If you believe the people who run American television, emotions should always run hot. If you caught any of the advance stories on the Ryder Cup anywhere on TV in September, you would have heard such simmering rhetoric as to make you think the matches were nothing less than an opening salvo on Iraq.
So, of course, when NBC’s marathon Ryder Cup broadcasts kicked off, there came the typical stirring introduction, complete with heart-tugging anthems and film clips of steely-eyed but passionate Americans. The intro was soaked in such patriotic juice, you wanted to fix bayonets and go hunt down the enemy.
If the broadcast’s sheer length wasn’t exhausting enough, we would have been driven to the brink of fatigue anyway by the announcers endlessly hammering the pressure angle.
“Another emotion-packed day at The Belfry,” host Dan Hicks would say tensely. The thing is, he would say this while the camera lingered on some cool-customer American player who would need a cattle prod in his ear just to reach the level of blase.
If it weren’t for the Europeans’ spirit, this Cup would have been a fog of chloroform. By Sunday afternoon anyone could see the Europeans were a tough, fraternal and spunky team. American analysts never take into consideration that Europeans might possess a measure of toughness. Too much patriotic talk allowed them to miss the real story.
Of course, no American player would ever call Johnny Miller a mindless hometown booster. The play of Davis Love III, Miller cracked, was “like watching paint dry all day.”
On the subject of Paul Azinger, however, Miller was generally evasive, perhaps owing to some personal history. (Zinger once called Miller “the biggest moron in the booth,” then later claimed he really meant to say, “biggest Mormon in the booth.”)
But when Azinger dramatically holed out from the bunker on 18 Sunday, Miller honestly sounded choked up to the point of tears.
It was hoped that the arrival of Nick Faldo in the announcer’s booth would add a shot of needed humor.
Faldo, who nurses some regret about his old ice-man image, has for the last few years been trying to present himself as Mr. Laff Riot. In his brief turns, however, he was not able to elbow aside the domineering Miller.
The real comedy was Miller’s sudden burst of competitiveness.
When Faldo noted that someone’s putt was “left-right-then-left,” Miller said, “Confused? I’m glad you’re not caddying for me this week.” When Hicks did a promotion for a show called “The In-Laws,” Miller could not resist a jab at Faldo’s abundant marital adventures, saying to Faldo, “You’ve got enough of those.”
Faldo’s reply was a tight-lipped, “Thank you very much.”
The other British guest, former European Ryder Cup captain Bernard Gallacher, was a shy, sad-eyed presence – the fellow merely gave diffidence a bad name.
With all of its battles being waged simultaneously, the Ryder Cup is tough on directors. Instead of jumping from one match to another Sunday, NBC chose simply to ignore many of the matches, like the all-charisma duel of Love and Pierre Fulke. Did NBC succeed? Not entirely. Too many times we were left hanging on a match. But you can be sure they never abandoned the operatic Sergio Garcia, who has taken over Seve Ballesteros’ mantle as Photogenic Hot-Head.
It seemed to be a thrifty broadcast this year. Very few clips were shown of the past (the few Sunday “Flashbacks” offered inevitably recalled some moment of American regret). Historical reference, really, was left to whatever asides Miller might recall. But Miller mumbling, “Remember Christy O’Connor’s 2-iron?” was no substitute for a clip of the historic 1989 moment.
Miller might be the best American commentator, but NBC also might be riding his broad shoulders a bit too much.