In the days following the 115th U.S. Open, the criticism of Chambers Bay has largely died down, but the throttling of Fox has not, and with good reason.
While there’s no guarantee of another major at Chambers, Fox is contractually capable of sabotaging these things for another 11 years (Tiger will be 51 and probably still stuck on 14 majors).
Fox is a football network clearly out of its depth covering golf. They produced a clueless, lifeless broadcast that did a complete disservice to a major that gave them only everything you could ever want in a golf tournament.
We won’t waste space repeating the rightly deserved criticisms here, but the whole thing got the blog thinking about the state of golf TV broadcasts in general and here’s why:
Fox promised to break the golf broadcast mold and instead took it to the kiln and had it re-fired. How much of that was dictated by the USGA, I don’t know, but that’s of no concern here. The lack of imagination and innovation, and let’s break it down further – effort – was where a lot of the ire should be directed, but it also speaks to a larger point: There’s a stultifying lack of creativity around the game right now and in particular in golf broadcasts, which have changed how much again this century?
Maybe the networks became lazy over the past 15 years from simply having to point a camera at Tiger and pray that he made the weekend, but golf broadcasts on the whole have progressed about as far as newspapers in that time, meaning they haven’t.
Fox’s playbook seemed to be to hire Holly Sanders, point a camera at her, and the course, and pray. We see how well that worked.
As followers of the blog know, we don’t take this tone often, but we come not to denigrate but rather to be the Golf TV Think Thank Fox had two years to visit and didn’t. (Oh wait, they shaded the greens; my bad.)
What follows is a list of a few things Fox could’ve tried if it actually cared about progressing the golf broadcast model. What’s odd is that some of these come straight from the football broadcasts Fox knows well. Such as …
Mike up a player – How has this not happened? Well, we know why it didn’t happen when a certain would-be-sailor was world No. 1, but then don’t stream them live. You revisit snippets like they do with the NFL players. Is there a reason we can’t get a wire on Jordan Spieth, who is an extraordinarily and unusually verbally expressive player on the course? He talks through an entire shot process out loud with his caddie. Don’t catch random bits. Give him a mike and capture the whole thing and thereby let fans into the game, just like it does in the NFL. And if you can’t mike a player for some reason, how about a caddie?
Seriously, how has this not been done, especially in a sport perceived as mostly having generic humanoids as players? Someone with a personality and media saavy, like Pat Perez, for instance, should jump at the chance to do this.
Player profiles – For the broadcast, this is two-fold, seeing as they eschewed any attempt to profile profiles (because Jordan Spieth is a household name already, right?) and introduce them to the uninitiated, but I more mean capturing them in a graphic box like they would with an NFL QB. Example:
Tim Tebow, Philadelphia Eagles
Everything else, particularly if it involves throwing anything with laces
OK, that one is a bit exaggerated in jest, but you could easily do this in golf and give some feel for a player who’s known or unknown to you. If you don’t know the player, as a golfer you can identify to the player type. An attempt:
Clutch putter – the best on Tour and perhaps one of the best ever.
Unshakable on-course composure
A knack for rising to the challenge in big moments (see: 2015 Masters)
A 21-year-old body doesn’t deliver some of the power of his peers – yet
A Tip To Try
Looks at the hole – not the ball – on short putts
You could capture quirks about players, especially unconventional ones like Bubba Watson, and make them known to average golfers who don’t necessarily have the acumen to catch some of this stuff.
Build a replica green complex and teach a little – Chambers Bay has the on-course footprint of a small nation state. They could’ve easily found room, and you know they had the budget, to build a 19th hole for TV purposes only that could’ve served as a place to teach. Recreate some of those crazy lies and show how they were, or could’ve been, played. On the whole, golf broadcasts teach very little in relation to what they could be doing.
You don’t want it to break up the flow of the action, but when the tournament field is in neutral – as it was for long stretches at Chambers – you’d have time to do this instead of show a parade of bogey putts.
The more golf I play the more I’m reminded how much the general public doesn’t know about the game. TV is the best vehicle for it, but they have to be committed to it. Instead, Fox committed to nothing.
Document the building of Chambers Bay – The appeal of the tourney was largely the new venue, something we rarely see in a major, much less in such a break from tradition as Chambers Bay was with the U.S. Open’s traditional style of play. Having famed architect Gil Hanse on to do some course commentary was a nice thought, but not nearly enough. Something closer to the exemplary document the Golf Channel did could’ve been produced and parsed into something akin to ESPN’s 30 for 30 shorts and doled out over lulls in the action. That the course turned into such a story, which was totally predictable, only makes this even more of an oversight.
Send Joe Buck to the bench and go to the pen – Monotone Joe would’ve been great for a chess match or a bingo tournament, but not the U.S. Open. His lack of emotion, enthusiasm and any ability to set up his golf comrades, who were a JV team themselves, was a killer. (To that end, Jay Delsing? Jay Delsing? Does Jay Delsing even want to listen to Jay Delsing cover the U.S. Open?)
When you turn on ESPN for the British, you get a certain golf giddiness in the voices of Mike Tirico or say Scott Van Pelt, because they’re genuinely excited to be there. Golfers connect to that passion and are just the same turned off by a lack thereof. Buck should’ve been allowed to stay home and re-laminate his St. Louis Cardinals baseball card collection if he couldn’t get up for the big game.
Not going to speculate on replacements, but Fox has a year to figure it out. Make this priority No. 1.
Social media, anyone? – On the whole, I’m not a huge fan of Twitter/TV trend (sorry, Twitter), but I’d make an exception for golf broadcasts, which currently do none of this. I mostly don’t like that Twitter is used as a vehicle for easy sensationalism in a lot of other sports, but golf has many thought contributors who add much to the discussion and context while watching tournaments. I know because I follow these people.
It would’ve been only too easy to turn on Twitter during the Tiger-tastrophe, but I’d rather see it used to highlight great play and contribute to greater understanding of the game, but a little snark might not be a bad thing for comic relief in a sport that can always use a little. Speaking of which …
Anyone have Will Ferrell’s number? – I’m not trying to bring the Dennis Miller/MNF disaster to golf, but the game could use a lighter side along the lines of what David Feherty provides. Ferrell cut some legitimately funny short clips for Pinehurst last year (Will Ferrell predicts the British Open: “The French.”), showing a passion and interest in the game.
If you’re truly getting outside the box, why would you not try something like this? For example, Will Ferrell riffing on fescue. You wouldn’t have watched that? Really? You don’t want to make a mockery, but a laugh track certainly beats dead air or a broadcast that’s simply flat as Fox’s was.
Clearly handing Fox a 10-year deal for the Open was a major mistake. They’ve got a chance in 2016 at Oakmont to prove it wasn’t. I suggest they get busy – now.