It’s nice to see that critics have wearied of grinding away at Chambers Bay golf course.
They’re having way more fun now telling Fox Sports what it did wrong televising the U.S. Open, and how it can improve the product for the next 11 years of the contract.
Here’s the best thing the Fox folks can do: Pay close attention to how ESPN, with Mike Tirico and Paul Azinger, handle the British Open next month, particularly Tirico’s immediate and encyclopedic recall of golf lore.
Joe Buck has that in the baseball booth, but not so much yet on the golf course.
And they should tune in to CBS’s handling of the PGA Championship in August, not only Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo, but also the distinct on-course voices of David Feherty, Gary McCord and Peter Kostis — each of whom is identifiable and authoritative.
Fox’s crew was largely indistinguishable.
But the best thing Fox could do is go back and listen to the way NBC’s Johnny Miller, for the last couple decades, made an art form of blending cranky observations with genuinely insightful analysis.
Greg Norman had none of that. His most notable shortcoming was not being Johnny Miller at a tournament that featured a series of made-for-Miller moments.
A fair caveat: This was Fox’s first major. That warrants a degree of tolerance, just as it was a little unfair to expect Chambers Bay’s greens to be fully mature and predictable when they’re just eight years old.
Fox vastly out-bid NBC for the Open telecast, and they promised to roll out technical innovations that would take telecasts in a new direction.
But a USAToday critic said that Fox “looked completely lost.”
The New York Times ran a mower across Fox, nailing Buck for identifying South African Louis Oosthuizen as an Australian, and failing to question the “murky circumstances” around Dustin Johnson’s six-month leave of absence from the Tour for personal reasons last year.
Host Curt Menefee was skewered for saying that winner Jordan Spieth, now with two major titles in three months, was a consistent golfer who “doesn’t do anything great.”
Huh? Consecutive major titles seems pretty great.
The greatest oversight, the Times pointed out, was Norman’s failing to get into the mind of Johnson as he approached the 18th green, with an eagle putt that would put an end to the series of stumbles he’s faced in majors, while a birdie would send the tournament into a playoff with Spieth.
This was prime Miller Time. He’d have laid out the historic significance of the situation. He’d have made the viewers feel the anxiety, and the drama of the moment would have been heightened.
As the Times recounted it: “What did Norman say as Johnson prepared to putt? ‘Not an easy one.’ That was all.” Johnson three-putted to hand the trophy to Spieth.
Maybe Norman was flashing back to the 1996 Masters, when he shot a final-round 78 after owning a 6-stroke lead over Nick Faldo.
It was a possible defining moment to save the broadcast and Norman’s debut, and it went wanting.
First-time jitters? Learning the ropes? Fair enough.
As a viewer, I loved the shot tracer. Those tee shots were very difficult to follow, particularly against the gray morning skies.
In fact, as I wish they could do with the beloved yellow first-down line on football telecasts, I’d love it if they could make the tracer work off the tee in real life so the gallery could follow the shots.
The low point of the week for Fox? Doesn’t it have to be Holly Sonders hugging Phil Mickelson after an interview? Really, an interviewer sharing a hug with a news source?
I didn’t see it live, only the video replay. And in fairness, Mickelson seems to have initiated the hug part of the exchange. But before the hug, Sonders reached over and patted Mickelson on the shoulder.
None of these problems is irreparable. There were good parts to build on. Fox didn’t wreck it.
And in the end, the drama held forth, and Fox made the great decision to televise the last few holes without commercial break.
When Spieth held up that trophy in the glowing sunset, the cameras captured the pure joy of a young man fully arrived at greatness.
I shoulda hugged him.