Veteran sportscaster Vic Lombardi’s move to Altitude takes his career—and his golf game—to new heights.
As the oldest of four children of Italian immigrants in North Denver, Vittorio Giuseppe Rocco Lombardi would play often at nearby Willis Case Golf Course—but never with golf clubs and only after it had snowed.
“That was the sledding hill,” he remembers. “When I was a kid, golf never registered. It was too slow.”
Vittorio anglicized into “Vic,” and team sports represented a way to assimilate. He learned English from his coaches. For street cred, he briefly claimed Vince Lombardi as his grandfather. He was a ball boy for the Nuggets. He played football, basketball and soccer for Holy Family High School, a half-mile west of the two-story house in which his parents still live.
His golf initiation did not come until his senior year at the University of Notre Dame, the school at which he first honed the broadcasting chops that would eventually lead to 28 Emmy Awards (14 for best Sports Anchor) during his 18 years at Denver’s CBS4.
Lombardi's switch to Altitude will allow more opportunity to play golf than his previous gig at CBS 4.
The intramural jock quickly discovered a round of golf wasn’t a pickup game of hoops.
“My buddies said to meet them at the student course,” Lombardi says. “I’d just gotten done playing basketball, so I show up wearing my flip-flops and a half-tank top, and I’m carrying my old plastic boom box. They were already three holes in. They were looking at me, like, ‘Dude, what are you doing?’ I learned real quick.”
Twenty-five years later, Lombardi sports the crisp golf attire befitting a member at The Club at Rolling Hills in Golden, where he carries a 7.4 index. The club is only six blocks from the Applewood home he shares with his wife, Terri, and their three children, Dante, Isabella and Alexis—all of whom regularly join Vic’s parents, Ezio and Bambina Lombardi, for Sunday dinners. So do Vic’s brothers, sister and their children. “That’s why I won’t leave that part of the city,” he says.
Given his loyalty to his family, his hometown and its teams, few thought Lombardi would ever leave CBS4. Arriving here in 1998 after seven years in the Austin and Phoenix markets (where he couldn’t help but get serious about playing golf), Lombardi said anchoring the sports desk at CBS4 represented his dream job—and it showed in his enthusiasm, passion and sincerity.
Credit for that approach, he says, goes to veteran Denver television personality Ron Zappolo. “When I first got here, he told me: ‘You can’t lie to yourself. You’ve got to be who you are. If you’re true to yourself, you’ll have fun doing your job.’”
He took the advice to heart. Although his “reporter involvement” sometimes borders on the narcissistic (trying out for the Colorado Crush) or sophomoric (vandalizing a Joe Flacco poster on the 16th Street Mall), he believes part of the way to get the viewer to interact with a story is to convey what it’s like to be on the inside. “Mostly it’s because I’m curious by nature,” he explains. “It’s not enough just to be there. I want to feel it, too.”
Last year, however, Lombardi felt restless. “I was living my dream. I thought I’d retire at Channel 4. But it got to a point where it got predictable. I knew I had to try something else.”
So the reporter who joined CBS4 just in time for the Broncos second Super Bowl victory left the network 18 years later, shortly before the team’s third.
“It was the toughest decision of my life,” he admits. “I’d been talking to them for a year. It took that long.”
Lombardi’s new gig has him doing Nuggets and Avalanche pre- and postgame—“which we adlib; no reading the teleprompter, which is what you do on local news”—but the slower pace will allow him to approach sports in more of a long-form way. “We’re going to do live programming, more original programming and documentary-style pro-gramming,” he says. “There are so many rich stories in this town that I want to do 30 for 30-style programs about. There are things I want to tackle, and this is the only place that gives me that platform and that time.”
As of this month, one of the things Lombardi will do is appear—literally—on radio from 1 to 4 every weekday afternoon with Kyle Keefe. It’ll be heard on 950 AM—which Altitude owns, along with three FM stations—and simulcast on the television network, à la The Dan Patrick Show.
The combination intrigues Lombardi. “Television is the polished person; radio is the real person,” says the man who until last December also hosted a morning radio show with Mike Evans on KKFN. “On television I’m more careful; on radio, I’m lucky sometimes I don’t curse or lose control. That’s what I love about it.”
Lombardi also loves that his new schedule will afford the opportunity to play more golf. Some of his rounds may come in the form of on-course interviews similar to the type he did for CBS4 with athletes like Todd Helton. But most of his tee times will come in the early mornings or in the late afternoon. “I want to join the Tuesday and Thursday men’s leagues at Rolling Hills. I’ve never been able to because I had to do the evening news.”
He’ll try to get in some father-son rounds with Dante, who plays on the D’Evelyn High School golf team, but not with Ezio. “My dad sees a golf course, he says, ‘What a waste of cow pasture,’” Vic says with a laugh. “Yet all his sons are addicted to it. My brothers, Adelio and Mario, and I play all the time.”
Lombardi’s on-air partner, Kyle Keefe, is also a frequent golf companion. He remembers the first time he played with the Lombardi brothers. “It was a very competitive game that went down to the last hole,” he says. “I tapped in, took off my hat to shake everybody’s hand. Suddenly we’re all holding hands around the hole. They tell me it’s their tradition to have first-timers with them lead them in a prayer. I’m thinking they’re good Catholics, so I’m like, ‘Oh… God… dear God… uh… God. Thank… you… for… the…Lombardis?’ They just started busting up, laughing. They were totally punking me. They apparently do it to everyone the first time they play with them.”
Lombardi with Altitude's Kyle Keefe (right)
“Kyle’s the best golfer at Altitude,” Lombardi concedes. (Keefe’s a 5.8.) The two ham-and-egged their way to win their flight in the 2014 Broadmoor Invitation—and we have the jackets to prove it. Lombardi also paired with his agent and longtime friend Peter Schaffer to win the 2008 edition of the Colorado AvidGolfer Corporate Cup at Red Sky Golf Club. “The fact that we were in the thick of it the entire time—it was intense, nerve-wracking and a little embarrassing because I was emceeing the thing,” Lombardi remembers. “But we won because of my partner, not me. That’s the best he ever played in his life.”
Lombardi says he “lives on social media.” Even though he tells stories, Tweets, Periscopes and makes himself available to everyone during a round, he takes his golf seriously. He loves to compete. “I don’t like to lose on the golf course,” he says. “Ever.” After all, he maintains, sports is about winning and losing. During his 20s and 30s, that fierce competitiveness often got the better of him during pickup basketball games. “I didn’t like that part of me to be honest with you,” he admits. “But it exists.”
Peter Schaffer, Lombardi, and CAG publisher Allen Walters.
He’s played with Broncos punter Britton Colquitt five or six times. “And every time coming down the stretch I always beat him by a stroke or two—and he gets pissed!” Lombardi says. “I love it!”
“He’s really good when there’s some-thing on the line—whether it’s one dollar or 20 or 50 or a beer,” says Keefe.
Lombardi says that “clutchness” owes a lot to his professional broadcast training. “A lot of what I do is based on adrenaline,” he explains. “Your breathing has to be correct. You have to make sure you enunciate correctly. You can’t be jacked up. You have to be calm. That’s very similar to golf. There’s a choke factor in our business. When that red light goes on, you better produce, the same way you’d better produce when you have to make that five-foot putt at Pebble.”
He maintains he’s not a gambler, though he concedes, “I find to get the competitive juices going, you have to put a couple of dollars on the line.”
However, there are limits. “Alfred Williams has taken a lot of my money,” Lombardi says of the former Broncos linebacker and current talk-show host. “To him, golf is gambling more than it is golf. Every time I play with him, I get to that uncomfortable level. And that’s where he beats me. He’ll keep pressing and pressing.”
Lombardi says Rolling Hills' greens can 'eat you up'
(Lombardi did get a modicum of satisfaction when Williams, frustrated by Rolling Hills’ notoriously tricky greens, once walked off the course, swearing he’d never play there again. “That course can eat you alive,” Lombardi laughs. “But I watched Eric Decker shoot a 74 there with rented clubs.”)
Though athletic, Lombardi says he compensated for his average talents by outhustling everyone on the basketball court and football field (given the Notre Dame connection, Rudy invariably comes to mind). “But in golf, you can’t outhustle,” he says. “You can’t run faster to the ball. You can’t swing harder. You have to be more calm than anything else. It’s probably the most challenging, most mentally taxing thing I’ve ever done. In a given round, I can laugh, I can cry, I can fight myself, I can beat myself up. I can quit the game and go back wanting more.”
So why keep doing it? “The fact that it can never be beat—and I want to beat it. No matter how low you go, how well you shoot, there’s always that ‘I could have done this, I could have done that, I can perfect this, I can perfect that.’ The tiniest micro-movements in your body can affect not only your score, but your day and your livelihood. It changes your entire demeanor. It changes your personality like no other.”
Lombardi, who turns 47 in May, admits he couldn’t imagine feeling this passionately about the game when he was younger. “To me, golf was just a bunch of old guys wasting their day, decaying on a perfectly manicured lawn.
“And now,” he says, “I’m one of those guys.”
Jon Rizzi is Colorado AvidGolfer's editor and this article appears in the April 2016 issue of Colorado AvidGolfer.
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