ESPN’s British Open telecast, which began so promisingly with a terrific first-round broadcast, ran out of momentum sometime late Friday afternoon. By Sunday morning, I wasn’t sure who had sucked the life out of the tournament: Louis Oosthuizen or ESPN’s production team.
Here are a few thoughts on the broadcast from someone who, against the advice of his psychiatrist, watched it from the start to the bitter end.
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It was hard to escape the notion that ESPN felt the tournament didn’t start until Tiger Woods arrived at the first tee. On Sunday morning, Mike Tirico and company seemed to be filling time. St. Andrews? “There’s simply no place like it,” Tirico reminded us for the umpteenth time. The Old Course? “There’s nothing else like it in the world,” intoned Curtis Strange.
Really? Do you mean that? Then show us the golf course, with players hitting golf shots, rather than analysts peddling platitudes.
During the first two hours of Sunday’s broadcast, ESPN showed just 26 minutes of live action. When I say “live action,” I’m being entirely too generous; that includes plenty of shots of players standing idly on the course. All told, ESPN showed just 63 total shots during that time frame, 30 of which were putts or tap-ins. That works out to about one shot every two minutes. No joking here: I was dozing off despite two cups of coffee.
On Saturday morning, there was a similar sense that ESPN was biding time until Woods teed off. It rebroadcast a Tom Weiskopf feature, first aired Thursday, on the design of the Old Course. And we heard weighty analysis such as Weiskopf’s advice that “you have to avoid those bunkers, you have to avoid the winds and the gorse and the heather and the heavy rough.”
Remind me again why I got up at 6 a.m. to watch this.
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“If you’re sitting watching at home, there’s not a lot of excitement,” Tirico told us Sunday morning. True, Oosthuizen had sapped much of the drama from the broadcast by building an insurmountable lead. But ESPN didn’t exactly pump any energy into the telecast by showing a bunch of old guys sitting around desks.
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The studio shows reached the level of the absurd Saturday morning when ESPN analyst Paul Azinger complained about being rained on as he was sitting at a desk with Tirico and Tom Watson. In the background, large, wind-blown plants were tilted at a 45-degree angle. Who’s the knucklehead at ESPN who set up an outdoor studio in St. Andrews? Were they unaware that rain and wind are common in Scotland.
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The first-string team of Tirico and Azinger disappeared for extended periods. That left us with a fair amount of Peter Alliss (a good thing), but way, way too much of Curtis Strange and Weiskopf. I realize that it’s a long broadcast and that ESPN might want to mix in some fresh voices. But it’s the British Open. Suck it up and get back in the booth.
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Azinger, who has fashioned himself to be something of an amateur shrink, got a tad tiresome with his constant references to the Ryder Cup. But he did make an interesting point early Sunday about the players chasing Oosthuizen.
“They’re just kind of playing to their personality types – sort of conservative,” he said.
I also liked his quip after Paul Casey went through a protracted drop process after taking an unplayable lie on No. 12, only to make a triple bogey: “He could have had that result and gone a lot faster.”
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I really like graphics such as ESPN’s Putt Zone, which shows the putting line as the putt is being struck. But I’m honestly not sure how accurate it is. On Saturday at No. 2, Putt Zone indicated that Woods should feed the ball off a mound right of the hole. Bill Kratzert, who was following the group, said the better route would be to play left of the hole. Woods chose a third option, playing directly at the hole, and his putt lipped out.
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Good decision by ESPN interviewer Wendy Nix to go to the baseball cap on the weekend. Was she unaware that her hair might tend to blow wildly in the Scottish winds?
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Was anyone else distracted by the heavy breathing in the background during lapses in the commentary? I think the culprits were Alliss, Weiskopf and Strange.
Speaking of Strange: If my e-mails from readers are any indication, Strange’s cliché-ridden commentary, in particular, seemed to rub viewers the wrong way.
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Last year TNT broke away from live action for as much as 25 minutes every two hours to air highlights packages sponsored by ING. This year ESPN opted for shorter recaps, roughly every half hour, sponsored by ING and Pacific Life. So rather than a few long breaks from airing live action, ESPN opted for a lot of short breaks. I’m not sure that constitutes progress.