Five thoughts on NBC’s coverage of the British Open:
NBC stuck to what it does best: showing a lot of golf. It’s hard to find fault with that formula. Under ESPN, which held the Open rights until 2015, the quality of the productions was excellent but too often felt like studio shows with some live golf mixed in.
NBC, by contrast, kept its focus on the course. We saw all 156 players over the first two days, and having watched some 45 hours of Open coverage, I’m hard pressed to think of a moment when I thought NBC was not showing me enough action. On the rare occasions when NBC did leave the course – for example, to show David Feherty’s train ride along England’s Golf Coast or his visit to a course where the Beatles played – those features were short and well done.
So on the big stuff, NBC did well.
But – you knew there was a but coming – some familiar gremlins gummed up the works.
Sunday’s coverage of the final group did not get off to a good start. On Jordan Spieth’s opening drive, Johnny Miller said, “That’s a confidence-builder. That’s exactly what he was hoping to do.”
A moment later, we saw Spieth’s ball plunge into some deep hillside rough. Miller’s tune quickly changed: “He’s not going to be happy when he sees where that ball is.” That’s like calling a home run, only to have the left fielder catch the ball on the warning track.
This is one of the problems with NBC’s sporadic use of shot tracers. It’s quite possible I saw more tracers used during Saturday afternoon’s two-hour U.S. Junior Am championship match on FS1 than I saw during the previous 13 hours of Open coverage on Golf Channel and NBC.
The lack of tracers leads to moments when the announcers are forced to guess whether a player hit a good or bad shot. On Austin Connelly’s tee shot to the par-3 seventh Sunday, for example, Peter Jacobsen didn’t know where the ball was. A camera scanned the green for several awkward seconds before Jacobsen spotted the ball in the left bunker. It’s understandable if the crew sometimes loses a ball on a par 4 or par 5, given the size of the playing fields. But how can you lose a ball on a short par 3?
NBC occasionally likes to show replays with the “reverse tracer,” looking back from green to tee, as it did on No. 12 Sunday. That’s fine. It looks cool, and I’ll never complain about too many tracer shots. But the point of tracers is to show viewers, and even announcers, where the ball is going in real time, not after the fact.
It really is astounding that NBC’s experienced crew of announcers can, at times, be so undisciplined. Everyone knows how chatty Spieth and caddie Michael Greller are; the announcers often joke about it. And Matt Kuchar and his caddie, John Wood, are almost as talkative. With all of the attention on that final twosome, one would have thought we would hear plenty of great on-course audio, especially given that this is a point of emphasis for NBC. But we didn’t.
How bad was it? We heard Spieth griping about his opening tee shot (“That’s crap, not getting rewarded for a good shot”), but that was about it. On Sunday morning, I saw two texts from Golf Channel/NBC employees, exasperated that their colleagues at Royal Birkdale insisted on talking over Spieth and Greller. Afterward, a friend quipped: “Just surprised NBC’s announcers didn’t talk over the trophy presentation.”
My advice (which I’m certain will be ignored): Have the NBC team study tapes of Golf Channel’s LPGA crew, which does the best job of capturing on-course audio. That’s one reason those live LPGA shows, despite limited resources, are some of the best on TV.
I didn’t hear anything from NBC’s newest hire, Jim “Bones” Mackay, Phil Mickelson’s former caddie, that would suggest he’s cut out for TV. I know that will be an unpopular opinion. You can read my detailed analysis of Mackay’s work on Golfweek.com.
Mackay spent the first three days on course, then spoke a couple of times Sunday from the 18th tower. What we wanted from him was insight; what we got tended to be robotic, guarded, banal.
NBC might have hoped for a spark by adding Mackay, but probably shouldn’t have bumped him ahead of more proven announcers.