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Fox’s ‘fresh perspective’ on U.S. Open a work in progress

Fox Sports’ golf crew has talked often of bringing what anchor Joe Buck referred to as a “fresh perspective” to televised golf. That’s an appealing notion, because the genre has been crying out for innovation.

My sense, however, is that this is easier said than done. Fox golf producer Mark Loomis started working for ABC in 1991 and later produced golf for ESPN, and director Steve Beim has been at it even longer for ESPN and Golf Channel. I have no doubt they want to give golf viewers a fresh experience, but I suspect it’s tough to break old habits.

I was thinking about that early in Saturday’s telecast as Loomis gave far too much air time to panels of announcers when he should have been showing live action. I thought he had struck a happy medium Friday afternoon when the Fox crew interviewed U.S. Golf Association executive director Mike Davis in the 18th tower, yet kept the cameras trained on the live action. The result was an interesting conversation that didn’t come at the expense of the tournament coverage.

Early in Saturday’s show, however, we spent far too much time watching announcers rather than golfers. It reminded me of the Open Championships on ABC and ESPN that often seem more like talk shows rather than golf tournaments. I’ve never been able to wrap my brain around why a network would pay hundreds of millions of dollars for the rights to show major tournaments, only to spend significant blocks of time showing announcers rather than live action.

Here are a few other thoughts from third-round coverage:

With each day, Fox seems to do a better job of integrating graphics. The regular use of the ball tracer was especially important given how difficult it is to track ball flight against the tawny Chambers Bay backdrop. We also saw more frequent use of graphics showing distances to cover bunkers and reach pins. We would have benefited from more of the green-shading technology to illustrate the contours. And on putts, Fox really needs to highlight the hole, which often gets lost on those washed-out surfaces. Fox also needs to remember the wind gauge. On No. 18 late Saturday, we saw the flags whipping above the grandstands, but saw no specifics on the wind.

The constant leaderboard has been a good addition, but it could be so much better. I’d like to see Fox move to a scrolling leaderboard so that viewers could see more than just the top five players. We don’t need to see scores for every player, but I could envision using the same leaderboard Fox has, only scrolling through, say, the top 25 names.

Opinions on Buck seem to vary greatly. Some, like me, have never had a problem with Buck’s work in other sports, and are willing to give him time to prove himself in golf. It’s apparent, though, that there are plenty of Buck haters out there – people with a visceral contempt that I frankly don’t understand.

Fox really needs to upgrade its sets. I never imagined that would be an issue for a network that is so cognizant of its image. The 18th tower is in serious need of some sizzle, and also some imagery that screams “golf.” Right now, Buck and Greg Norman look like they just arrived for their first day of work, and they’re sitting at desks that were just pulled out of storage. And Fox needs to dress up its post-round interview set, which currently consists of Holly Sonders standing in front of a video board while interviewing a player. That looks like something out of the Hartford Open rather than the U.S. Open. In the future, Fox needs to create a warmer set – think wood paneling and leather chairs – where players can come in, sit down and talk about their rounds.

Fox has done a better job than any other network at picking up on-course audio, such as player-caddie conversations. Fox isn’t perfect in that regard – how could it be with all of those chattering announcers? – but it’s already better than its competition on that point.

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