As Patrick Reed tapped in for bogey at The Barclays amid a nice preview of what the 2024 Ryder Cup will be like (in short, it’ll make 1999’s mob scene look like a cotillion dance), CBS bid adieu to their golf coverage for the year. They’ll be back at Torrey Pines in early 2017 with their normal slate (Fox will have the Super Bowl (you’ve been warned) so no need to flip a tournament to NBC/Golf Channel).
While they go dark, it’s time that the so-called Tiffany Network have a serious reboot of their golf coverage. In short, it’s gotten stale, their coverage is far worse than NBC and is in dire need of assistance. If you want an example, I’ll point to the coverage that the three non-Masters (which to be fair is a different animal completely) majors that were covered by FOX (US Open), NBC (Open Championship), and CBS (US PGA Championship). FOX still doesn’t really seem to know what the hell it’s doing (although they’re to be credited for adjusting their coverage with the rain delays even though they dumped network coverage to show regular season baseball which says all you need to know even though their network coverage of the MLB playoffs is limited to the World Series…pick a lane fellas), to CBS going through the (wanking) motions at the USPGA Championship. NBC’s coverage was nothing short of amazing. It was everything you would want; they gave the viewer wall-to-wall coverage and poured considerable resources into it (same for their Olympics golf coverage). The bar was set by NBC/Golf Channel and anything else being done should be compared to the NBC/Golf Channel work.
Put it this way- compare NBC’s coverage of their big events (Players Championship, Open Championship, Olympics) to how CBS and FOX covered their events and you start to see the problem. NBC wasn’t afraid to be critical of the golf course setup at the Players Championship when it was clear to anyone that the Tour had lost the course on that Saturday.
Losing David Feherty to NBC/Golf Channel “should” have been a good thing for CBS (if handled correctly) and the trade-off of Feherty for Dottie Pepper was a net gain for CBS. While his interview show on Golf Channel is not bad, I just don’t see what Feherty adds to the NBC telecasts other than the occasional bit of comic relief. He’s not Hicks (or Tirico) and Miller, and Maltbie is still a better nuts-and-bolts guy in terms of telling me what’s going on with players (Feherty needs to learn how to be critical and use his knowledge as a former pro and as a former Ryder Cupper). I’d say stick him in a tower but I’m not sure he’s a good fit there (Gary Koch and Peter Jacobsen are solid in those roles). I’m not a fan of 3-man booths (see FOX) so sticking him alongside Johnny Miller and Dan Hicks is a further “square peg in round hole” situation.
The issues for CBS start at the top, and by that, I mean Jim Nantz. He’s 57 and has a young wife and a couple of young kids. His work schedule is ridiculously bloated which I think is the biggest part of the problem (on the road 245 days a year is insane). He does a fairly heavy workload during NFL season for CBS (last year he was doing 2 games per week) on top of College Basketball and Golf coverage and the poor guy has to carry a picture of burnt toast so that he can get toast the way he likes it. It’s too much and far too often, he sounds like someone phoning it in (I don’t think that’s his attitude but it’s how he comes off). Nobody can do that much (and frankly CBS doesn’t have that kind of depth that they seem willing to trust big events with). Al Michaels isn’t doing 3 sports (he does 20 weeks of NFL broadcasts and an Olympics every 2 years) nor should he need to. Dan Hicks does Notre Dame football and Olympics swimming along with golf which isn’t nearly as taxing (and with Mike Tirico on board, you do wonder if Tirico might see some golf, especially in September if Notre Dame duties keep Hicks away). It’s time to put Nantz in a host role (think Bob Costas during horse racing Triple Crown events) but I’d let him keep his role at The Masters. Otherwise, it’s time to groom a successor and the sooner, the better (or let him stay on golf full time but find a full-time #1 play-by-play for their college basketball coverage).
In the short run, Bill McAtee is a good “B” team 18th hole host and has been solid if not unspectacular when he gets paired with Ian Baker Finch. McAtee’s interviewing skills aren’t the greatest (Kostis and Dottie Pepper are good), but as an 18th hole tower host he’s decent.
While we’re at it, can someone please explain to CBS that when they go on the air, they should be showing live golf as soon as humanly possible (and this happens every damn time). It can take 15-20 minutes before they’re showing actual live play, which is ridiculous. This is on Lance Barrow who is probably as big of a problem as anyone; how NBC/Golf Channel can accomplish this and CBS can’t means that it’s on Barrow to make it better. Look, if an A list name is going unconscious then by all means update people, but unless Spieth is flirting with a 58 or Mickelson has had to have Bones dive into a pond to recover his last ball, better to show live golf first.
In terms of trying to groom a successor to Nantz, it also has to be said that I have no idea what Nick Faldo (sorry, Sir Nick Faldo) is doing half the time. He’s serviceable during their Masters coverage when he’s on a very short leash, but otherwise…I just don’t see it. He had great synergy with Mike Tirico and Paul Azinger in their ABC days, but that was 12-13 years ago. The “oh dear” is getting stale (or the “crumbs” bit). You’re not there to be a cheerleader. You’ve won major championships- tell me something as a viewer that I don’t know. Put me inside the head of a guy who has never won before who is up by 1 stroke over Day and McIlroy and is on the 18th tee. Tell me something I don’t know.
Replacements? Options are plentiful. Terry Gannon and Steve Sands are very good at their jobs (Sands’ work during the first couple FedEx Cup Tour Championships trying to explain the points race was nothing short of brilliant). Would either want that chair? Gannon really impressed me during his early-day hosting job at the Open Championship and the Olympic tournament. He’s a good setup man, which is really what that role should be. Would they want to jump ship?
I’m really stuck with respect to Dottie Pepper. She’s damn good at what she does (her and Kostis are by far the best of the CBS bunch); would the 17th tower be perceived as an upgrade for her or is this a step backwards? Related, anything Judy Rankin does for Golf Channel is immediately worth watching. I can’t say enough about her insight about the game and that she’s able to lend that insight from a pro into something easily translatable. Her and Terry Gannon are on a par with Nantz and Faldo, if you ask me.
Part of me thinks that if you blow the thing up, an 18th hole team of Steve Sands (or Terry Gannon) and Dottie Pepper would be, if nothing else, watchable (let Nantz take on a hosting role at their bigger events to add that “big event” feel to it). Like Rankin, Dottie Pepper lends the credibility of someone who’s been there as a professional but translate to a viewer.
While we’re on the subject of Pepper and Kostis, at some point Augusta National is going to have to bend on having on-course reporters. For a tournament that has shown signs of progression, the things they dig in on are baffling. Don’t tell me that having them on the course walking with groups is somehow “taking away” from someone’s experience. Kostis/Pepper are smart enough to know where the line is (same with Maltbie if NBC ever picked up the Masters rights which will likely never happen).
McCord seems to have lost a step without a comic foil. He’s not bad, but like Feherty he needs to figure out what exactly it is that he’s doing and be better at that. I think he’s funny, but at times he tends to meander. I heard someone say this- it’s easy when you’ve got compelling final-round coverage, but if you’ve got a blowout (say Jason Day is up by 8 strokes) you’re trying to keep the viewer tuned in. He’ll never be part of their Masters coverage so he misses out on their biggest event of the year.
Rich Beem, on the other hand, has been a welcome breath of fresh air. Not sure if it’s because of his work for UK broadcaster Sky that he has a different perspective, but I look forward to seeing more of him. You could put him in a tower and I’d be pretty happy.
I would also add a rules person. Since Slugger White has retired, would he be willing to take on a rules role at CBS? At the very least, he would be a good resource to help viewers understand why the course was set up a certain way or why tee times might have been moved up. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have someone who can explain this from the PGA Tour’s role. It gives the viewer a perspective that they don’t always get.
Let’s talk technology. As terrible as FOX’s US Open coverage is (too much to get into here), they have made the use of Trackman (and similar) an expectation. This should be part of every broadcast. Period. Both PGA and LPGA tours. If the tours are going to work together, this should be an expectation on broadcasts on a par with HD coverage and a leaderboard box visible at all times. It is still painful to watch FOX’s coverage but they are ahead of the curve in terms of using technology.
With that being said, this would be my ideal setup for CBS’ Golf Coverage starting in 2017 (non-Masters events):
Studio Host: Jim Nantz
18th hole: Bill McAtee/Dottie Pepper
17th hole: Rich Beem
16th hole: Gary McCord (for now)
15th hole: Nick Faldo
On course: Ian Baker-Finch
Interviews: Peter Kostis
Rules: Slugger White