I like a pretty coastline as much as the next person. It’s been 30 years since I first visited the Monterey Peninsula, and I still get even gushier discussing it than Robert Louis Stevenson, who described Pebble Beach as “the most felicitous meeting of land and sea in creation.”
So you might think that as the guy assigned to write about televised golf for Golfweek, I’m savoring the prospect of watching the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am this weekend.
Saturday at Pebble Beach surely has to rank as the single worst day of televised golf on the PGA Tour schedule. I hate virtually everything about CBS’ third-round telecast from Pebble Beach. It’s three hours of celebrities playing bad golf, Jim Nantz channeling his inner Larry King as fringe actors stop by to promote their shows (which, coincidentally, usually appear on CBS), and Clint Eastwood fighting to stay awake through it all. It’s utterly unwatchable.
I made that observation the other day to a friend, a TV guy, a person who understands the business. He just winced. It’s that bad.
That got me to thinking: What are the worst days of televised golf on the PGA Tour? I’ll take Saturday at Pebble Beach out of the discussion. That’s just a whole different level of sheer, unspeakable awfulness that can’t be saved even by the occasional pictures of the crashing surf behind No. 7 or the aerials of the 18th hole.
Here are my choices for the worst days of televised golf on the PGA Tour calendar:
• First two rounds of the PGA Championship: It has the best field of any major championship, and occasionally it’s even played at a mildly interesting venue. And still CBS and TNT manage to make it lackluster. You know all of those annoying things CBS does during its regular, three-hour weekend shows – the lack of pacing, the clutter of the graphics and promos, the inane music, the unprepared announcers, the jokes that fall flat. Well, you get all of that and more at the PGA Championship, and you get it for 10 hours a day.
• First two rounds of the U.S. Open: Two words: Chris Berman. ‘Nuff said.
• Final round of the Tour Championship: It’s the culmination of a month-long series of tournaments, and $10 million is on the line. What’s wrong with that? This one, however, suffers from format and location. Regular readers know my feelings on the FedEx Cup format: It’s a contrived money grab with a points system that is jiggered and rejiggered in a futile effort to manufacture excitement. It’s left to Golf Channel’s Steve Sands to update viewers on the scenarios, but inevitably he sounds less like a sportscaster than an accountant explaining an actuarial table on life-insurance benefits. It’s such a screwy system that in 2011, Bill Haas won the Tour Championship, but didn’t even realize he had won the FedEx Cup until he arrived at the trophy presentation. No drama there.
Plus, East Lake Golf Club doesn’t exactly lend itself to great theater. Seriously, the event is held there every year, but how many holes can anyone remember, other than the 18th, and that only because of the oddity that it’s a par 3?
• Final round of the Match Play: This is another case where there’s a troubled marriage between format and television. Most tournaments start slowly, as players jockey for position over the first two rounds, then build to a climax on Sunday. The Match Play is just the opposite: The first day of matches is among the best viewing days of the year – filled with upsets, Cinderella stories and usually some obscure European player who sneaked into the top 64 and made some noise. But by Sunday, we’re left with four players, two of whom are little more than markers filling time for NBC.
• PGA Grand Slam: Every year one or two major champions dream up an excuse not to participate. I’m still trying to think of an excuse not to watch.