U.S. Open TV analysis: Fox’s technology outpaces its announcers

US Open-Erin Hills-TV Chris Carlson/Associated Press

U.S. Open TV analysis: Fox’s technology outpaces its announcers

Quick Shots

U.S. Open TV analysis: Fox’s technology outpaces its announcers

Fox Sports has done some terrific stuff on the technical side to push the medium forward since it became the U.S. Golf Association’s television partner in 2015. I’m thinking specifically of things such as its liberal use of tracers off tees and fairways, and its oversized yardage signs and elevation graphics. Those elements and others make it easier for viewers to follow what’s happening in a medium where viewers often can’t even see the ball.

Where Fox still has work to do is with its announcers, which tend to be overexposed during long days, such as the opening rounds of the U.S. Open. Fortunately, there’s a solution, which I’m here to offer.

Let’s start with the backup crew, because they led Friday’s coverage. I’ve never bought into Shane O’Donoghue as Joe Buck’s understudy. I understand that some viewers might be annoyed by Buck’s irreverence, but I’m far more troubled by O’Donoghue’s obsequiousness. And while I saw some potential in Shane Bacon in 2015, I continue to believe he’s miscast as the post-round interviewer. He doesn’t have the easy, natural rapport of a good interviewer. My suggestion would be to put Bacon on course, where Fox needs reinforcements, and try O’Donoghue as the interviewer. Perhaps O’Donoghue’s Irish nature will manifest itself in some good craic with the players. (That’s all free advice, Fox. I start charging for future consultations.)

US Open-Fox

Joe Buck won’t be handling the U.S. Open championship trophy to Dustin Johnson again this year. (John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports)

Fox producer Mark Loomis could have found a much more accomplished understudy to Buck just a few miles from Erin Hills. Brian Anderson, who calls Milwaukee Brewers games, made his bones at Golf Channel, and does a lot of national baseball and basketball games for various networks.

At majors, where a network might have to fill 10 or 12 hours a day, a backup anchor is like a backup quarterback; he needs to maintain the level of play. If Anderson were on the crew, there wouldn’t be such a dramatic dropoff when Buck leaves the booth; in fact, I suspect a lot of viewers would prefer Anderson to Buck. But then, fans often lobby for the backup quarterback.

Here are some other thoughts on Fox’s coverage:

• Darren Clarke was a late addition to the Fox team, and I fear, not a particularly good one. He’s serving as lead analyst Paul Azinger’s understudy. Clarke certainly is a chatty Irishman, though as I told a friend, I don’t mean that as a compliment. If you talk a lot, you occasionally have to say something interesting. That’s where Clarke falls short.

For example, early Friday we saw Rory McIlroy miss the green on the par-3 16th with a 9-iron. Clarke’s take: “It’s those up-and-downs that you need to make to keep a round going. Rory didn’t do that yesterday.” OK, that’s fair, if obvious. We often hear that sort of commentary during majors. But it would have been more interesting if Clarke had pointed out that his fellow Irishman, who happens to be the world’s most-talented player, probably shouldn’t miss the green with a 9-iron.

• One of Fox’s best moments Friday was a terrific little feature in which Zach Reineking, Erin Hills’ director of course operations, explained how the course barters hay for furniture with the local Amish community. The feature was short, it wasn’t intrusive, and it told me something interesting that I didn’t know about the club.

Holly Sonders

Holly Sonders (Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)

• How long is Fox going to continue the failed Holly Sonders Experiment? Last year I wrote that when Fox anchors say, “Let’s go down to Holly,” my thought is, “Let’s not.”

Bottom line: she stinks on TV. I don’t question Sonders’ golf knowledge. She played Division 1 college golf, so she knows the game. She’s just not cut out for the job.

Sonders was fine five years ago in her very limited role on Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive,” but she’s asked to do far too much at Fox. I think a friend had it right when he said Sonders tries too hard to be a personality (“golf’s Vanna White” was his description). But she’s not a personality. She lacks an easy manner on camera, she’s not spontaneous, and she’s not amusing.

She also doesn’t seem particularly competent. On Friday, in a segment with architect Gil Hanse, Sonders couldn’t bring up a graphic of No. 14. “I have never been friends with this thing,” Sonders said of the machine. “Three years now and I still can’t get it figured out.”

Here’s my crazy, completely off-the-wall suggestion: Remove Holly and put someone in that job who can call up the proper graphic.

• By contrast, it’s hard to overstate how good Ken Brown is on TV. It seems effortless for Brown. My U.K.-based colleague, Alistair Tait, had told me last year how much he enjoyed Brown’s work on European Tour telecasts. I had no idea how good Brown was until I saw him at last year’s Open at Oakmont.

The graphic that introduces his “Brownie Points” segments seems a bit sophomoric – sort of like a first draft that needed refining. But Brown is terrific on camera – funny, yet insightful. I look forward to his segments not just because I learn from them – whether he’s discussing the bunkers, the fescue or the architecture – but I also laugh at them. That’s a powerful combination. He’s also probably a better on-course reporter than anyone else on the Fox crew. It’s a shame that he doesn’t get more airtime in that capacity.

• What the hell is Fox doing with this “Star Wars”-style theme music during its drone flyovers of various holes? By the time we got to the greens, I almost expected to find Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker engaged in a putting duel. Fox needs to find some more subtle music that doesn’t overwhelm what should be a fairly straightforward presentation of the holes. There’s a time for dramatic music; flyovers of the 12th hole are not it.

• Curtis Strange on Rickie doing a pre-round interview with Bacon: “Good for him for speaking. A lot of people wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t do that.” There was some talk earlier in the day about Strange being a tough guy by golf standards – an image Strange embraced. So I appreciated his acknowledgement that times have changed and that it’s OK for a media-friendly player such as Fowler to take a couple of minutes to do a pre-round interview.

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