Fox Sports and its lead announcer, Joe Buck, might be making their major golf debut at June’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, but the man coordinating the coverage has a lifelong connection to the game.
Mark Loomis once followed Gary Player around as a U.S. Open standard bearer. He caddied for his club’s assistant pro at the 1988 U.S. Open. He played golf at Vanderbilt, is a member of New York’s Winged Foot Golf Club and has a handicap index of 2.
But most importantly, as far as Fox is concerned, Loomis has a wealth of experience and a strong reputation for producing golf coverage.
He covered five British Opens for ABC and ESPN and won an Emmy for his work in 2005.
Golf might seem like a natural fit for a man who grew up playing at Winged Foot and tried to qualify for United States Golf Association events, but he got his start covering other sports.
When Loomis graduated from Vanderbilt in 1989, he started asking people who worked in the sports industry what he might do. When he was offered the opportunity to work as a runner for a Michigan-Arizona basketball game, he took it.
“I did exciting things like make copies and take out the trash for $50 per day,” Loomis said. But he also had fun.
He worked his way up, covering several sports. He’s covered college and pro football and baseball. “I love sports,” Loomis said. He worked for the MLB Network before he was hired by Fox in January 2014.
As coordinating producer, Loomis will spend most of his time at Chambers Bay in a truck looking at more than 100 monitors and deciding what viewers will see and hear.
“It can get chaotic sometimes … especially on the first two days of the tournament,” Loomis said. “But it can also be very calm.”
Two months before the tournament, Loomis’ schedule was calm enough to field a few questions about Fox’s coverage:
Q: No pressure, but I read a quote from your boss (Fox Sports president Eric Shanks) saying he wants to be “the preeminent golf channel in the world.”
A: When I was talking to Fox before I started there, what I could tell was they were really committed to coming in and making it the best they possibly could. You can’t ask for more than that from somebody. It’s up to me and the group of people we have there to make it that. There was never going to be a question if there was a commitment by Fox. They’re all in.
Q: I think a lot of sports fans think of innovations like the Fox Box and mics and cameras in odd places when they think of Fox Sports. What can we expect from your golf coverage?
A: We have a whole new group of people so even if we are trying to do it exactly the same as everyone else we wouldn’t be able to do it. I think you start there and then 85 percent of what we do is going to be what anyone else would do. People want to watch the golfers, not Fox on TV. That’s No. 1.
Then the 15 percent or whatever around that is, ‘Can you bring the person at home closer to the fairway? Can it sound better? Can you give them different angles?’
Q: How do you do that?
A: A lot of times golf is covered from the green back to the tee, because that’s where your biggest cameras are. One of the things we’ve put some energy into is figuring out if we can give you a little better look at what the golfer is seeing. Kind of look from the tee toward the green.
I think we are trying to take advantage of some of the new technology … (such as) drones. Audio has always been a staple for Fox and how can we make the sounds of the golf course better.
You always kind of lose the audio on the green. … How can we get on the green and hear a little bit more about what’s going on?
The main focus is, how can we tell the story about what’s going on on the golf course better? Not just come up with cool tricks.
Q: But there will be cool tricks, right?
A: There is kind of an old saying: “There’s nothing new in television. It’s just people doing the same thing in a different way.” I think the answer to that is that we’ll take some of the technology that people have used over the years, like the tracer.
One of the things we’ve talked about is whenever you see a green on your TV it looks flat, whether it is or isn’t. So, how can we do different things to make the greens come to life so you see them the same way you would if you were standing on them?
If you want to call them cool tricks, that is true, but they are tricks for the sake of making the person at home feel like they are getting a better look at the golf course.
Q: It seems people think Fox covering golf is like inviting a rock star to a tea party. How are you going to play this?
A: It will feel a little bit more like the other sports Fox does. … People have an impression about Fox, whatever that is, but if you look at their baseball coverage, you look at their football coverage, it always respects the game first. There is no way you could watch what they do with football or baseball and say Fox is getting in the way.
The music might be a little different, the opens might be a little different, how they go to break might be a tiny bit different, but when baseball is being played, football is being played, the most important thing is to respect that. And we will do the same with golf.
Q: Is there a push or mandate to try to appeal to a younger audience?
A: I don’t know if it’s more of mandate or if it’s a, “Hey, we have this kind of blank canvas to work on. … I know how we’ve done it in the past, but how do we do it so it feels like it’s got a lot of energy?”
Just because it’s golf doesn’t mean you have to cover it in an old, traditional way. You can go ahead and try to use the same things, the same technology, that you might use on a baseball game. We bury cameras in the ground for baseball. Football, with audio and first down lines. How can you bring that stuff to golf and make it better? And make it more understandable and not get in the way.
… It’s a long process. We’ll be better in 2016 than we are in 2015. And in 2017, we’ll be better.
Q: Is Cleatus (Fox’s CGI robot used to promote its NFL coverage) going to be at Chambers Bay?
That’s funny; I asked the same question. I think Cleatus will not be there at the beginning but I think if we find a good way to use him down the road it’s not out of the question.