With the NBA season tipping off last night, the NHL season entering its third week (thankfully, the Leafs are off to a hot start and yes- those of you who follow me on Twitter may see my feed become more Leaf-centric for a while), the MLB playoffs down to the last four and the NFL season doing what it does, some things get lost in the shuffle. This week’s announcement that Johnny Miller will be leaving the broadcast booth after he does one final event (the 2019 Waste Management Open- CBS has (pro football championship game whose title shan’t be mentioned) a conflict so they’re dumping the coverage to NBC (NBC will dump a February weekend to CBS every 4 years when it conflicts with the end of the Winter Olympics). Related, thumbs up to Golfweek’s ‘The Forecaddie’ for getting this first.
NBC’s decision to use Paul Azinger from Fox is a colossal disappointment. In multiple years of working with Joe Buck on Fox, they still have zero chemistry and they still provide nothing of value to the viewer. Buck has this habit of having to put his stamp on things; great moments in sports don’t need it (and he has this habit of talking over things when letting the pictures speak would be better for all involved).
From watching US Opens on Fox, Azinger’s biggest fault is that he routinely fails to use his biggest strength, which is his perspective as a former player. Viewers don’t need narratives about tradition. We aren’t former touring professionals; Paul is. He’s won a major, and yet, he rarely (if ever) provides that perspective. He’s too busy talking about the history of the game. Put me in the head of a guy trying to win a major and spare me waxing poetic about how great you think the USGA is. The final round of a major isn’t that time nor the place. Four full years with Fox and other than Shane Bacon and Brad Faxon, there’s not a single reason to listen (their technology is fantastic).
Miller has been part of NBC since 1990. By and large, he’s taken the viewer into what players are thinking on the back nine on Sunday when they’re trying to win. He used the word ‘choke’ in context with a player. He hasn’t shied away from being critical of players. I know the Tiger fanboys don’t want to hear this (lest anyone speak ill of Dear Tiger), but offering criticisms of players is quite literally why many of the talking heads have jobs. He’s been critical of the best players, which is his job. Being critical of the top players (when warranted) is part of that.
Any budding announcers, regardless of sport, should remember that if you’re doing TV, the viewer is watching. He/she can see. Your words should supplement what’s being viewed. Analysts should think similarly. I’ve never played professional sports. Paul Azinger has. He’s won a major. So help me, the viewer, know what’s going on by telling me things I can’t see. If an on-course reporter can tell me what kind of lie that “X” has in the rough, walk me through what a player might be thinking given this information. Don’t use 25 words if 15 are sufficient, but don’t use 25 if you need 40 or 50 to provide context.
Challenge: watch the final round of an event with the volume off for 30-40 minutes. Notice how little most announcers contribute? They go from shot to shot, and tell you that player X is putting for birdie/par. Think about the maddening four minutes that JB Holmes spent trying to figure out his second shot at the Farmers Insurance Open earlier this year. Now, think about how little (if anything) the announcers were contributing to this debacle.
Miller, at his best, provided that reason to listen. He won majors, and knew what it was like (he also successfully managed to balance family life & fatherhood with a professional career) to be in contention. Yes- he could go on a bit about his famous 63 at Oakmont (and yes- I may or may not have made a drinking game about Miller) but the fact is he shot a 63 and won a US Open, which, to borrow a term, means he has Scoreboard. More significantly, he could articulate what a tour pro was going through in a final round, which often gets lost in the shuffle.
I’m not NBC/Golf Channel, but if I was, I’d have given some of their internal folks a crack at the job before going outside and sharing Azinger with Fox (where Azinger would be useful is during Ryder Cup week; having him and Colin Montgomerie together would be an absolute must-listen). David Duval and Justin Leonard have the ‘won a major’ box ticked, and Brandel Chamblee would provide a bit of spice (and controversy) to broadcasts. Frank Nobilo is another option I’d like to see given a crack. Maybe, if you were bringing Mike Tirico into the booth (replacing Dan Hicks) I could get behind reuniting Tirico and Azinger, but beyond that, it’s a hard pass.
So thanks for everything, Johnny. Hope you’re able to enjoy retirement with your family (which has always been your top priority, as it should).