Golf on TV: Ad-free coverage boosts U.S. Women’s Open on Fox

Jun 3, 2018; Shoal Creek, AL, USA; Ariya Jutanugarn is doused with water after defeating Hyo-Joo Kim in a sudden death playoff in the U.S. Women's Open Championship golf tournament at Shoal Creek. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports

Golf on TV: Ad-free coverage boosts U.S. Women’s Open on Fox

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Golf on TV: Ad-free coverage boosts U.S. Women’s Open on Fox

Modesty and understatement are in short supply in our current culture, especially in the realms of sports and entertainment. Role players are described as “great,” little-known character actors are described as “stars,” and new movies are described as “must-see” spectacles weeks before they’ve even been released.

Amid this relentless hype, it’s striking how little attention has been paid to the ground-breaking deal between the U.S. Golf Association and Rolex that allows Fox Sports to show most of our national championships commercial-free. We’ve occasionally seen commercial-free hours at the end of major championships, but nothing approaching commercial-free days of coverage.

Out of habit, I found myself constantly reaching for my remote control when groups putted out on a hole, thinking I would check baseball scores on another channel, only to remember: Oh, yeah, there are no commercial breaks.

We were reminded on occasion that the “uninterrupted” coverage was presented courtesy of Rolex. But the brand’s presence was surprisingly understated throughout the coverage.

Fox Sports filled some of the lulls in the action with short vignettes on USGA initiatives, Ken Brown’s offbeat “Brownie Points” features and the like. The most memorable of these was a Titleist-sponsored segment on Saturday called “Complete Performance,” in which Michael Breed and Brad Faxon broke down Sarah Jane Smith’s swing.

Too often these sponsored segments are thrown together haphazardly or have no relevance to the rest of the tournament. In this instance, we got good, timely information about a little-known player who was leading the tournament at the time. The segment worked for viewers and was a good value for the sponsor.

The most disappointing aspect of the coverage was something that Fox Sports, the USGA and Rolex couldn’t control.

For whatever reason, the good people of Birmingham did not seem to embrace the fact that a national championship was being held in their fair city. Maybe it was the suffocating weekend heat, maybe it was rain delays early in the week, or maybe locals simply don’t have much interest in the women’s game. Whatever the case, the lack of enthusiasm came through on television. “Crowds,” if we can call them that, were sparse; there were no spectators evident in many of the wide-angle shots. There were no roars; at best, there was polite clapping of good shots.

Perhaps there’s a lesson for the USGA with regard to site selection. One suspects there are plenty of mid-market cities around the country that would demonstrate more excitement about hosting a Women’s Open.

The lack of excitement on course was offset by the energy in the Fox booth. This was a good start to the network’s USGA season. Lead analyst Paul Azinger’s excitement for national championships is palpable, and perhaps that helped raise the level of commentary from Juli Inkster, who did her best work to date for Fox. The network also made a wise move in putting Faxon, who usually works in the tower, down on the ground with the leaders. He provided a sharp player’s perspective on shot options, lies and strategy.

The biggest complaint is that the coverage sometimes seemed plodding and lethargic. Cameras, particularly during the third round, sometimes seemed to linger too long on players as they pondered shots.

I can’t say for certain why this was the case. Perhaps the lack of commercials, somewhat ironically, created a more leisurely production pace.

Or perhaps it simply was a function of the tedious pace of play. Early in the third round, anchor Joe Buck said the leaders would have 5 hours, 15 minutes of daylight to finish their rounds. Surely that wouldn’t be a problem. Then Buck noted at the turn that the final group had taken more than 2½ hours to play nine holes. (Feel free to insert your own snarky comment about the nation’s rules-making body tolerating that pace of play at one of its biggest championships.)

Fox will show “uninterrupted” coverage of the remaining USGA championships, with the exception of the U.S. Open. If we can combine a better pace of play with non-stop coverage, we should be in for an exciting summer on the USGA circuit.

Chip shots

Some of the coolest moments of the Women’s Open were when Ariya Jutanugarn was shown clapping for playing partners – Sarah Jane Smith in regulation and Hyo Joo Kim during the playoff – when they made good shots. Personally, I found it amusing, even charming. Azinger didn’t know what to make of it. “I don’t understand the clapping for your opponent, but it’s a different world,” he said. … Six weeks ago at Harbour Town, Sunday tee times were moved up because of bad weather, so viewers saw the end of the tournament on tape delay later that afternoon. CBS and the PGA Tour had a better strategy when tee times were moved up Sunday at the Memorial Tournament. The network and PGA Tour Live streamed live coverage. Golf Channel aired live coverage from 8:30 to 10:45 a.m. Then CBS aired the end of the final round live starting at 2:30 p.m., a late change. CBS filled the rest of its broadcast window with a tape-delayed version of Sunday play. That seems like a good solution in a difficult situation. Gwk

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