Some thoughts on CBS’ coverage of the PGA Championship:
• Let’s start on a positive note because I am, by nature, a generous soul. So I’ll give CBS credit: It did a much better job at the PGA Championship of capturing some great on-course audio. It picked up audio from several players, but it didn’t hurt that Jordan Spieth, who was prominently featured, is such a likable chatterbox on the course.
On the third shot to No. 5 Sunday, Michael Greller, Spieth’s caddie, suggested he “just accept 15 feet.” Spieth: “That would be really good.”
Of the awkward stance for his bunker shot on 16, Spieth told Greller, “It’s OK like this. It’s just a really hard shot.”
There was much more, along with some missed opportunities when announcers talked over players and caddies, but this was perhaps the most positive development that I saw from CBS last week. Let’s hope that CBS doesn’t regress to the norm the next couple of weeks at the Wyndham Championship or The Barclays.
• One of my chief frustrations is when good ideas are poorly executed. Let me give you some examples as it pertains to the PGA Championship.
CBS had some good graphics, but the network used them so sporadically that it was plain there was no coherent strategy. When Martin Kaymer was preparing to strike his second shot on No. 18 Saturday, there was a terrific graphic telling viewers that Kaymer had 181 yards to the hole, but that the shot played 12 feet downhill, so it played as if it were 176 yards. That’s good stuff. Problem is, that’s the only time I can recall seeing it on Saturday, and I recall seeing it only once on Sunday.
Here’s another example: When Matt Jones hit an errant tee shot on No. 8 Saturday, there was a terrific graphic showing that Jones would hit his second shot from 23 feet below the putting surface. We saw it again when Jason Day missed the green on one of the lakeside par 3s, and, as best as I can recall, we saw it twice on Sunday. But that’s it. This was a graphic that CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus touted in a post-tournament interview, but it was used only a handful of times on the weekend.
And one more example: On Saturday we saw a scrolling, alphabetized leaderboard. I’ve pleaded for just such a graphic element for years because viewers can see the scores while still watching live action. That’s preferable to stopping coverage to show a traditional leaderboard that takes up the entire screen. But then we didn’t see that leaderboard again the rest of the tournament.
• Then there were the graphics that we didn’t see – not even once. How could CBS show up at a lakeside pseudo-links, where wind is one of the course’s chief defenses, and not show a wind gauge? The wind wasn’t a huge issue on the weekend, but it still was a factor. On No. 4 Sunday, CBS’ Frank Nobilo said Spieth has “to allow for the breeze” on his putt. If the wind is strong enough that it might affect putts, we need a gauge in the corner of the screen telling us how strong the wind is blowing and in which direction.
Two holes later, on Day’s tee ball, David Feherty said the wind “has strengthened considerably.” In which direction, or at what speed, we were not told.
• Several years ago I wrote a column critical of CBS’ use – misuse, really – of bad, synthesized music. (Is it redundant to say “bad, synthesized music”?) To my surprise, that struck a nerve with some readers, who shared my irritation. Producer Lance Barrow seems to have a particular fondness for backing highlights with a truly dreadful spaghetti-western-style selection. Every time I hear it, I expect to see Clint Eastwood mosey up to the tee in his black hat, gnawing on a cigarillo, then flip up his poncho, whip out a Big Bertha and start wailing.
But here’s the larger point: The single biggest problem with televised golf, particularly on CBS, is a lack of rhythm to keep viewers engaged. It’s not just the standard fare: shot, shot, shot, shot, commercial break; shot, shot, shot, shot, commercial break, etc. That would almost be tolerable.
Next time you’re watching an event, take note of how many times you see one or two shots, then get force-fed an uninformative graphic – which often exists only because it’s sponsored – or a redundant highlights package (which also might exist only because it’s sponsored), or a leaderboard or some other distraction from live action.
• Here’s something else I’ve criticized in the past – again, to no avail. It’s the overuse of the word “perfect,” which should never be used because, as a wise many reminded us, “golf is not a game of perfect.”
But that doesn’t stop announcers from using it. On Sunday, Ian Baker-Finch said that Day’s drive on 11 was “perfect.” No, Nick Faldo said, it was “phenomenally perfect.” (Who knew there were levels of perfection? There’s probably a philosophical debate to be had on the nature of perfection.)
It reached the point of absurdity when Feherty said of a Spieth pitch shot, “He knew he’d struck it perfectly, just not hard enough.”
That’s a perfect contradiction.
• I give McManus a lot of credit for acknowledging the new reality with the arrival of Fox Sports, now in its first year airing U.S. Golf Association championships. Fox’s first year has been bumpy, but it has made inroads in at least two areas. Fox placed heavy emphasis on technology that created more of a three-dimensional experience for viewers watching at home, and it captured some terrific on-course audio throughout the U.S. Open in June. Those are two areas that CBS upgraded last week. For example, the graphic showing elevation changes on the course was used to good effect by Fox at Chambers Bay.
In an interview after the PGA, McManus gave Fox its due: “I think that (Fox’s entry) made all of us sit up and say, ‘What can we do better than has been done before?’ I think it’s great that they came in. I think it’s great that they pushed us. I applaud them for some of their innovations.” Similarly, he attributed the heightened emphasis on capturing on-course audio to “a new entrant” (read: Fox) making that a priority.
Since Fox signed its 12-year contract with the USGA in 2013, I’ve argued that everyone would benefit because the new competition would force CBS, NBC, ESPN and Golf Channel to raise their games. McManus isn’t going to say that Fox is outperforming CBS in any area – I wouldn’t expect any network executive to do that – but I respect his willingness to acknowledge that Fox’s arrival is going to force other networks to get better.
• Finally, on a non-PGA note, best wishes to NBC’s Mark Rolfing, who is recuperating after surgery last week. Rolfing issued this statement: “Earlier this week, I underwent a procedure to remove a malignant growth from my left cheek area. I’m happy to report the surgery was successful and the prognosis is good. Debi and I are overwhelmed by the support we have received and would like to thank everyone for their well-wishes.”