TV Column: Positive spin forward for PGA Championship

PGA Championship - Final Round David Cannon/Getty Images

TV Column: Positive spin forward for PGA Championship

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TV Column: Positive spin forward for PGA Championship

This normally is the week every year when I write a column explaining why I’d rather play a 100-hole marathon in Death Valley in the middle of August than watch the PGA Championship.

But I don’t want to do that this year.

Oh, sure, I could dwell on CBS producer Lance Barrow’s habit of showing an inordinate number of shots on tape and ignoring large swaths of the field. I could criticize Gary McCord’s failings small (chortling over his jokes, which no one else finds amusing) and large (saying Hideki Matsuyama’s approach to 16 “has gotta be in the water” when viewers could see it sitting on the bank). I could lament the way the PGA of America has allowed this great championship to become less an invitation to enjoy golf than an incentive to change the channel. I could ruminate on the unbearable lightness of being Ian Baker-Finch, a charming and decent man who seems utterly incapable of saying anything interesting.

I could do all of that and more. But not this year.

This year, I want to take a different approach. Like the Pope and Buckaroo Banzai, I want to be a positive force in the universe.

As Buckaroo famously said, “No matter where you go, there you are.”

Well, here we are at the end of another major-championship season. What have we learned?

First, this year the PGA finally started to look like a 21st-century production. Prodded (shamed?) by Fox Sports, CBS and NBC have gotten much more aggressive about using tracers at majors. This is a great development. Liberal use of tracers, from tees and fairways, is the biggest advance we’ve seen in the presentation of golf over the past five years. With a few notable exceptions, CBS made good use of that technology at Quail Hollow.

The downside, of course, is this: Don’t expect to see it every week. In fact, don’t expect to see it every major. While CBS took some positive steps at this year’s PGA, it’s other major, the Masters, still looks like something out of the 1980s. That dichotomy will be particularly striking in 2019, when CBS will air the Masters and PGA in consecutive months.

We also know the PGA is a championship in transition. Aside from the pending move to May, it might have a new TV home by 2020, depending on how rights negotiations go.

The PGA of America wants to capitalize on the new May date to promote the game and its participation initiatives. That sounds great, but it’s not going to happen in its present format. If diehards like me are struggling to maintain interest in the coverage, imagine what’s happening to viewers on the fringes, weighing whether to watch one of golf’s biggest events or click over to the “Breaking Bad” marathon on AMC.

That’s something the PGA of America should ponder heading into the next round of TV negotiations. How can it make the PGA Championship not just feel bigger, but stand apart from the other majors?

One suggestion: Encourage TV partners to be even more aggressive on technology. A good place to start would be better on-course audio. I always harp on this, but don’t you think the millennials the PGA of America hopes to reach would have enjoyed listening in occasionally as Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy were playing together the first two rounds? (As Steve Flesch noted on Twitter, it also would have been useful in understanding Jason Day’s wacky decision-making on the final hole Saturday.) And if your announcers are going to spend four days talking about the greens, shouldn’t you have something that shows viewers the breaks and speed?

Modest steps such as those might keep viewers engaged when they otherwise reach for the remote.

(Note: This story appears in the August 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

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