It was during his short, three-year stay in Spokane that Todd Lewis fine-tuned his skills as a sportscaster as a weekend anchor and reporter for KXLY-TV, while also developing a deep and unrelenting passion for golf.
Looking back, his television gig in the Pacific Northwest in the late 1990s was as enlightening and enjoyable as any he has had.
Except for the one he has now.
In 2008, after ending an eight-year relationship with WKMG-TV in Orlando, Fla., Lewis landed a job as a member of the Golf Channel’s broadcast team. And since signing on, he has been elevated to the cable network’s lead reporter at all major championships.
“This is definitely the best stop of my nomadic career,” Lewis admitted recently during a phone interview from Orlando, Fla., where he lives with his wife, Melanie. “I mean, I love golf, so to land here and then work myself up to the point where I am now has been really cool.”
Lewis is in Bethesda, Md., this week, doing interviews at the U.S. Open and hosting a daily wrap-up show on NBC.com. And earlier this spring year in Augusta, Ga., he was one of a few reporters allowed to roam the grounds of Augusta National during The Masters.
“It’s a great rush,” he said of his recently acquired duties at the majors, “but with it comes a lot of responsibility. You have to make sure you’re doing your due diligence to uncover the proper stories and get the viewers who are watching all the information they want.”
Lewis, who left Spokane in 1998 to take a weekend sports anchor job back in his home state of North Carolina, ended up jumping from Raleigh to Orlando. But he found himself unemployed in early 2007, he said, after a disagreement over the direction the general manager at WKMG wanted to take the station.
“Canned might be the right word for it,” Lewis said, when asked about the falling out. “The GM and news director there just said nobody cares about sports, and wanted something different from me. I didn’t want to work in that capacity, so we mutually agreed to part ways.”
At that time, Lewis had no leads on another job.
“But, fortunately, I had put myself in an OK financial situation to absorb something like that,” he explained, “so I just took four months off before I starting looking.”
A close friend, who was working for the Golf Channel at the time, approached Lewis about the possibility of hiring on, while also recommending him to network’s brass.
“I ended up doing some freelance work for them, and didn’t violate any FCC regulations,” Lewis recalled, “and they ended up offering me a contract.”
His love for golf, coupled with the fact that he was living just 15 miles form the Golf Channel studios, made the decision a no-brainer. But Lewis discovered in a hurry just how much he didn’t know about the sport.
“I felt, because I played golf and had covered it as a sports director and reporter, that I had a firm grasp on the game and the different tours,” he recalled. “But within the first week I was there I realized I still had a high school education when it comes to golf, and that everybody else at the Golf Channel had a PhD.”
That revelation forced Lewis to immerse himself in learning about the various tours and how they operate.
“And once I did, it was just a matter of going out and building professional relationships with the players,” said Lewis, who estimates that he spends about two-thirds of his time in the studio and the other third on the road at PGA Tour events.
But even though he now talks one-on-one with PGA Tour’s elite players, Lewis still holds a fondness for his Spokane experience.
“The most fun I had in getting to here was working with Rick Lukens and Dennis Patchin at KXLY,” he said. “It opened my eyes to how great the Northwest and Inland Empire region really is. I still tell people how great the golf courses are back there, although here in Orlando, I can play year-round.”
Lewis, who plays at least twice a week and carries a single-digit handicap, recalled getting up and playing courses like Indian Canyon, Hangman Valley and The Creek at Qualchan all by himself in the early dawn hours.
“The guy would be mowing the first green, and I was right behind him,” he said. “It was while I was in Spokane that I picked up the game to the point where ‘Wow, I’m hooked.’”
And while he rarely requests golf tournaments to cover, Lewis has already put in a bid to do interviews at the RBC Canadian Open, which will play out July 21-24 in Vancouver, B.C.
“Right now, my wife and I are planning to stay an extra week after and do some touring around the Northwest – and maybe even get to Spokane,” he said. “At least that’s what we’re working on.”