I wanted FOX to get it right. I wanted them to balance new technology and new thinking with a well-structured broadcast that would win reviews, delight and energize viewing audiences and hopefully, elevate the entire medium of how golf tournaments are broadcast. At a minimum, I wanted them to put together a technically strong broadcast that informed the viewer of what was going on, and give the viewing public confidence that they would show themselves to be a worthy partner in the landscape and show their rivals at CBS, NBC and Golf Channel that while their portfolio might not be the largest, they would always put their best foot forward.
That, unfortunately, didn’t happen. From enough technical mistakes to fill seasons’ worth of NBC/GC/CBS broadcasts to overuse of people wholly unsuited for the broadcast to the tragic under-utilization of Holly Sanders, to the USGA’s utter incompetence in being able to set up a golf course, it was four days of incompetence saved, not because of themselves, but in spite of themselves in the form of a thrilling conclusion.
It was only then that FOX managed to get out of their own way, but only barely. An exciting finish does not make up for nor excuse a raft of technical mistakes that seemed to be happening far too often.
Much like Rogers’ 12-year (11 years left) deal for Canadian NHL rights, the first year was an error-strewn stage of screw-ups and trying to put round pegs in square holes that meant lower ratings and dissatisfied audiences.
I’ll let Gary Player offer a reasoned critique of the USGA:
He did everything but drop the mic when he was done.
I’ll add this- going to an all-fescue course wasn’t the problem. It’s when you let poa annua creep in that you end up with mess on the greens that you have. The USGA had 8 years to get this course ready, and more importantly, they had the resources to get the course in fantastic shape. And frankly, this isn’t the first time that they’ve let this happen (letting a golf course get away from them). It happened in 1998 at Olympic (the hole location on #18 on the Friday was worthy of a clown’s mouth), it happened in 2001 at Southern Hills, 2002 at Bethpage Black (forcing players to carry the ball 250 yards on the fly), 2004 at Shinnecock Hills (letting the greens die on them), 2006 Winged Foot (letting the rough get horrific), 2012 at Olympic (tee boxes on the final day), and 2014 at Pinehurst. I don’t blame them for the wet conditions in 2009 and 2011…they did the best they could under the circumstances. But far too often they’re trying to over-think things; often to the detriment of the tournament and the golf course.
My concern is this- by Sunday night, Chambers Bay looked dead (the turf). For their well-intended concerns about using less water on courses how much more water (and sod, fertilizer, etc.) is it going to take to get the course back to being operational? I’m all for courses that use drought-tolerant turf but there has to be a line between “you can save water” and “let the course die and become as hard as a cement parking lot.”
The USGA have one crack to set up a course for the best men in the world (and one for the best women), and their record is, frankly, terrible. I’ll go back to the question- are we trying to identify the best players in the world or embarrass them? This notion of “we must protect par” is absurd. If you watched The Masters and were angry because Jordan Spieth took the course apart, raise your hand. Did Rory McIlroy’s win in 2011 somehow detract because he finished -16 on a wet course that you could throw darts at? Did Tiger Woods’ 2000 win at Pebble Beach (where he finished at 272 and won by 15 strokes and put on a clinic) detract from watching? NO! People want to see elite athletes turn in elite performances! Set the course up to challenge the best players in the world, but reward great shots. If the winning score is -10…so what? Augusta National, the R&A and the PGA of America don’t have this obsession with par, and yet you have the USGA ginning up their annual “we must protect par” game. And having holes alternate between being a par 4 and a par 5 is laughable. The par of a hole should not change from one day to the next, especially on the first two days when you have players going off at the first and 10th holes.
Back to FOX. In the interest of trying to be nice, I’ll present the good, the bad, and the ugly:
-The trackman that they were using was fantastic and it helped casual fans see where shots were going. Better than their glow-puck idea from 20 years ago.
-The audio; from hearing the putts rattle around in the cup to the conversations between players and caddies…they got the audio right.
-Brad Faxon and Steve Flesch were solid, if not unspectacular in their roles. Faxon would be a great tower commentator (17th hole).
-Tom Weiskopf- unafraid to voice an opinion; in a revamped lineup I’d put him in the 16 hole tower.
-Graphics (when in use). The leaderboard was clean and the font they used easily readable. Having a top-five leaderboard on the screen at all times might have been overkill early on, but definitely something I’d like to see more of for weekend (especially final round) coverage.
-Drones (when in use). They should have been using the drone hole previews a lot more, especially on Sunday when you have casual fans tuning in.
-No Chris Berman. Not having to listen to him babble like a drunk in a bar was the one positive in their Thursday/Friday coverage; he might well be great hosting football and baseball, but it does not equate to being good at golf (regardless of if he plays or not).
-Joe Buck. They’re trying to put a square peg in a round hole. Maybe you bump him to the host role (think Bob Costas on NBC’s US Open coverage), but for someone who’s covered Super Bowls and World Series, he seemed completely out of his element on Sunday evening. He was good conducting the interview with Jordan Spieth…maybe that’s his role going forward. It’s not a knock on Joe Buck; it’s about putting people in roles they’re good at.
Curt Menefee. He’s good at football. He’s terrible with golf. The four-five person booth might work great for an NFL pregame and halftime setup, but for golf it was too many people (CBS and NBC have two at a time…it’s cleaner and it works better). They tried having him host their UEFA Champions League Final coverage which was a similar bust. Maybe he’d be a good fit for baseball.
-The crawl. For early round coverage, that FOX didn’t have a crawl with the entire field (on Thursday) listed is borderline criminal. For a network that spearheaded giving the viewer more information, this was laughable. I kept flipping over the Golf Channel as they had one. They hired Mark Loomis away, and something relatively simple and frankly, expected by viewers and they can’t be bothered. They didn’t run it much on the weekend coverage either.
-Early coverage. To come on the air and not show actual golf…WHY EVEN BOTHER? When in doubt, show golf shots! It’s not that hard!
-Mike Davis interview. I’ve seen pillow fights that were tougher. I know…the USGA is their partner. But you didn’t have one or two players being critical of the course and the setup. The guy who won was critical of the setup. Ask tough questions. It’s okay. It’s not like they’re going anywhere.
-Holly Sanders. They hire someone from the Golf Channel, and rather than use her knowledge of golf, they have her do the post-round interviews (99.9% of which are completely pointless). I did like the graphic showing their score in the background, but a complete and total waste of talent. Here’s a crazy idea- have her anchor coverage.
-Rules. You have David Fay in the booth explaining things, but for audiences watching with no sound, a graphic showing the rule being applied would be a great addition (they do this with their NFL coverage). When Grace hit his tee shot on 16 way right (I was on the phone at the time so I had the volume on mute), I didn’t know if it was O.B. or considered to be in a hazard. The orange traffic cones I saw aren’t covered in any rule book. Again- when in doubt, give the viewer as much info as possible.
-Dustin Johnson interview after the 4th round. As in why didn’t they have one? He had one putt to win the championship and a second to get into a playoff…missed both. I get it- he feels awful, but this is your job to flag him down and ask him questions. To borrow from the late great Ken Venturi, from his first putt, he needs to take 5 out of the equation. Meaning, at worst, leave yourself a tap-in for a playoff. It’s not unreasonable to ask him a few questions (ask him about the number of short putts he missed- was it spike marks, was it a read issue…what?).
-USGA Playoff Format. In any other tournament they’d have kept playing (daylight wasn’t an issue), but this being the US Open, we’d send everyone home Sunday night without a winner and force an 18-hole playoff on Monday, which is beyond silly (the Masters goes to a sudden death playoff like every other PGA Tour event, while the PGA Championship and the Open Championship use 4 and 3-hole aggregate score playoffs). If the USGA is so against sudden death, then why do they use it after an 18-hole playoff (see 1994 and 2008 US Opens). Go to a 3-hole aggregate playoff, and send people home Sunday night with a winner.
ALL OF THE ABOVE:
-Greg Norman. At times he was insightful; other times he was long-winded and seemingly incapable of making a coherent point. With a better anchor who could keep him on point, I think he could be a solid main analyst. He’s not Faldo nor is he Miller, but he has the ability to improve. The question I’m asking is this- given his worldwide businesses that he runs, does he want to put in the work to become a world-class analyst? Given their limited portfolio of events (if we’re being honest, you’re looking at the Open, Senior Open, Women’s Open and the Amateur as the four main events that FOX has) it’s not unreasonable to ask if Norman is going to put in the time for four weeks’ work.
As I predicted, this was never going to work well, and I continue to question the logic (beyond money) of the USGA’s decision to go to FOX for the next 11 years (after this one). It’s hard to see them going after golf (they have NASCAR and baseball rights on weekends, and I don’t see Golf Channel/NBC or CBS giving up their current rights without having something to replace it) so they’re going to continue to be a part-time player (like ESPN, who shows the Open Championship and early-round Masters coverage and that’s it) in golf. Long term I still think that the Masters will take early-round rights to Golf Channel, and I think NBC/Golf Channel goes hard now that the bidding process is underway for the Open Championship.
FOX did some good things, but still made far too many mistakes that viewers shouldn’t have to tolerate. I can only hope that next year at Oakmont (as traditional of a US Open course as you can get) they do a better job.