That was before Furty. There wasn’t really any non-senior player there, as far as I knew. So I wasn’t really sure how it was going.”
Thirty-eight years later, Rolfing’s body of work is proof enough of just how successful she has been. As for regret? Only one comes to mind: at the end of 1991, when he left NBC for a new broadcasting team at ABC. “Honestly, at the time it was all about the money, and, you know, that was pretty much everything,” Rolfing said. He would stay for five years before another opportunity bounced his way.
“I will never forget the call I received [NBC producer] Tommy Roy is at 97,” he says. “He goes, ‘Are you ready to come back here?’ And I came back, and they were the same people they were when I left, the same NBC family. I was so happy to be back, and how long has it been now? Twenty-five years since then.”
Not all those years were foolproof. In the summer of 2015, he noticed a bump on his neck just below his left ear. When he checked it out, he got a terrifying diagnosis: stage 4 mucosal carcinoma, a rare type of salivary gland cancer. The prognosis was not good. After working the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, he broke the news to his crew, then headed to Chicago to clear it up.
The surgeon told Rolfing that removing the tumor without damaging sensory function—essential to his career—was like extracting “a meatball from the bottom of a bowl of spaghetti, without damaging any of the noodles.” He did it anyway. The surgery, along with proton therapy, has been very effective. Rolfing returned to television in Kapalua in 2016. The same month, he announced that he was “100 percent” cancer-free.
Rolfing is grateful to be in this position. Grateful in the short term, given he spent the holidays in Montana, where it got to 30 degrees below outside, and in a house with no heat, near zero inside, too.
He’s grateful for the big picture, too, for understanding the trade winds that have blown the industry, including his network. Rolfing’s extension comes In the context of Old teammates include Roger Maltby and Gary Koch, who both expired at the end of 2022. Both Koch, 70, and Maltby, 72, are actually younger than Rolfing and have worked side by side for years.
Rolfing is unsure how to understand their departure other than to appreciate their collective tenure.
“I’m really going to miss those guys,” he says, “there’s no doubt about that.” “I missed Johnny Miller when he walked up the steps of the tower for the last time. Look, there will be new voices and there will be new faces. It will be great, we are evolving as a network, things are always done differently. The world has changed. But even as I look forward to it… he continues. Later he returned to the topic without hindrance.
When I look at Team Dan [Hicks]Johnny [Miller]Hey Gary [Koch]Present [Maltbie] and Mark [Rolfing], I just don’t know if there will be another team like that. This was just the best. There were others floating around but this team was the best.”
The game has changed. Rolfing knows that. This is his 38thThe tenth general, after all.
“I look back at the product we put on the air when we started, and honestly I’m not sure I would have seen it,” he chuckles. “It started in ’86 on ESPN and we basically did two hours on Saturday, two hours on Sunday. Our coverage started at 12The tenth Green, so we dealt with the last six holes and there were three announcers and none of the technology. It was slow moving. The fans weren’t part of it. You look at the speed now and the energy as well, and it’s just becoming a better spectator sport.”
If there’s a secret to its longevity, Rolfing says, it’s its versatility and availability. He has played host to the major leagues. He was an analyst. He was a man on the course. He was a studio guy. His eagerness to get out there never wavered.
He was particularly speeding this year’s repeat at Kapalua. It’s the first of the PGA Tour’s “a certain“Juveniles, which means a first-class field.
“Getting the best players together on a regular basis will give it a whole new dynamic,” says Rolfing. “And you know, I feel like there’s a little bit of pent-up demand. I’ve been wanting a off-season for a long time. The offseason makes the NFL. Fans feel foamy when they’re not playing. So it’s like we haven’t seen the best guys together in a long time, and I’m excited to have them.” here “.
Rolfing has some predictions for next year. It is believed that Rory McIlroy will complete his Grand Slam career with a victory at the Masters. He’s excited to see more of Tom Kim on the new courses. It is curious, though dubious, to observe whether this generation of golfers can make up the Big 3 or Big 5, or whether the level of talent precludes this. Mostly, though, Rolfing hopes we enjoy golf.
“The game evolves and changes and a lot of the story seems to happen off the golf course, which I kind of don’t like. I’d rather the story be, you know, made by the players and the way they play the game and the tournaments they win.”
As for when this chapter in his career ends? Rolfing could finally admit he had a date circled on the calendar: the 2025 Ryder Cup at Bethpage Black.
“The Ryder Cup is my favorite event,” he says. “Maybe this is the end or the beginning of the end, I don’t know. Maybe after that I will continue to do a smaller schedule.”
Make no mistake, though. He has not started any kind of farewell tour.
“This is not a party trip for me,” he says. “This is going back to work. Starting this week.”
All that remains is to find his signature moment for 2023.
You will join a library. There was a post-tour interview with Arnold Palmer in Oakmont in 1994, where Palmer was left speechless after his US Open finals. There was his moment with Jack Nicklaus in his US Open final, when Rolfing moved from the 18th green on Pebble Beach to the first tee, where Tiger Woods was playing. Then there was Woods’ 18th fairway walk at St Andrews this year, while Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas walked first.
“I’ve had a number of those moments and I’m not sure if it’s pure luck or good luck or what. But now I’m wondering: What is that moment going to be like this year?”
Not knowing – but hoping – is what keeps him coming back.