TV notes: Media quick to defend Na's slow play

Kevin Na watches his tee shot at No. 6 during the final round at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.

Random thoughts on NBC’s coverage of The Players Championship:

• Various commentators seemed to be in a rush to defend the glacial Kevin Na. After Na rinsed his ball on the 13th Sunday, a couple of fans could be heard singing, “Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na,” to the tune of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude.”

NBC anchor Dan Hicks seethed: “That’s absolutely ridiculous. I don’t care how long it’s taking him to play.”

I have to admit, I’m torn on this one. I don’t like to see anyone mocked, and maybe that’s what was happening there. But it could be that some fans were having good-natured fun with Na’s name – not unlike what NBC also did in a short musical tribute to Na coming out of a break Sunday – and simply chose the wrong time to do it. I don’t know their motivation, and I doubt that Hicks did either.

The thornier issue is this: Everyone says they hate slow play, yet everyone in the media rushes to the defense of slow players. We empathize: “We’ve all had similar problems . . . the game of golf does can drive you crazy.” We sympathize: “It’s painful to watch . . . he’s really struggling . . . he’s baring his soul to the media about his problems, etc.”

Trouble is, it’s hardly newsworthy that Na plays slowly. True, his problems have become more exaggerated and his on-course histrionics more bizarre. But he’s been one of the Tour’s turtles for years. Perhaps if the Tour had dealt with the issue of slow play rather than continually kicking that can down the road, Na might have had an incentive to address the issue before the problem got out of hand.

• “Is it that big of a story anymore?”

Dan Patrick asked that question on his radio show Friday morning in relation to Tiger Woods, who had opened with a 74. Do we really need to obsess over Woods when he’s struggling just to break par and make cuts? As NBC’s Johnny Miller said Sunday, “He’s so normal, he’s just like a regular Tour pro now. It’s like, ‘C’mon, Tiger, you’re not a regular Tour pro.’”

Invariably, however, members of the media, including my colleagues at Golfweek, love them some Tiger Woods. His play is going to have to get a lot worse before we begin to change the subject.

So I had to laugh out loud Friday when Hicks said the following: “A lot of people feel it’s reached the point of, what more analysis can be done? Let’s just see what happens.”

Hicks, of course, said this as the NBC crew was analyzing Woods’ problems. I also got a kick out of Miller’s comment that, “I’m not on this bandwagon of picking him apart.” Technically, that’s perhaps true. Johnny is the guy riding the horse that’s pulling the bandwagon.

I’ll make two points here: First, Woods is the only player who doubles ratings, so it’s understandable that the media focuses so intently on him. And second, why are Hicks and Miller apologizing for doing their jobs? We don’t need them to tell us so-and-so pulled his approach or will struggle to save par. We can see that with our own eyes. What we need from Miller and company is good analysis – to always address the basic question: Why?

• How good was Kevin Na’s 241-yard approach on the last hole from the cart path? So good that an announcer – it sounded like Roger Maltbie – could be heard shouting a four-letter obscenity in amazement.

A spokesman said in an email that “Roger would never say that,” but didn’t address the specific incident. I’ve replayed that video at least three dozen times, so I’m not basing this on a fleeting comment that might have been misunderstood. My best guess is that Maltbie simply forgot to turn off his microphone after describing Na’s shot. Frankly, I liked the fact that Maltbie seemed so thrilled by a great shot, even if he expressed it poorly.

• Graphically, I liked NBC’s new “360” animation that shows players’ swings from various angles. I also like the Pinpoint animation of the green contours. It’s still not as good as Golf Channel’s AimPoint, but it’s helpful. I only wish NBC wouldn’t use Pinpoint so sparingly. Nine greens were mapped for Pinpoint, but I doubt that it was used more than five times Sunday (I wasn’t keeping count). You don’t want to overuse it, but as I always say, if you have the toys, you might as well play with them.

Another underused graphic is the one that shows a group’s driving distances, the position of each player’s ball and their distances to the pin. I only recall seeing that once on Sunday, early in the round for Na and Kuchar.

• As Harris English prepared to tee off on No. 4 Saturday, NBC’s Gary Koch noted that English had a triple bogey on No. 2. “What happened?” Koch blurted out. Given that English was one shot off the lead entering play Saturday, shouldn’t we, the lowly viewers, already have known what happened? Shouldn’t NBC have shown us that? Once English has shot himself off the first page of the leaderboard, then you can ignore him.

• A while back I wrote that we viewers don’t need to see players hit tap-in putts. These people are pros; they’re supposed to make them. At least one reader challenged that view, noting that I.K. Kim’s missed tap-in on the last hole of the Kraft Nabisco Championship illustrated why we need to see even the shortest putts. I’d argue that Kim’s miss only proved my point: that tap-ins merit being shown on TV only when they are missed.

NBC handled this appropriately when showing Charlie Wi’s four-putt on 18 Saturday. We saw the first three putts – the second and third each appeared to be about three feet – and then NBC cut away anchor as Hicks informed us that Wi “made the next one for double.”

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