For most people, mid-June brings about the end of the school year and planning for summer trips to the beach. For me, I usually reserve this time of year to write my annual column ripping ESPN for inflicting Chris Berman on U.S. Open viewers.
This year, however, I’m not going to do that. I’m going to refrain for three reasons.
First, ESPN seems to have reduced Berman’s role. I might be wrong about this, but he didn’t seem to be as prominent in this year’s early-round coverage as he has been in past years.
Second, I’m going to take mercy on the pleasant, efficient ESPN staffer whose job it is to email me each year asking me to cut Berman some slack. This one’s for you, pal.
And third, I’ve reached that point in my life where I don’t need the aggravation of listening to Berman. Hence, I now refer to my DVR remote as my Anti-Berman Device – or ABD. At the sound of Berman’s voice, it is programmed to go to mute.
So this year I’ll devote my time to happier subjects. Here are a few that I jotted down while following the weekend coverage and commentary on NBC and Golf Channel:
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I want to thank Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee for exploding one of the canards we often hear – specifically, the notion that there are some special qualities that separate major champions from the lowly players who have never won majors. To the extent that we’re talking about, say, Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy, there is a differentiating quality: It’s called talent. They have more of it than everyone else. But as Chamblee said, it’s not as if majors inevitably identify the best player at any given moment.
This topic came up after the third round, in a conversation on Golf Channel’s “Live From” set with Frank Nobilo and Colin Montgomerie. Nobilo recalled sharing a private plane to New York with Montgomerie after both fell short at the 1996 U.S. Open.
“You sort of look at each other for that split second and say, ‘I don’t know if you know what it takes (to win a major), and I don’t know if I (do either). . .’ ” Nobilo said. “You can win a championship in lots of different ways, but not until you actually pick up that trophy do you know whether or not you’re deserving of it.”
Chamblee clearly wasn’t buying this argument about the mysticism that surrounds major champions.
“There are lots of players who won major championships who were nowhere near the players you guys were. . .” Chamblee responded. “Sometimes fate taps you on the shoulder.”
He and anchor Rich Lerner ticked off the names of some of the unlikely major champions: Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel, Ben Curtis. They could have gone on and on.
“I’m not of the group that (says), ‘Once you win a major championship, you know more than everybody else who didn’t win a major championship. I’m not of the opinion that Colin Montgomerie’s second-place (finishes in majors) are evidence that he didn’t have what it took to win a major championship. . . . Sometimes you can’t control somebody’s heroics, luck, chip-ins, putts.”
That’s another example of why I consider Chamblee to be, hands down, golf’s most astute television analyst.
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Lerner is an exceedingly likable personality. And by all accounts, he is a pro’s pro – well prepared, works hard, checks his ego at the door. I’ve long considered him to be one of Golf Channel’s three indispensable on-air talents, along with Chamblee and Steve Sands.
That said, he’s just not the right guy to anchor the “Live From” set. He has what I can only describe as a semi-staccato delivery that becomes a distraction when he is trying to carry the conversation.
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I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but I’d like to see more of Montgomerie on television. I liked his contributions on the “Live From” set. I know Monty grates on a lot of people, especially Americans, and his oh-so-Scottish, tortured way of expressing himself lends itself to caricature. But Montgomerie can be well-spoken and thoughtful when his opinion is solicited.
One example: Lerner asked Montgomerie his thoughts Sunday night on Phil Mickelson’s post-round comments.
“I think he’s very honest in his interviews, and it’s nice to see,” Montgomerie said. “Some of the top players aren’t as honest as Phil. And it’s great when questions are asked of Phil, he gives an honest answer.”
That comment struck a nerve because I’ve often said the same thing not only about Mickelson, but about Montgomerie and some of his fellow Euros, including Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood.
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I was struck by this quote from USGA president Glen Nager during his Sunday interview with NBC’s Dan Hicks: “This championship has a purpose, which is to identify the best player in the game playing under the most difficult circumstances. So the professional game and what we’re trying to do here this week is not the standard for the recreational game. In fact, what we can learn out of this week’s championship for the recreational game is (to) lower the rough heights so it’s easier to find the ball, lower the green speed so there’s not as many three-putts and four-putts, make the hole locations more accessible, tee it up forward rather than lenghten it out. . . . At the recreational level, we need to have a different paradigm.”
Two points: First, I don’t think we needed to spend a week at Merion to understand that most amateurs shouldn’t be playing on courses set up for major championships. Second, to my ears, “different paradigm” sounded a lot like bifurcation, which some of us believe already exists. I’m sure Nager would dispute that, and just as certain that he could draw a lawyerly distinction between “different paradigm” and bifurcation. But it’s healthy for the USGA president to acknowledge that Tour players play a different game than amateurs.