Winter Olympics assignments will push Golf Channel talent out of comfort zone

AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

Winter Olympics assignments will push Golf Channel talent out of comfort zone

Golf on TV

Winter Olympics assignments will push Golf Channel talent out of comfort zone

The PGA Tour is about to heat up again with two weeks in Hawaii, but David Feherty’s fertile mind has been wandering to other sports. Curling, for example. “It fascinates me,” he said. Same with the biathlon, which he said is “a particular favorite of mine because I’m a keen target shooter.”

Meanwhile, Feherty’s colleague, Rich Lerner, also has been mulling some pretty heady subjects. He finds himself pondering “the psychology of letting go in adrenaline sports” such as ski jumping and half-pipe. And how, exactly, do pairs skaters train for the physical demands of their sport? “Are they lifting weights or are they lifting humans?” Lerner wonders.

Feherty and Lerner will get the chance to explore these sports and more in February. They’re among 25 Golf Channel staffers being dispatched to work on NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics. (Twenty are being sent to South Korea; the rest will work out of NBC Sports’ headquarters in Stamford, Conn.)

“This is really new territory for me,” Lerner said. “My Winter Games expertise was sled riding down 26th Street in Allentown, Pa., a long time ago. To be involved in something new, stretch a tiny bit as a reporter, is exciting.”

The one Golf Channel staffer for whom the Winter Olympics is old hat is Molly Solomon, EVP of content and executive producer, who is a product of NBC’s Olympic culture, having worked 10 Games. She said one of her goals since joining Golf Channel six years ago was to immerse the staff in that culture.

“At the top of the mountain is the Olympics,” Solomon said. “When you work them, you know you’re working on something the entire world is watching.”

Lerner got some sense of that in 2016 while at the Summer Olympics in Brazil. After covering the golf tournament and seeing how the players embraced that experience, Lerner attended events he would not otherwise have watched – team handball and badminton – involving countries in which he had no rooting interest, and got caught up in the experience.

“What I learned is that spirit I had heard about, the Olympic spirit, is real. It gets into you. …” he said. “We had that international moment that you like to think you can and should have at these kind of Games, where you break down barriers and meet people who have a common interest, and it makes the Games a little smaller and a little nicer.”

Lerner, Feherty and their colleagues in February will have to cover those little-known athletes and obscure events they might never before have seen. Solomon said NBC’s Olympics research department churns out weekly reports on athletes that “you can’t find even if you Google somebody.” But once they get to South Korea, she said, “It’s about being curious and telling stories.” Lerner is counting on that, hoping his “layperson’s curiosity” will lead him to stories that connect with viewers.

Feherty is counting on his idiosyncratic instincts to guide him to good stories in South Korea. As he said, “I tend to see the accident from the different side of the street.”

Feherty already has spent time in Montana working on a story on Lowell Bailey, who won gold in the men’s 20-kilometer individual at the Biathlon World Championships in Austria last year. As a target shooter, Feherty marvels at Bailey’s ability to race flat-out on cross-country skis for 20 kilometers, “then hold a 22-caliber rifle steady enough to hit five golf hole-sized targets at 50 yards.”

He’ll also spend some time with the U.S. curling team in Minneapolis, where he’ll do two “Feherty Live” shows during Super Bowl weekend before heading to PyeongChang.

“The similarities to golf are striking,” Feherty quipped. “Both sports you can yell at a rock that’s not listening.”

He’s asked if we might hear him use that line sometime in February.

“Yes, you may well.”

(Note: This story appeared in the January 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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