After the recent announcement of the USGA’s media deal with Fox Sports the question of what a Fox golf broadcast will look like is being raised.
This is the million or perhaps billion dollar question. The usual press release rhetoric about growing the game and visibility of championships aside, the lasting impact of this deal will be Fox’s ability to put together an entertaining golf broadcast for both hardcore golf fans and the casual sports fan who will tune into Fox’s US Open broadcast because it is a major championship. I spoke with Ron Sirak of Golf World for the DimpleHead Podcast about this subject as well.
To do that Fox MUST hire a quality GOLF team to do the broadcast. Tim Rosaforte of Golf World reported over the weekend that Greg Norman had been offered the lead analyst role. Norman confirmed the offer in Rosaforte’s story but has not made a decision.
The part that jumps out to me is that Dave Hill is the man who offered Norman the job. Hill used to run Fox Sports but has since transitioned to American Idol and X Factor. As a golf fan, not a purist, but still a hardcore golf fan, this is a bit frightening. I do not watch Idol or X Factor, because that sort of television simply does not interest me. I worry that if Hill is one of, or THE guiding creative force behind Fox’s golf telecasts that it becomes more sideshow than sport.
That said, I think Norman is a good choice to hire. He has made brief cameo appearances in the CBS and NBC booths over the last several years and is certainly not shy about dishing out criticism of players and other opinions on the game, be it drug testing, and gender equality or environmental issues. Much like Johnny Miller has been for nearly 25 years, Norman will not bite his tongue when it comes to giving, and at least what he believes is, an honest assessment of what he sees.
Let us now consider who Fox might consider for the lead announce position, hardly play-by-play in golf, this is the Jim Nantz/Dan Hicks/Mike Tirico role. Some have suggested Joe Buck as the most likely candidate. He is already the lead man for Fox’s NFL and MLB coverage. And though these USGA events will certainly overlap with his baseball duties, it might only be for three weeks a year, if it is to be assumed that the Men’s, Women’s and Senior US Opens will be televised on the Fox network.
Some have also suggested that Gus Johnson, lead college football and soccer announcer, might get the nod. While I personally love Gus from his NCAA Tournament work on CBS and his college football work on Fox, I have to believe that his enthusiastic style will not work for a golf broadcast.
But the bigger question for the lead announcer is this, are they a golf person?
Buck and Johnson are great at what they do, but if they do not know the game and play the game like Nantz, Hicks and Tirico it simply will not work.
As for the lead analyst position, let’s put Norman aside for now and explore some other options, should he ultimately pass on the deal. I see no chance that Fox looks to cherry-pick Nick Faldo from CBS or Johnny Miller from NBC as they would see a significant reduction in the number of tournaments they broadcast to move to Fox.
But Paul Azinger of ESPN does come to mind. He already works a limited schedule, The Masters, US Open (until 2014) and British Open for ESPN. This Fox contract would probably give him the same or similar amount of work. Azinger has a way of delivering on-point analysis, both critical and superlative, without making the sometimes outrageous or self-serving statements Faldo and Miller sometimes make. Frankly, Azinger almost never references his own accomplishments when talking about the action on the course. Miller sometimes seems that he cannot get through a broadcast without referencing or being setup to reference his 63 in the final round of the 1973 US Open. Faldo too, particularly at The Masters where he won three times, is fond of harkening back to his time as the top golfer in the world. While I have no issue with a player being proud of his accomplishments, it detracts from the broadcast when there seems to be a “kiss the ring” game being played in addition to the golf. Azinger did reference his loss at the 1987 Open at Muirfield during this year’s telecast, but that was certainly relevant to the tournament action.
Azinger’s colleague at ESPN, Curtis Strange also seems like a good fit. Strange was the lead analyst at ABC before Azinger and Faldo were brought in for the 2004 season. Strange has returned to the ESPN crew as a tower announcer for several years. Curtis Strange’s shining moment was his undressing of Jean Van de Velde during the Frenchman’s infamous meltdown in the 1999 British Open. I believe his quote as Van de Velde climbed into the water to consider hitting his ball from there was, “this is just stupid”. Blunt? Sure, but exactly to the point and exactly what every fan at home and in the gallery was thinking.
If Fox is looking for a new voice for their coverage I suggest offering David Duval the job. The catch is that Duval, mired in a decade-plus slump after spending roughly five years as the closest challenger to Tiger Woods in the late 90s and early 2000s, is still attempting to come back as a player. Duval has recently done work for ESPN at the British Open and is insightful and thoughtful and will be, if nothing else a fresh voice for golf fans to hear. As a matter of fact, I think David Duval is my horse in this race. I hope Fox reaches out and Duval says yes.
I certainly hope that Colin Montgomerie is not on Fox’s radar. Based on my personal twitter feed, he is quite unpopular among the British golf fans. I certainly do not look forward to his cameos on Golf Channel’s coverage of majors myself. But Butch Harmon, the world-renowned swing instructor does work for Sky. He is a familiar name to American golf fans, and even casual golf fans might recognize his name as Tiger Woods’ former swing coach.
My last suggestion is way outside of the box, and something of a long shot. I have always thought that Phil Mickelson would be a fantastic television analyst. He is thoughtful and can be outspoken, sometimes to his detriment (see January 2013 tax comments) but Phil is honest. He is also a thinker, willing to look at his own game from every possible angle. He won the 2006 Masters with two drivers in his bag and won the 2013 British Open with no driver in his bag. He is a different thinker, one who would be perfect for the TV booth. But realistically when the Fox contract begins, Phil will be 45 and still very much able to compete. However, the contract runs through 2026 when Phil would be 56, and likely not playing any longer. Perhaps he comes into the booth for the latter half of Fox’s initial deal.
To fill out the team Fox will look to hire tower announcers and on-course reporters. These roles are usually filled by former players. Unlike other sports, these announcers often have the chance to make a call that only a play-by-play man would get in another sport. Consider Gary Koch’s “Better Than Most” call of Tiger Woods’ snaking putt on the 17th green at the 2001 Players Championship or Verne Lundquist at the 1986 Masters as Jack Nicklaus watched his birdie putt on 17, “Maybe…YES SIR!” in perfect synchronization with the Golden Bear’s fist pump.
Here are some names that I think Fox should consider, especially if they want to provide viewers with new voices for golf:
- Rocco Mediate, Champions Tour Player: He had a cup of coffee as an on-course reporter for Golf Channel in 2007. Never short on words, or entertainment, Rocco seems like a natural choice, although he might work better in a tower, paired with a career announcer to set him up and reel him in.
- Charles Davis, Fox lead college football analyst: On the surface this seems completely off the wall. But Charles Davis has a pretty strong tie to golf in his past. After serving as assistant athletic director at Stanford, Davis became the tournament director for the Walt Disney World PGA Tour event. That happened to be during the time when Tiger Woods captured two victories there. Davis was also a panelist on Golf Channel’s Grey Goose 19th Hole. He knows golf, and as good as he is at football, he’ll be a great addition to Fox’s golf team.
- Robert Lusetich, Senior Golf Writer, FoxSports.com: The author of UNPLAYABLE: An Inside Account of Tiger’s Most Tumultuous Season knows the inner workings of Tiger Woods’ circle better than anyone on the pro golf beat. One of the best writers in golf would be a tremendous addition as a reporter/interviewer/insider in the same vein as Tim Rosaforte for NBC’s broadcasts
- Arron Oberholser, PGA Tour Player/Golf Channel Analyst: He’s been on Golf Channel as a part-time studio analyst for several months. He has strong opinions without sounding like a blowhard. He’s an excellent follow on Twitter as well. I like Oberholser as an on-course reporter to give that “inside-the-mind-of-a-player” perspective.
- Dottie Pepper, ESPN Golf Analyst: She just left a full-time position with NBC/Golf Channel for a position with ESPN to spend more time on non-TV projects. Either in her current role as an on-course reporter or in a tower, Pepper is one of the best. I think making her the lead analyst wouldn’t be a bad move, trouble might be pulling in viewers from the periphery.
- Michael Collins, Golf Writer, ESPN.com: He’s a former-standup-comedian-turned-pro-caddie-turned-on-course-reporter-turned-golf-writer. I think he can fit a role in the vein of David Feherty, providing light-hearted humor and legitimate analysis. Before moving to ESPN.com, Collins was a reporter for Sirius/XM’s PGA Tour Radio coverage. As a former Tour caddie, Collins offers a unique perspective on how a player and his caddie will go through a round.
It will be fascinating to see who Fox pulls in to their golf crew. I think one thing is certain with Fox personnel, though. When viewers turn on Fox to watch the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay in Washington, they will see familiar faces and hear from a crew with a solid foundation in golf. I can’t see a Monday-Night-Football-Tony-Kornheiser type of experiment. The crew will be grounded in golf with credentials to solidify their credibility. Too bad we have to wait just under two years to see what Fox has come up with.