Anyone who has watched live golf telecasts quickly recognizes the voice of Peter Kostis and marvels at his ability to break down the components of a golf swing.
The Valley resident, who is regarded as one of the top golf instructors in the world, has been a fixture with CBS since 1990. An Emmy award winner, he is in demand as a guest speaker and emceed this year’s Arizona Golf Hall of Fame induction dinner.
In 1974, Kostis began teaching at Golf Digest schools, joining Bob Toski and Jim Flick on a legendary staff that later added Davis Love Jr.
He has served as swing coach for Bernhard Langer and Paul Casey, among others, and has helped more than 125 tour pros, including Jack Nicklaus, Tom Kite and Love’s son, Davis Love III.
Kostis, 69, also has worked with numerous celebrities, including Kevin Costner, preparing him for his role in the movie “Tin Cup.”
Peter is the first to admit he has caught some lucky breaks during his career, but none bigger than the one in 2013 when his wife, Sandy, was scheduled for a colonoscopy and suggested that he get one at the same time.
Although Kostis wasn’t due for that procedure for several months, he agreed to have the exam, and it might well have saved his life. The colonoscopy showed malignant polyps, which required six hours of surgery to remove 18 inches of colon.
Six weeks later, doctors found that the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes, advancing to Stage III, which required chemotherapy.
The cancer now is in remission, and many people have told Kostis that they or loved ones have been diagnosed with colon cancer after his story inspired them to have a colonoscopy.
Recently, he talked to AZ Golf Insider about his life in golf, dealing with cancer and playing golf with a U.S. president:
As a kid you were active in team sports and even got a football scholarship. How did you gravitate to golf?
I blew out my left knee. At that time, you could keep your scholarship if you played another sport and I wanted to stay active in competition. I had always played golf in high school, and once the knee got back to the point where I could play again, I joined the college golf team. So that’s how I made the transition.
You were with Golf Digest schools from 1974-87. How did you go from there to CBS?
In 1989, the PGA of America wanted to charge a rights fee for the Ryder Cup, but the major networks all passed on it and USA Network agreed to pay the rights fee of $225,000. They needed Ryder Cup announcers and I was there (at The Belfry in England) because I was working with some of the guys who were playing in it. They had Gary McCord, Ben Wright and Jim Simpson lined up and they asked me to join them. That’s how I got started and, luckily, USA had worked with CBS at the Masters and some other shows. CBS liked what I did so they hired me.
You have been a colleague and friend of Gary McCord for a long time. What has that association been like?
Well, our friendship goes all the way back to the PGA Tour Team Championship (which ended in 1972) when we played in it with our students. He is a dear friend, who always manages to help you keep things in perspective. You might be taking something very serious and Gary has a way of making you look at it differently and laugh at it. As far as our relationship on the air, Gary is very important to our telecasts because he is the one who brings the energy. He’s the guy who is off the cuff and will say crazy things, which energizes the telecast, and in that way he is really, really important to us.
What is your favorite event to cover?
They’re all wonderful in different ways but the Masters is the one I would never want to stop doing. I’ve been doing that since 1990 and I don’t want it to end. The most fun might be Pebble Beach because it is a more relaxed atmosphere (with the celebrity pro-am) and there are a lot of star athletes and celebrities, and I enjoy helping them with their golf games.
What are the things you enjoy about life in Arizona?
Mostly it’s the people and the climate. We moved here from south Florida when my wife and I decided we didn’t want to raise our kids there. They were 4 and 6 at the time and it wasn’t the environment and the culture that we wanted for them. I was offered a position to have a golf school with Gary McCord at Grayhawk Golf Club and, once we got here, we just fell in love with it.
What approach did you take in dealing with cancer?
I had spent time around people, like those at St. Jude Hospital in Memphis and other situations, and saw how they go through serious illnesses and injuries, and the ones that seemed to do the best in terms of recovery were the ones who had the best attitude. They remained positive. What I did was try to maintain a really good, positive attitude and put my head down, bear down and deal with what I had to do. There wasn’t much for me to do as far as the surgery, but the recovery from that and dealing with chemotherapy and so on, it was all about attitude for me.
Leading up to the Olympics, didn’t you have some doubts about the return of golf?
I didn’t have doubts about golf returning to the Olympics and being a good event. I had doubts about them selling it as a way to grow the game. From my perspective, the Olympics aren’t going to grow the game because it’s a game that takes time commitment and takes money. I don’t care how many Chinese golfers win gold medals, they don’t have a true middle class in China, so they aren’t going to have a whole new wave of golfers taking up the game. Golf isn’t going to grow if people don’t have good paying jobs and the time to devote to playing. Even in Rio, where the Olympics were held, they have serious issues, and building an Olympic golf course there isn’t necessarily going to attract a lot of new golfers. You have to get the economy under control first. So my issue was with that sales job. In terms of the competition, I thought it went very well but I think it would have been better had it been a team sport and had there been a match-play component, where you had to beat someone to advance. That’s how most events work in the Olympics, where you have qualifying rounds and then medal rounds, which lead up to a grand conclusion. In golf, there were four rounds and no conclusions until the very end. I think they need to modify it a little bit and it will be successful.
Do you see something in Tiger Woods’ swing that has led to his extensive injury problems?
I don’t think it’s just Tiger’s golf swing. It’s the swing that’s being taught by a lot of teachers over the past 25 years. We went away from the classic swing with a lot of foot action and knee flex, and they said the reverse C is going to create back problems. So then we went to keeping the feet planted on the ground and creating a lot of torque, and that is causing a lot of issues. You see guys like Justin Rose, Jason Day, Tiger and others now dealing with back injuries. I think it’s the overall message that’s being sent with the quote-unquote “modern golf swing.” I’m not a huge fan of it, quite frankly. I’m more old-school in my approach to how you should swing a golf club.
In your golf experiences with celebrities and presidents, is there one that provided a special memory?
I was scheduled to play golf one day (in 1990) with President George H.W. Bush at Cape Arundel in Kennebunkport, Maine, which is where I started in the golf business. He called me and said something had come up, so if I had other commitments and couldn’t wait around for him, he would understand. I told him I had cleared my schedule and didn’t mind waiting. Right after I hung up, I looked up at this little TV in the golf shop and there was a news alert that the president was getting ready to make an announcement. So he walks out in front of his house at Walker’s Point and announces Operation Desert Shield (in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait). Afterwards, he got into his motorcade and they drove straight to the course. He thanked me for waiting and said he really needed a couple hours of golf as kind of R&R to clear his mind and think about something else for awhile other than world problems. That’s one that always comes to mind when I think about experiences with celebrity.
– John Davis