TV Blog: Golf should follow MLB's footsteps when it come to telecasts

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TV Blog: Golf should follow MLB's footsteps when it come to telecasts

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TV Blog: Golf should follow MLB's footsteps when it come to telecasts

Let’s start with this stipulation: Watching sports on television should be fun. It should be joyful. It should be inspiring to watch the world’s best athletes compete. It should be gripping to root for your favorite team or player.

And yet, I can’t say I’ve felt much joy and inspiration watching golf in recent years. Sports are spontaneous, unpredictable. Live golf coverage is formulaic, often tedious.

How do we address that conundrum? How do we get back to that time, pre-DVRs, when we used to race home to watch early-round coverage of a tournament from Hilton Head Island or Fort Worth?

I’ve been giving that some thought recently. I don’t have a perfect answer, but I might have the outlines of a partial solution.

I’ve consistently advocated shaking up the traditional configuration of announcers at golf tournaments. Specifically, I’ve suggested two ideas: Taking more announcers out of the towers and putting them on the course, closer to the action; or dispatching with the traditional anchor-analyst setup and simply allowing a group of analysts to “talk golf,” if you will, rather than doing traditional play-by-play.

I was thinking about that recently while watching MLB Network’s fascinating “SABRcast” experiment. The term is a play on Sabermetrics, the advanced metrics that have taken over the game. It is to MLB what ShotLink is to the PGA Tour.

The MLB Network crew worked the Cubs-Giants game from a studio in New Jersey. It was a good mix of voices: Brian Kenny ostensibly served as anchor, though he is a stats geek who’s comfortable delving into the nitty-gritty; Joel Sherman, the New York Post columnist who always has terrific insights and perspective; Mark DeRosa, who brought a player’s perspective; and Mike Petriello, a stats-savvy MLB.com writer.

The announcers didn’t dwell on balls and strikes, or even talk much about balls in play. The running discussion was more topical. They delved into the reasons behind Giants catcher Buster Posey’s declining pitch-framing skills and his offensive performance when catching vs. playing first base; factors in the Cubs’ lackluster play compared to last season; the difference of pinch-hitting against starters vs. relievers; and the Giants lack of power and the types of free-agent sluggers who might excel in their spacious park.

There was more, but you get the picture. They weren’t talking about the game action, which we could see. They were having a smart, thoughtful conversation about baseball. Normally I’m critical of announcers who talk too much, but the discussion was so sharp and on point that I was happy just to listen.

By the same token, I wondered whether this could work in golf. Rather than announcers telling us what we can see – “Spieth has 2 feet left for his par” – a golf version of the SABRcast might focus on: reasons why specific players have fallen unexpectedly in the world rankings; statistics that might be indicators of success on this week’s course; or even a big-picture debate on hot balls and their impact on course design and set-up.

Now, let’s imagine the announcers we might choose for this golf SABRcast. We’ll put Golf Channel’s Steve Sands in the “anchor” role; he spends most of his time as a reporter/interviewer, but he’s done some anchoring, knows the players well and seems pretty sharp on the numbers. (I base that opinion on the fact that Sands is one of the few people who not only understands the FedEx Cup points system but can explain it in simple terms.)

Let’s plug Tim Rosaforte into the Joel Sherman role; he brings a print reporter’s insights. We’ll put Brandel Chamblee in the Mark DeRosa role; he’s a former player who’s better suited for the studio than the 18th tower, but this format would give him the space to talk for 30 seconds or a minute, which he couldn’t do during a traditional live telecast. Finally, we’ll need a stats geek to fill the role of Petriello, who was a real star during the SABRcast. For this role, I’ll volunteer my Golfweek colleague David Dusek, whose time spent studying ShotLink data far exceeds the Surgeon General’s recommended daily limits.

There, that’s the genesis of a cool experiment. The fall season, when most eyes are on football, would be a good time to test this. It’s even budget-friendly, because the announcers wouldn’t need to leave the studio.

Would this experiment work? I can’t say for certain, but it would be fun to find out.

(Note: This story appeared in the Sept. 4, 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

 

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