TV: Berman Open to criticism; North goes South

Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk make their way up the 18th hole on Saturday at Olympic Club.

Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk make their way up the 18th hole on Saturday at Olympic Club.

Some thoughts on the first three days of U.S. Open television coverage on ESPN and NBC:

• Golf fans had their annual tizzy on social media when ESPN bullhorn Chris Berman worked the first two rounds. Berman hosted the noon-3 p.m. ET show both days, then anchored the 5-10 p.m. coverage.

I could critique his work, but I suspect that anything I might write would sound like what I wrote in 2011, which probably sounded like what I wrote in 2010, which probably sounded like . . . – well, you get the picture. In fairness, Berman seems to have heard some of the criticism. On the 10-point Nails-on-a-Chalkboard Meter, he now registers an 8.5, down from about an 11 in past years. He has, for instance, lightened up on the tedious nicknames and pop-culture references. He also seems to have lightened up on the cough syrup; his voice has more gravel in it than a quarry.

I’ll simply reiterate my core criticism of Berman: When I watch him, I always sense that he thinks viewers turn on their TVs to watch him, when in fact they tune in to watch golf. (As an aside, I’ll share this anecdote: I was sitting in my office when a colleague in the newsroom turned on ESPN’s coverage at noon on Thursday. I heard, “Oh, no! It’s Berman. We have to mute it.” I suspect many golf fans feel the same way.)

I’m not going to dwell on this other than to make this point: Berman’s presence speaks poorly of ESPN’s management, which inflicts him on the golfing populace each June. In Mike Tirico and Terry Gannon, ESPN has two of the best anchors in golf. It’s nothing short of mismanagement for the ESPN brass to give Berman a larger role than Tirico and Gannon. It also doesn’t speak well of the USGA, which holds the tournament rights and could exercise some leverage over ESPN to remove Berman.

• I’m sure Andy North is a nice fellow – he is, after all, from Wisconsin – but I have no idea how he has held that prime ESPN gig for so many years. The man seems determined not to say anything remotely interesting. When I see him on the ESPN set, I can’t help thinking: Is this the best that the self-proclaimed “worldwide leader in sports” can do?

I didn’t catch David Duval’s work on ESPN3 because, well, I’m honestly not quite sure how to find ESPN3. But he apparently had a successful TV debut. That doesn’t surprise me. Any good analyst should be willing, even anxious, to challenge conventional wisdom, and Duval never seemed reluctant to do that. I’d like to see ESPN give Duval the kind of expanded forum that North has had, starting with next month’s British Open.

• Speaking of North, there was an odd debate Friday after Tiger Woods’ approach to No. 17 went down the hill right of the green. Curtis Strange said, “It’s unique here at Olympic. It certainly isn’t unfair.” North responded, “It’s never been unique before.”

Huh? I honestly don’t know what that means, Andy.

• During the review of third-round action on ESPN’s SportsCenter, anchor John Anderson noted Woods’ comment about having awkward yardages to the flags on Saturday. Strange scoffed: “Oh, c’mon! Half clubs – I made a living hitting half clubs.”

Thank you, Curtis. I’m so weary of hearing a player say “I was between clubs,” or some such nonsense, as if to suggest that his 5-iron travels 192 yards – not a yard more or less.

Strange was less effective during live first- and second-round coverage. He seems to have a knack for making basic errors. Strange described Carl Pettersson as a “Raleigh, N.C., native,” which would come as news to his relatives back in his birthplace of Gothenburg, Sweden. (Pettersson now resides in Raleigh.) Strange seemed particularly befuddled by the amateurs. On at least two occasions he referred to Patrick Cantlay as “Robert”; Jordan Spieth become “Spith”; and on at least one occasion Friday, Beau Hossler became “Hustler.”

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