Honda TV coverage hints at the future

Tiger Woods on Sunday at the Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Tiger Woods on Sunday at the Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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It’s been 13 months since Golf Channel was merged into NBC Sports Group. This past weekend golf fans finally got a taste of how that combination might improve their viewing experience.

With certain reservations, I was a big fan of the simultaneous Golf Channel-NBC weekend coverage of the Honda Classic. While NBC did its normal broadcast, a separate Golf Channel crew followed action solely on the “Bear Trap,” holes 15-17 at PGA National’s Champion Course.

We’ve seen DirecTV simulcast during major championships, but this was the first test by NBC and Golf Channel. It won’t be the last. There’s no official word at the moment, but I anticipate that we’ll see another simulcast event soon, and a regular schedule by the time the Tour’s new TV contract kicks in next year.

I won’t dwell long here on the simulcasting; my March 9 column in Golfweek will have more detailed thoughts on Golf Channel’s execution of the Bear Trap coverage. But golf fans should expect to see more complementary coverage by NBC and Golf Channel. That’s good news for the PGA Tour and Golf Channel, but there’s a possible tradeoff. The LPGA and Nationwide Tours might find themselves occasionally getting bumped to less desirable time slots on Golf Channel.

Here are a few other thoughts on the Honda TV coverage:

• I know some people won’t believe this – most especially every announcer who works for NBC, CBS and Golf Channel – but I cut on-air talent a lot of slack for overuse of clichés and hackneyed phrasing. We writers often need editors to make our first drafts sing, whereas TV announcers don’t have that luxury. Their first drafts – their unedited spoken words – are thrown out for public consumption. So I’m less interested in criticizing announcers’ minor imperfections; I’m more inclined to focus either on their great insights or major screw-ups.

That said, while watching the Honda coverage, I did make note of a couple of comments that never fail to grate.

Exhibit A: As Tiger Woods prepared to hit his tee ball on No. 15 Saturday, NBC’s Mark Rolfing said, “Tiger has missed four of his last five greens in regulation. This is one that he does not want to miss.”

I know I don’t have to tell you this, because if you’re reading these words, you’re almost certainly a pretty savvy observer of golf. But doesn’t it go without saying that Woods never – under any circumstances – wants to miss a green in regulation?

Exhibit B: Early in Sunday’s NBC broadcast, anchor Dan Hicks was setting up the day’s storylines when he said that Woods “trails by a full five shots.” Since you are a savvy golf observer, I feel safe in assuming that we can skip past the question of whether it’s possible to trail by a partial five shots. The point here: Hicks was trying to establish the storyline that Woods was charging and in contention, only to fall a “full five shots” behind Rory McIlroy. The reality is that Woods missed tying the course record by one shot, yet still was never closer than two shots off the lead.

• Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz usually has a kind word for everyone. But Foltz said Saturday that he doesn’t like the fact that McIlroy is skipping the Arnold Palmer Invitational: “I think it’s a mistake. I think it’s a responsibility. . . . All of these guys out here fly private jets, they live like kings. They could take about half of what they make in each check and kiss it away if it weren’t for Arnold Palmer and another quarter of that if it weren’t for Tiger Woods. I think it’s a duty.”

• The Michigan chapter of the Tom Gillis Fan Club emailed me to say it wasn’t happy with the way NBC treated its man. Gillis was in the clubhouse at -8 on Friday, the same score as Justin Rose, who was still on the course. But Rose was listed above Gillis on the leaderboard. (I’ve remarked on this before when Woods was listed above someone who had the same score and already was in the clubhouse.) I’m sympathetic to the Gillis fans. Their man had posted the lowest score, and NBC should have listed him at the top the leaderboard. I know that Gillis isn’t the big star that networks like to see on their leaderboards, but it’s insulting for NBC not to give him his due when he’s leading the tournament.

• Speaking of big stars, NBC was anxious to trumpet a new No. 1, particularly one as popular as McIlroy. So Hicks played up that angle Sunday – to excess, as it turned out.

“The world of golf has been waiting a long time for this young man to ascend to the top spot,” Hicks said. “ . . . You just have to think that perhaps we are seeing him ascend to that top spot and stay there for who knows how long.”

Putting aside the “ascend to the top” redundancy, can we get a little perspective here? McIlroy is just 22 years old. Many kids that age either are preparing for their college graduations or wasting away their lives in some godforsaken Occupy Wall Street encampment. By contrast, McIlroy is a humble, but wildly successful young golfer from Northern Ireland who is already is No. 1 in the world rankings. So let’s get a grip here, guys. The fact that McIlroy is No. 1 at such a young age is a great story. We don’t need Hicks and other at the networks embellishing the story.

• Finally, if you have questions about television coverage of golf, email me at mkaufmann@golfweek.com. I’ll try to respond to your questions in this blog.

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