Golf Channel primed to air NCAA Championship

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Golf Channel producer Brandt Packer isn’t exactly downplaying expectations as he prepares to air the NCAA Men’s Golf Championships.

“We really wanted to make it the premier event in all of amateur golf,” he said of the commitment he and Golf Channel president Mike McCarley have made to the project.

Golf Channel plans to air nine hours of live coverage May 26-28 – three hours daily starting at 5 p.m. Eastern time – from Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan. There also will be “Live From” pre-game and post-game shows each day beginning May 25. Packer said additional live action will be shown during the pre-game shows.

Four rounds of stroke play will culminate Monday, followed by two days of team match play, with the champion crowned May 28.

“Monday’s going to feel like the Sunday of a PGA Tour event,” Packer said.

Once team match play begins, Packer said he’ll lean on the lessons he has learned from NBC’s lead golf producer, Tommy Roy, and Roy’s work on the Ryder Cup. That means an emphasis on second shots, chipping and putting. He expects Prairie Dunes’ treacherous greens, which he said have “a little Pinehurst” in them, to produce plenty of excitement.

“In match play, it’s around the greens that holes are decided,” Packer said. “Obviously, if one (drive) is in the fairway and the other guy snipes it and he’s in trouble, that’s something we’ll show. But if both guys are in the fairway, we’ll let that go and focus on the matches where a point could be decided.”

The exception will be holes 12 and 14, par 4s that Packer said will be made drivable starting with May 26. Expect to see a lot of those drives that could shift the momentum of matches.

When he began doing research for this project, Packer, who played one year of college golf at Houston before transferring to Tennessee, said one thing that immediately became evident was the number of top collegiate players who went on to have success on the PGA Tour. From memory, he recites the names of past NCAA champions who are now household names.

“It took me five minutes to realize, man, we’ve totally failed at presenting this side to the viewers. . .” Packer said. “The core of the PGA Tour is just the NCAA individual champions.”

He points, for example, to Patrick Reed, who led Augusta State to NCAA titles in 2010-11. Yet Reed opened himself to ridicule when, after winning at Doral in March, he said he was “one of the top 5 players in the world.”

“If we had done the NCAAs those years that Augusta State went back-to-back,” Packer said, “I doubt people would have thought his line was that outlandish.”

Packer said Golf Channel will play up those personal stories, with a “big focus” on the history of college golf. On his regular beat producing Champions Tour events, he has been gathering material for the NCAA shows. He said his crew also will interview a lot of current competitors at Prairie Dunes May 25-26.

Packer joked that college accomplishments is a popular subject among his Champions Tour crew, especially John Mahaffey and Lanny Wadkins.

“Every dinner we go to, Mahaffey will always give (Wadkins) a zinger, ‘Well I was the NCAA champion. Were you?’ ” Packer said.

Mahaffey led Houston to the 1970 team championship and defeated Wadkins by a stroke for the individual title.

Packer’s on-air talent for the NCAAs will be populated by former top collegiate players, including holdovers from his Champions Tour crew. Bob Papa will anchor and Wadkins will be the lead analyst. Curt Byrum will be a tower announcer and Billy Ray Brown, who won the NCAA individual title while at Houston in 1982, will be the on-course reporter. Among the other announcers: Notah Begay, marking his return from heart surgery; Kelly Tilghman; Charlie Rymer and Holly Sonders. Steve Burkowski will handle interviews.

This will be the first NCAA championship Packer has produced, though he has worked basketball games for CBS during March Madness. Aside from the fact that this will be a first for Golf Channel, Packer said there are personal reasons why the NCAA assignment is special to him.

Packer’s father, Billy, worked 34 NCAA Final Fours as the lead analyst for NBC and later CBS. Packer tagged along with his father, a basketball star at Wake Forest, for a lot of those Final Fours.

“On Monday night, when he would interview the winning coach and player, and then they got the trophy, (I saw) how emotional he would get,” Packer recalled of his father. “He knew the sacrifices the coaches and the players made to hold up the trophy. And I got emotional because of how much college athletics meant to him.”

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