With the kind of built-in synergy that has become part and parcel of sports in the 21st century, Fox Sports’ venture into golf began this afternoon with their final-round coverage of the Franklin Templeton Shootout which moved up a day so that Fox didn’t trample on their own NFL coverage, played at a course designed by Fox Sports’ new analyst Greg Norman.
To be fair, I tried to break this down into the good and the bad.
Innovation: If nothing else, Fox has brought numerous innovations to televised sports in the US. They used a drone for their hole fly-overs and on a few on-course shots (from the fairway), giving viewers an angle that they otherwise wouldn’t be seeing. They aren’t all gems, to wit I’ll submit the Fox Glow Puck, which was famously lampooned by Greg Wyshynski. The “ground cam” that they have used in NASCAR and baseball got used, and while I’m not sure about the value it gave viewers something that they don’t normally see.
Graphics: The leaderboard and other graphics that they used were clean and easily seen. I still can’t stand Golf Channel’s “stroke box” thing that they used (hint- if it’s a par 5 and someone’s putting for birdie anyone with half a brain can see it’s their 4th shot on the hole). To use it during a regular PGA Tour event is silly beyond words. Fox got the graphics right with a good mix of colors.
Brad Faxon: For all the talk about Greg Norman, I found Faxon far more engaged. Their side-by-side comparison over chip shots was interesting, but I don’t see how this makes a telecast during a US Open. I can easily see Faxon being much better on a Sunday afternoon.
David B. Fay: Fay is their rules expert, and while he didn’t get a lot of work (other than when Ian Poulter and Billy Horschel were having a hissy-fit over a camera), his explanation of club lengths for drops was something I’ve never heard before (if it’s free take one club length, if it’s a penalty take two club lengths). While I hope Fay has a quiet US Open, having him in the booth can help, since it’s clear that Joe Buck and Greg Norman are in need of help.
Steve Flesch: Generally speaking he wasn’t bad. He didn’t make any mistakes, and he did a good job when called upon (there were several times when they should have gone to him and didn’t). He’s not Feherty, he’s not Judy Rankin and he’s not Roger Maltbie. But he wasn’t bad at all, and he did no harm. I’d put him alongside Notah Begay in the “up and coming” on-course reporters.
Joe Buck: Buck is a good play-by-play man in a meat-and-potatoes kind of way (when called on he’s one of the best at baseball and football). Being that does not, however, equate to being a good golf lead, and between now and June 2015 he won’t get any actual tournaments, and it’s not like he can go back and look at previous tournaments held at Chambers Bay. Made several mistakes, notably referring to Fay as USGA President (he corrected himself shortly after), but went into “no stupid, dig up” mode when referencing Kim Kardashian and Twitter. It’s not clever or funny (if you want to see Joe Buck trying to be funny go find the YouTube video of his ill-fated HBO show when he had Artie Lange on). Not sure if this was the control booth but he didn’t seem at all comfortable with throwing things to either Faxon or Flesch.
Greg Norman: The good news is that he will have six months to improve. The bad news is that he was terrible. I’ve always felt that a good analyst (especially a former major winner) can tell me what I don’t know but what a touring professional would know. None of that. He fawned over fellow Aussie Jason Day, and generally provided zero analysis. He fawned over the resort (okay all the networks do that) and the course (again- he designed it) as did Buck. He fawned over the holes (as a designer he would do the viewers a huge aid by telling them where the trouble is on a particular hole rather than talk about how beautiful of a setting it is).
Fox Labs: I’m sure people will find this great. I didn’t. The swing guru guy made me want to stab my eyes out, and the green target around the hole was useless. Golf Channel’s graphic showing the path the ball has to take is much more useful (and horribly underused).
Trackman and Green Layouts: File under “did you forget something?” CBS and NBC/Golf Channel use Trackman…it’s great and shows the viewer the flight of the ball. So, where was Fox’ version? For a network that is all about innovation this seemed a no-brainer. Also…while I liked the drone flyovers they didn’t have any of the topographical layouts of the greens (NBC, when they use it, is the best of the bunch). I felt like the drone would give them a chance to take that to the next level…didn’t see any of this.
Music: Using the same music they do for their MLB and NFL coverage was like having to listen to fingernails on a chalkboard. CBS has a different intro music for each of their properties…so does NBC and ABC/ESPN. I half-expected that stupid robot to start yelling baba booey or something.
Maybe it’s unfair to expect a network to come in and get it right from the start, but this is exactly what the USGA is doing with their signature event when they went with Fox. Norman was terrible, but if they had tournaments then him and Buck would have a few events to develop that give-and-take. Remember that Dan Hicks was a tower announcer before getting the big chair, and Nantz was doing similar and had years of watching Pat Summerall (plus Hicks and Nantz had established main analysts who were there when they took over). Buck has none of that. Norman is equally new- how’s he going to handle the back nine on Sunday if you have five or six guys within a shot of the lead? Is he going to be willing to be critical if circumstances warrant?