Let’s say you’re Mr. Big Honkin’ Executive at ESPN. We’ll call you BHE for short. The U.S. Open is approaching and you, BHE, have the assignment of choosing the announcers who will call the event.
It’s the biggest tournament of the year, one of your rare cracks at the PGA Tour. So you’re going to need your best people. But you’re also going to need a lot of warm bodies for some of the secondary roles. After all, you have 44 hours of programming to fill.
Finding the warm bodies is easy; there are no shortage of those hanging around ESPN. So filling the slots for hole announcers and the DirecTV feed isn’t the issue. The big question is: Who works the 18th tower on Thursday and Friday?
What are BHE’s options? He could go with easy-listening Mike Tirico, arguably the game’s best play-by-play man despite not getting many at-bats in the 18th tower. He could tap Scott Van Pelt, whose shtick has grown a bit stale, but who nevertheless know the game well. Or BHE could go to his bench and bring in Terry Gannon, who has an agreeable, workmanlike style and, as a bonus, also can knock down the three-pointer.
So which option did BHE choose? D: None of the above.
Instead, BHE once again saddled us with Chris Berman, aka Boomer, who has all the subtlety of a crackback block. I have to admit I was surprised to learn that Berman has been ESPN’s U.S. Open host since 1986. I guess we golf fans are like prisoners: We lose track of the years unless we scratch another notch in the TV stand at the end of every Open.
On the positive side, Boomer – or as I like to call him, the Human Jake Brake – is well rested, having gone into hibernation after the Super Bowl. On the down side, if I might borrow from the great Keith Jackson, golf fans just plain don’t like Ol’ Boomer. There was more venom running through Berman’s hashmarked Twitter feed on Thursday than you’d find in a nest of angry rattlers. Whoa, Nellie, indeed.
Now, for all I know, Boomer has a clause in his contract that says: “I’m the biggest freakin’ star in the ESPN galaxy, and I get to host the U.S. Open every year.” Or maybe Boomer has some incriminating photos of BHE, and he’s threatening a Weiner-esque Tweet-fest if he’s denied the 18th-tower gig at Congressional.
After all these years, Berman is nothing if not predictable. A Brandt Jobe sighting brings a reference to the Book of Job. The late-afternoon session is “happy hour.” ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi is “Two-Putt Tommy.”
In fairness to Berman – not that I’m inclined to be fair after enduring the viewer’s equivalent of waterboarding for all these years – he seemed a tad more restrained Thursday. Or maybe I’ve just become numb after years of sensory abuse.
In any event, viewers predictably acted like a hitter who had just been brushed back by a high hard one. The fact that ESPN knew Berman’s presence would provoke that response and still put him in the 18th tower probably tells us a lot about ESPN.
Some other impressions of Thursday’s TV coverage:
• There was the understandable rooting for Phil Mickelson to fill the yawning Tiger void. “You just have the funny feeling if there’s going to be a Phil Mickelson U.S. Open title, this week. It’s starts here,” Tirico said as Mickelson stood over his opening tee ball on No. 10. It was more like a sinking feeling, as Lefty promptly dumped his tee ball into the water fronting the par-3 green. Wishing won’t make it so, guys. You just gotta let the tournament play out.
• I loved the exchange between Tirico and Paul Azinger after Davis Love III was pictured. Tirico: “There’s always a patch leading up the Ryder Cup captaincy where . . . the captain plays well.” Azinger: “I didn’t have that patch.”
Speaking of Azinger, I’m sure everyone had a giggle when he referred to Matteo Manassero as one of the “Spaniards” before quickly being corrected by Tirico. Next time, Zinger, play to the fat side of the green. Just refer to all of those swarthy young bucks as Southern Europeans.
• Every time there’s a major, the announcers sound like superintendent groupies.
“The conditions are perfect,” Azinger said.
“The greens are ab-so-lute-ly perfect,” Curtis Strange said.
Has any announcer ever said, “The greens are showing some wear and tear”? Have you ever heard an announcer say the greens stink? Have you ever heard an announcer say, “The greens look like they’ve just got run through the ringer by a 144-man shotgun of Hell’s Angels”? Of course not. The greens are always ab-so-lute-ly perfect.
• The new U.S. Golf Association commercials managed to do something I never thought would happen: They made me long for the old USGA commercials. I even felt a little nostalgic for that little squirt who makes the ace when he thinks no one is watching.
There was one new commercial about the rules (I’m sure that tested well with the kids. . .), another about women’s golf and another about – well, I don’t remember what the other one was about. I’m hoping the USGA got this ad campaign as part of a barter deal; I’d hate to think it paid cash.