Golf on TV: Tour players should take a cue from the baseball players

6/29/18; Colorado Springs, CO, USA; Former Atlanta Braves great John Smoltz celebrates his birdie at the second hole during the second round of the U.S. Senior Open golf tournament at Broadmoor. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports Michael Madrid/USA TODAY Sports

Golf on TV: Tour players should take a cue from the baseball players

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Golf on TV: Tour players should take a cue from the baseball players

Golfers often are described as independent contractors. At the game’s highest level, the players set their own schedules and, for the most part, answer only to themselves. But perhaps it’s time they started acting more like team players.

Hall of Fame baseball player John Smoltz was eager to wear a microphone after qualifying for the U.S. Senior Open. He was a long shot to play the weekend, but he understood the value of taking viewers along with him for the ride.

“I hope that, if nothing else, with the mic, it gave people a perspective of how hard it was,” Smoltz said after missing the cut. “Sometimes on TV, it looks a little easier than it is, and everyone thinks they can hit those shots.”

Smoltz quickly shot himself out of any hopes of playing the weekend, so much of his commentary was self-deprecating. “I can’t believe the manager’s leaving me in,” he said. “He’s gotta take me out sooner or later.” And this quip: “So I wanted to qualify?” But there were some bright spots. “I can go home now. I made a birdie,” he said after draining a long putt on No. 2 Friday.

Obviously, it would have been better if one of the leaders had been wearing a microphone, but at least Smoltz did what he set out to do: He gave viewers a better perspective of what life is like inside the ropes.

Let’s put this into perspective relative to other sports. Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts is roughly analogous to Justin Thomas. Both are likeable, undersized 25-year-olds with surprising pop. And both are at the top of their professions. Betts almost certainly is a higher-profile figure than Thomas among sports fans, if only because baseball has a larger fan base than golf, and Betts plays for one of his game’s most popular teams.

On June 30, Betts wore a microphone during Fox’s national broadcast of a game against the New York Yankees. It was no big deal. Betts also wore a mic in March during a spring training game, to amusing effect.

If, however, a Tour player of Thomas’ stature were to wear a microphone during a tournament, it would rock the industry. I suspect other Tour players would strongly object to seeing that Pandora’s box opened.

The team sports athletes seem to recognize the value of bringing fans closer to the action. The NFL and NBA have led this movement, and Major League Baseball seems to have embraced it. (The Houston Astros’ George Springer wore a mic during the 2017 All-Star Game.) I suspect these players realize it’s good for their sports and also a good way to raise their own profiles. In short, everyone wins – the players, the leagues, the networks and the fans.

So the question becomes: When will the PGA Tour and its players learn this lesson?

Uninterrupted coverage groundbreaking

I touched on this following the U.S. Women’s Open, but it’s worth repeating: The uninterrupted coverage being presented, courtesy of Rolex, is groundbreaking stuff. I don’t know where it leads because it is the result of a unique partnership between the USGA and Rolex. It’s not the sort of arrangement that will migrate to the professional tours; the networks still need to pay their bills.

Still, this is a radical shift for golf fans used to the traditional network model (shot-shot-shot-commercial, shot-shot-shot-commercial).

Instead of commercials, we have a smattering of sponsored segments, some of which were quite good because they provided viewers with useful information. The best of these were when Brad Faxon was on the course, in spots sponsored by Titleist. In one, for example, he explained the different playing conditions of two adjacent par 3s at The Broadmoor, Nos. 8 and 12, which play in opposite directions. In another Faxon showed how he would play shots from various sidehill lies. And in yet another he demonstrated the difference between playing a shot from the edge of the fairway and another from a foot away in thick rough. The production team could have done a better job showing the ball flight and outcome of Faxon’s shots, but as a viewer, I still felt as if I got some value from those segments.

I’ve long argued that producers should get their experts out of the booths occasionally to demonstrate some of the shots players will have to pull off under tournament conditions. And yet it rarely happens. I can recall Nick Faldo demonstrating some shots in his first event for Golf Channel at Kapalua in January 2007. I haven’t been keeping count, but as best I can recall, he’s only done that one other time. In both instances, it enhanced the coverage and also, perhaps subliminally, reminded viewers that the guy calling the action really does know what he’s talking about. Gwk

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