The inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open looked a lot like the U.S. Senior Open held two weeks ago. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
Both tournaments are national championships and you want to see them paid the proper respect, even if the women only got four hours of airtime on the weekend. Sixty-seven-year-old Pat Bradley captured the importance of the tournament to the game’s legends when she said, “I’ve had this tournament on my calendar for 17 years.”
As a first-time event, the Senior Women’s Open presented a lot of unknowns for all involved – the U.S. Golf Association, Fox Sports, the players and the fans. How do you set up the course for such a varied field of players? Which players should the network focus on entering the tournament? And what is the tone of the event? We know it’s a national championship, but we also knew before the week began that many of the players would be ceremonial golfers who had missed their window to compete by 15 or 20 years.
Fox Sports anchor Shane Bacon probably got it right toward the end of Sunday’s coverage when he said, “It’s just as much a celebration for these players as it is a championship.”
I suspect that this is a championship that will only get better as players approaching senior status target it years in advance. But as a first-time event, the Senior Women’s Open probably merited different treatment than other USGA championships on Fox Sports’ schedule.
For example, as I was watching, I kept thinking about players I hadn’t seen in 10 years, if not longer. Even Laura Davies said, “Some players I hadn’t seen in 20 years.”
As I watched the four hours of coverage over the weekend, I felt as if Fox needed to reintroduce many of these players to us. That could have taken various forms: more player interviews, a few player features, even some graphics with bullet points on their careers when they were on camera.
When we saw players such as Trish Johnson, Danielle Ammaccapane and Liselotte Neumann, I kind of wanted to know what they’ve been doing since we last saw them a decade or more ago. We didn’t get anything like that.
We also didn’t need to see a feature on Chicago Cubs outfielder Ian Happ on Saturday, and we certainly didn’t need to see it repeated on Sunday. The feature itself was well-done, but poorly timed. The features needed to tell the stories of the women competing at Chicago Golf Club. Some viewers might consider a feature on a baseball player a sign that Fox is more interested in promoting its MLB coverage than its USGA package.
But there were some bright spots. Nicole Castrale had a good weekend following the leaders for Fox Sports, though I wish she would stop using clichés such as “calm, cool and collected.”
Her familiarity and friendships with the players translated into good information for the fans.
Castrale explained that Laura Davies tees off from a tuft of turf, rather than a tee, when she is play in a left-to-right wind. She said Trish Johnson described Ariya Jutanugarn as “the modern-day Laura Davies.” And Castrale shared a funny story about Davies practicing alone on the range after a round earlier in the week. “When has that ever happened?” Davies said to her.
Castrale also had good observations on Juli Inkster’s putting, noting that Inkster had warmed up putting cross-handed, then switched to a claw grip during the round. Castrale said Inkster had told her prior to the final round that she tightens up over putts inside 10 feet, and she offered an interesting theory as to why that is.
“The thing I find interesting is when she’s on the practice putting green prior to the round, she’s real free and doesn’t use a line on her golf ball,” Castrale said. “But she gets out here and she gets very precise, needs to make sure that the line (on her ball) is set up exactly where she wants to start it. That, in itself, definitely makes her a little more tight.”
Castrale also shared this story from Inkster’s practice session: “When we were on the practice putting green, she made about six five-footers and three 15-footers in a row, and she looked at me and said, ‘Why isn’t it that easy out there?’”
The view from Scotland
- If Brandon Stone’s decisive eagle putt on No. 16 at the Scottish Open didn’t underscore the value of the putting line, I don’t know what will. We saw the firm putting line to the hole and also the lag line. Stone’s putt perfectly tracked the lag line and died in the cup.
- NBC has a habit of replaying a shot, from the exact same angle that we just saw it, right after we saw it. Early Sunday we saw Rickie Fowler make a long par putt from the fringe on No. 1; then we saw it again, from the same angle. Moments later we saw Aaron Rai make an eagle putt on No. 2; then we saw it again, from the same angle. In the era of DVRs, this seems like an anachronism. There might have been some value if we had seen those putts from different angles, but there was nothing to be gained replaying the exact same shot we just saw.
- NBC used a graphic that looked like streaks of light pouring down from the heavens to illuminate a couple of greens on long shots from the tees. I’m not sure if the streaks of light were necessary, but the illumination was pretty cool.
- I hate to keep banging on the same drum, but NBC needs to get more aggressive in its use of shot-tracing technology. The lack of tracers was especially evident as shots disappeared into the gray skies above Gullane Golf Club. Fox Sports put a big emphasis on tracers when it began covering golf in 2015, and CBS followed suit. NBC, by contrast, uses tracers sporadically. The network is going to have to accept the fact that shot-tracing isn’t new technology, it’s now standard technology. Gwk