TV column: Opportunities missed with shot tracer in Masters broadcast

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TV column: Opportunities missed with shot tracer in Masters broadcast

PGA Tour

TV column: Opportunities missed with shot tracer in Masters broadcast

This year U.S. viewers finally got shot-tracing technology on the Masters broadcast, but with a caveat. It’s only used on five holes. The problem, as ESPN’s Curtis Strange suggested, is that you notice the absence of tracer technology on the other 13 holes.

Consider two moments from the 11th hole Friday.

The first involved Tiger Woods, who flared his drive right, though the only reason we knew that was because of Woods’ body English on the tee. Then Woods hit a low, hot cut shot under the tree limbs, and it stopped just behind the hole. Only a tracer could illustrate how bad the drive was, and how tremendous the second shot was.

The second involved Bubba Watson, who was even deeper in the trees right of the fairway. He aimed his second shot well left of the pond left of the 11th green, then hooked his shot at least 50 yards and stopped it just behind the flag. It was extraordinary.

“If this (hooks only) 20 yards, 30 yards, it’s still in the pond,” Frank Nobilo said during the replay.

Later, we witnessed just as egregious a problem on 15 – supposedly one of the five holes on which shot-tracing technology was being used.

From 226 yards, Marc Leishman hit a 40- or 50-yard hook around the trees on the left side of the fairway, his ball coming to rest about eight feet from the hole. 

“Absolutely spectacular!” CBS’ Peter Kostis said. “Easily the shot of the day on 15.” 

If a tracer had been tracking these shots, they would have been memorable experiences for everyone – viewers, CBS, Augusta National historians. They would have run on sports highlights shows for at least the next day, bringing even more attention to the tournament. And when Augusta National builds its Masters museum – and you know it’s coming – they would have been memorialized in tournament history because shot-tracing technology, which is pretty basic stuff these days, would have illustrated these players’ magnificent skills. But because we have to imagine these shots rather than see them, they will be quickly forgotten.

As a friend wrote in a text: “In what other sport would they not have the ability to show what makes the players amazing?”

*****

CBS’ announcing crew handled most of the early-round coverage, but we also saw and heard a fair amount from Strange, serving as ESPN’s lead analyst. He’s held that role for ESPN in the past, and also for ABC more than a decade ago.

I thought Strange did some of his best work for Fox Sports last year, when he worked as an on-course reporter. He could talk golf and trade insights with Paul Azinger and Brad Faxon. He’s capable of good analysis, but he seems better suited to reacting to colleagues rather than leading the discussion.

But Strange can be stretched beyond his comfort zone when he’s expected to carry the live show, working directly with an anchor – in this case, Scott Van Pelt. For example, when Charley Hoffman’s birdie putt rolled well past the hole on No. 4, Strange stammered, “It’s quickening up just . . . it’s fast. I don’t know what to say anymore.” 

***** 

Former Golf Channel producer Keith Hirshland asked this question on Twitter: “What does it say when you can see everything you want to see without EVER tuning in to @The Masters broadcast partner @espn?”

The Masters app has been one of the stars of this tournament. I still find myself using it primarily as a second screen, but there’s no reason why you can’t watch the entire tournament on the app. It seems to be comparable in quality to MLB At Bat, which is the gold standard of streaming sports apps.

As Hirshland tweeted: “If you don’t have @TheMasters app you are missing out.” 

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