Stationed 90 feet above the fairway on the 17th hole at Omaha Country Club was a cameraman who doesn’t care about the heights, the heat or the stiff breeze.
His job was to capture the sights and sounds of the U.S. Senior Open from that temporary observation tower, where just one light step on the base platform can be distinctly felt at the top.
But Steve Wolfe climbed up it as if he were sauntering up the stairway to the second floor of his house in San Diego. That tower’s basically his second home.
He’s been operating a camera professionally since 1979, employed by NBC for the past 17 years. He’s shot it all, from “Monday Night Football” to the Winter Olympics (his personal favorite). He’s been to Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium a half-dozen times, too.
Lately, Wolfe’s just been doing golf. But he’s still on the job between 240 to 260 days per year.
The World-Herald caught up with Wolfe to chat about his responsibilities on NBC’s broadcast, specifically what it’s like spending several hours alone on arguably the course’s highest point during hot and steamy July afternoons.
Q: Do you have a preference as to where you work on the course?
A: Doesn’t matter. I’d prefer the high cameras. The cranes.
Q: You’re not afraid of heights then?
A: Somewhat. But now, I feel very comfortable up there.
Q: Well, that’s funny because the tower on the 17th hole was just erected. There are a dozen cables stabilizing it. Doesn’t seem that sturdy.
A: There’s a safety check every day to make sure it’s all secure. I do have a harness.
Q: Don’t you feel the butterflies walking up the steps, though?
A: You don’t look down. Now, I don’t really care. But if you want to do it, you don’t look down. I’ve had people come up to try to relieve me in a longer show, … They come up, poke their head out and go, ‘Nope.’
Q: Do you get spectators yelling up to you much?
A: I don’t hear them. With the headsets on, you can’t hear anything. Once in a while, you’ll get someone (staring). Like, ‘What’s wrong with that man?’ But to me, that’s one of the nice parts. It’s quiet. You relax and do your job.
Q: But what about when the sun’s out? It has to get hot up there.
A: Oh yeah. It does. If it’s not too windy, I can put an umbrella up. But otherwise, you just don’t think about it. You drink a lot of water, but that means you have to come down and go back up. It’s a Catch-22.
Q: At least it hasn’t been too windy here yet.
A: No. The most I ever had was in Hawaii on a crane. It was 50 mph.
Q: So, is the crane (at 140 feet off the ground) shaking up there?
A: Not as much as you would think, but enough that it made it really hard to follow anything.
Q: Covering this tournament, there are lots of breaks in the action. Yet you don’t come down much. What do you do to pass the time?
A: I’ll read. I have a chair. A Kindle. When there’s nobody coming or going, I’ll sit and read.
Q: Is there a certain strategy to shooting? What are you trying to capture? The flight of the ball?
A: You get a feeling for how the ball is traveling when you’re up there and you get to see it come by. When it lands, being able to widen out and show what they’re aiming at. It’s a different look.
Q: At this point in your career, you obviously do it well. Is there a point when it clicks, to where you’re comfortable? The ball’s moving pretty quickly.
A: Oh, it’s a team. Without the video guy, I’m not going to see it either. He’s got to be there irising my camera. We’re working together. It’s not just me. Usually I could tell you right away if somebody could do this or couldn’t. It is something that you either can do or you can’t do. Some people just can’t.
Q: You’re pretty nonchalant talking about all of this. Like, you’re not a big deal. You just do what you do. But not many have this skill, this job.
A: I love it. I’m not going to tell you I don’t love it. Not being at home, that’s the only real downfall I have.