Endless summers spent watching the best cricket and golf on the planet; Southlander Sam Deuchrass knows he’s one of the lucky ones.
Deuchrass has a contract role with the sports division of Sir Ian Taylor’s Dunedin-based Animation Research.
The company provides 3D graphics and artificial intelligence for multiple television broadcasters around the world, covering American football, baseball, cricket in Australia, the America’s Cup and golf’s European and PGA Tours.
Deuchrass spends the Southern Hemisphere summer tracking every ball of the Australian national team’s home games as part of the television coverage and assisting the third umpire with the Decision Review System (DRS).
In the Northern Hemisphere summer he is in the United States following the PGA Tour, providing on the ground data for the Dunedin-based team to create any number of real time graphics for broadcasters.
“So if you want to see where Tiger Woods’ ball position was on the fairway compared with everyone else, or all the undulations on the green, or how Justin Thomas made his progression to the hole on a par five…we can plot that using real time data and real time graphics,” Deuchrass says.
The phrase “living the dream” could have been coined specifically for the Invercargill native, who is also a keen golfer and loves to turn out for his beloved Appleby cricket club when he can.
It’s a role which offers a unique perspective of sport at the highest level.
Like the 2020 Australian home series against India where Deuchrass was one of a handful of technical assistants travelling by charter flight and private bus between airports and grounds as part of two teams’ Covid bubble.
“You’re walking past Dave Warner and Steve Smith and these boys. It’s us and the umpires in the middle and then the Indians out the back,” he says.
“As soon as they found out that I worked on the PGA Tour they were chewing my ear off about golf.”
Or the 2020 US Open at Wing Foot, won by Bryson de Chambeau, where Deuchrass was providing a back-up role and was free to walk a closed course on his own.
As one of the few spectators on course, he looked up from his phone on the 15th tee and realised he was standing 2m away from Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas.
“I was wondering if I could ask Tiger for a selfie, and whether that would go so wrong that I could lose my job, but I’d still have a selfie with Tiger,” he joked.
(Spoiler: he didn’t ask).
Another privilege is occasionally playing some of the best courses in the United States. His golf obsession often sees him travelling with a small golf bag with his street clothes crammed into the side pockets.
He has managed to wrangle an invite to Shadow Creek near Las Vegas, the scene of the 2018 feature match between Woods and Phil Mickelson, and one of the most exclusive public courses in the world. Deuchrass had worked a tournament there before returning to Las Vegas a couple of weeks later and called up the head of golf at the resort to make a cheeky request to see if he could have a hit. He was invited to a Sunday 10am tee off and told to leave his wallet at home.
“He was like ‘we normally pick guests up in a limo’, but I said ‘nah, I’m fine, I’ve got my Corolla’.”
“You walk into the changing rooms and the lockers have got Michael Phelps, Michael Jordan, Barack Obama, Tom Brady on them. It was just me out there, hacking around on a 16 handicap.”
It’s not all glamour, however. There are long days spent in media trucks being barked at by aggressive American television producers and directors. There’s the endless round of airports, hotels and golf courses.
“I love it, but it is tough. I don’t have a partner, I don’t have a mortgage, both my brothers have kids now and I’ve only seen them a couple of times and then you have Covid and all that sort of stuff and I was travelling right through that – I’ve done four quarantines, so that’s two months of your life spent in a hotel.”
Fair to say Deuchrass loves working for Animation Research though.
“The team in Dunedin is really smart. There’s only about 50 of them and Ian Taylor has refused multiple times to take the company offshore. There’s been some big offers to take them to LA and London but he’s just really keen to keep it down south, which is really amazing,” he says.
But he’s also aware of the cold realities of working in sport.
When the pandemic forced the suspension of major United States competitions including the NBA, MLB and PGA Tour, Deuchrass found himself back in Invercargill working night shifts on the potline at Tiwai.
He never takes his job for granted. The culture at Animation Research has no time for ‘dickheads’, Deuchrass says.
“As soon as I start getting too big for my boots, I just think about the two summers I did at the freezing works on the slaughterboard. It’s crazy saying that you work in sport. It’s so cool.”