2004: Newsmakers - Miller provides most of drama

Pizza delivery number? Check.

Tostitos? Check.

Bloody Mary mix? Check.

Bring on those 10-hour Ryder Cup marathons, laced with Johnny Miller’s acidic commentary and Dan Hicks’ diplomatic counterpoints. Give us those scintillating five-hour rounds with Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood grinding over 4-footers like they’re trying to read a Ouija board. And just in case there’s not enough drama, let’s add a retinue of “sideline reporters” to drum up faux theatrics from the respective team captains.

These one-sided matches were not, in NBC’s lingo, Must See TV. But Miller added some sparks when taking to task the somnambulant U.S. squad. After a snippet of Chris Riley saying that he didn’t feel up to playing Saturday afternoon, Miller scoffed, “Give me a break!” On Saturday afternoon, in typically blunt fashion, Miller summed up the tournament: “The top players from the U.S. have just stunk it up.”

That raises a question. What is a U.S. Ryder Cupper’s greatest fear – letting down his teammates, disappointing his country or earning Miller’s wrath?

Notoriously pithy, Miller unleashed his most savage comment for Phil Mickelson. When Lefty duck-hooked a low-running shot at the 16th hole into a pond Sunday to lose his crucial singles match with Garcia, Miller simply called it “a totally nutty shot.” Too bad Miller bailed out on the crucial issue of the week, namely the timing of Mickelson’s switch from Titleist to Callaway. At least Hicks reminded the audience of Miller’s paid endorsement for Callaway. Could it be that fellow who likes to say “I call the shots” (as he titled his recent book) is actually too scared to say anything that would appear critical of the equipment company that pays him?

Still, what sets Miller apart is his prescience, which remains a mystery on a par with Hogan’s secret. When Chad Campbell stood over his tee ball on the par-3 No. 17 Saturday morning, Miller said, “His ball flight and this green are not friendly.” The next camera shot showed Campbell’s tee shot racing past the flag and over the green. And moments later, when Chris DiMarco’s 9-iron approach to No. 16 bounced over the green into the back bunker, Miller predicted the ball’s spin would cause it to bury, a fact verified by the subsequent camera shot.

If only the rest of NBC’s announcing team could channel Miller’s insights. After Saturday foursome pairings were announced, Jimmy Roberts asked U.S. captain Hal Sutton if he had “any trepidation” about the 50-year-old Jay Haas playing 54 holes in two days. (Check your voicemail, Jimmy. You have a nasty message from AARP.)

A better question: Why stick with the shaky DiMarco, who hadn’t birdied since the sixth hole that morning? Predictably, Haas and DiMarco got hammered, 5 and 4, in foursomes.

Roberts added nothing to this telecast, nor did Bob Costas’ introductions to the weekend telecast. It’s also too bad NBC didn’t bring its “A” production team to Oakland Hills. Time and again, NBC’s announcers talked about the dramatic contours on Oakland Hills’ greens, with some putts breaking as much as 30 feet. “On TV, you just can’t see it,” Miller said Sunday of the slope on No. 17.

But TV is the consummate visual medium, and NBC dropped the ball by telling us what it should have been showing us. NBC needed to have the guys in the A/V department work up some neat 3-D graphics of the greens to illustrate the challenges they presented. They used it effectively for the U.S. Open. Why not for a Ryder Cup?

It also would have helped if NBC had done a better job introducing the various matches that it cut to. Unless you have your own scorecard (a good idea, by the way, it helps), it’s impossible to follow the wild cross-cutting that takes place on Sunday. Surely, some graphics could have been deployed.

NBC apparently thinks that the drama of the matches will take care of itself. Normally it does. But this time, there wasn’t much drama to the outcome, and that’s when production bells and whistles are most valuable.

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