Overall, Fox’s coverage of the 2016 US Open was strong (to quite strong) proving that copious amounts of Pro-Tracer can make up for inevitable missteps. The Azinger addition brought professional polish and perspective to the broadcast commentary, which also benefited from having a year of experience to draw on. If you took Johnny Miller, dialed back the bitterness from an 8 to a 5, threw in a few corny pre-determined jokes, and substituted his catchphrase “nerves” with “pressure”, you get Paul Azinger. There’s still plenty of room for improvement as the on-course reporting was not up to par (pun intended) compared to what we get from the likes of Feherty and Kostis on NBC/ CBS. I’ve appreciated Curtis Strange’s work in the booth for ABC/ESPN in the past, but his inexperience with on-course reporting showed. He oftentimes had no idea what was going on or gave viewers misinformation.
Fox also fell into the trap of not showing enough golfers throughout the week – a problem that is all too common across all 3 networks (though least problematic for NBC). Case in point: David Lingmerth, Brendan Steele, Marc Leishman, Graeme McDowell, Adam Scott, and Sung Kang all placed top 20 in the tournament and combined for exactly zero shots shown on Sunday. Kevin Na finished 7th and had three shots shown. ZJ finished 8th and had 2 shots shown, neither of which I can recall but I have no doubt they were layups (data courtesy of http://www.classictvsports.com/).
To be fair, the CBS and NBC broadcast teams each cover dozens of tournaments per year. Considering the low number of reps and lack of experience, Buck and team performed as well as can reasonably be expected. I appreciated the “less is more” approach that Fox used in the broadcast. The absence of heavy commercials breaks and insubstantial fluff pieces resulted in the refreshing experience of actually watching golf though the tournament still had a strange vibe. As with last year’s coverage, there is a lack of energy in the Fox broadcast, and I’m not sure who or what is to blame (I want to say Joe Buck, but he did a much better job this year).
The main revelation of Fox’s coverage is its usage of technology. Though I watch plenty of sports action outside of golf, the limitations of golf coverage have never properly struck me. When watching football or basketball, a viewer can clearly see each component of every play within the same camera shot. When Steph Curry launches a three pointer, nothing is left to the imagination. You can see his release, the ball’s trajectory through the air, and the battle going on for the rebound under the basket all at the same time.
Without the Pro-Tracer, a golf shot leaves much up to the viewer’s imagination. Sure, we can watch a guy swing, follow the white speck briefly, and then wait for a different camera to show us the ball landing 300 yards away, but it’s hard to fully appreciate how it all happens in real-time. Being able to see DJ and Jason Day launch arcing mortars and dead straight missiles completely changes our appreciation of how purely they hit the ball. I got a stirring in my nether regions when DJ teed off yesterday. Without pro-tracer, it would’ve been a tingle. And, as much as I like to justifiably clown on him, it’s pretty awesome to see the flight patterns that Captain Bubba takes off of the tee. (Sidenote: I have no idea what to make of Bubba lurking around post-round to give DJ a handshake. He seems to do this a lot and I have no idea whether he’s being a good guy or he’s grand-standing. Because it’s Bubba, I will absolutely not give him the benefit of the doubt).
Pro-Tracer also gives context to the bad shots, and helps the viewer piece together narratives. For example, pro-tracer highlighted Shane Lowry’s minor case of the hooks yesterday, which we would otherwise be relying on a commentator to point out. Pro-Tracer also helped me appreciated how well an undersized Andrew Landry hit his driver. Just imagine if we’d had pro-tracer on that Webb Simpson shank at the Masters or Steve Stricker’s shank at Merion a few years back, and there’s absolutely no doubt the Pro-Tracer adds a great deal of visual pleasure to all the #TourSauce Wayward Drive points!
The markers showing distance and aim were also helpful, as was the split screen projecting the ball flight over a map of the hole layout. Now that I’ve seen the promise and value of these viewing aides, I’m terrified about what will happen when we return to the stone-ages. I hope that CBS and NBC take a hint and incorporate the technology that’s clearly available for golf broadcasts. If not, they might as well show golf in black and white.
Final US Open thoughts:
- Shout out to Andrew Landry for an incredible performance and for pocketing $150K. I would have bet anything after day 1 that he would finish outside of the top 25. Usually the unknowns in that position fade hard and fast.
- I’d love to see Scott Piercy get a look as a Ryder Cup captain’s pick. He hasn’t been flashy for most of the season but he’s only missed 2 cuts this year and has 6 Top 20s. I’ve always been a fan and I think he’s playing as well as anyone in the 9-20 range. The reality is he would only ever get considered if he tears it up the rest of the summer.
- I already beat this drum but it’s worth beating again: the shortage of golf shots shown throughout the rounds is downright criminal. I understand it to some degree on Sunday because there’s a narrative to be built around the leaders. Even still, for golf nerds who root for and like to monitor a number of different players, it is frustrating to see how many guys who finish in the 10-30 range of a tournament get absolutely no play. It wouldn’t be that hard to squeeze in more shots from more players, particularly in the early rounds. Seriously, go look at the leaderboard and tell me you had any idea that the guys not named Jon Rahm who finished T23 at +7 were even in the tournament. Come on.
- Good to see Zach Johnson and Kevin Streelman paired together in the Official LCPC Doppelgangers Sunday Grouping. Speaking of doppelgangers, I’d believe that Piercy and DJ were brothers. Same goes for Branden Grace and Ryan Moore. Alright, carry on everyone.
- When life gives Henrik Stenson lemons, he surely says “F lemons” and bails.
- No one wears the thousand yard stare more often than DJ
Tim is a guest columnist for No Laying Up.