Finally, golf had another “duel in the sun.”
OK, let’s concede that Georgia Hall and Pornanong Phatlum haven’t built the reputations and rivalry of Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. Nevertheless, the quality of the golf (with the exception of a Phatlum’s double-bogey hiccup on 17) and the de facto match-play pairing to decide the Women’s British Open championship on a warm, sun-drenched links couldn’t help but call to mind the 1977 Open at Turnberry.
It was a wonderful Sunday morning and early afternoon of golf for fans watching in the United States, and the coverage we saw on Golf Channel and NBC was worthy of the spectacle. This was the production team’s final assignment after five weeks in the British Isles, and while the Women’s British Open won’t garner the ratings of the men’s Open, the theater witnessed at Royal Lytham & St. Annes was even more compelling.
Analyst Judy Rankin captured the narrative when Hall and Phatlum arrived on the fifth tee. “These two have got it going on,” Rankin said to Karen Stupples, who was following the group.
Did they ever.
“It’s just like (Phil) Mickelson and (Henrik) Stenson at Troon a couple of years ago,” anchor Rich Lerner said after Phatlum poured in her third birdie of the day on No. 5.
“This has kind of got a match-play feel to it right now,” said Stupples, the 2004 Women’s British Open champion and the last Englishwoman to win that title.
Hall and Phatlum were a combined 7 under through the first six holes. The golf was that good.
A former editor once shared a good piece of advice: If you have a good story, tell it. If you don’t have a good story, write it.
Golf Channel’s work on Sunday reflected that axiom. They didn’t have to overthink anything. They had a great story, and Jack Graham, Golf Channel’s vice president-golf events, fellow producer Glenn Savadski and the rest of the team were smart enough simply to tell it.
We watch sports in hopes of seeing athletes perform at their best on the biggest stages, and that’s what we saw Sunday. As I watched, I kept thinking about elements that could make the coverage even better. I really didn’t have many ideas.
I briefly wondered whether we should be seeing more players, but it became clear early that it really was a Stenson-Mickelson type of showdown. The rest of the players were bystanders. Given that it quickly became a two-woman tournament, I wondered if Jerry Foltz, who was covering the penultimate group, should drop back to help Stupples double-team the final pairing. But Stupples had everything under control.
Stupples started the day’s coverage in the 18th tower with Lerner, then grabbed a headset and followed Hall and Phatlum. Normally, Foltz follows the final group, but Graham called an audible before the final round.
“I decided this morning that because Karen was a former Women’s British Open champion and Georgia Hall is from England that it really was best to have Karen with the last group,” Graham said in an email after the final round Sunday.
Smart move. Graham couldn’t have gone wrong with either Foltz or Stupples, but the nexus between the two Englishwomen was too compelling.
Stupples painted the picture for viewers of the challenges Hall has had to overcome.
“When you think about Georgia Hall’s history, it really gives you a bit of insight as to why we see her as quite a scrappy fighter,” Stupples said as Hall stood on the seventh tee. “When she won the 2013 (British Ladies) Amateur championship, she got invites into three majors. She couldn’t afford to travel to those majors. She didn’t have enough money to get to them. So golf has not come easy to her.”
As Hall walked to the 18th tee, finally with a three-shot lead following Phatlum’s double bogey, Lerner asked Stupples to share her thoughts given that she had made that same walk at Sunningdale 14 years earlier.
“It’s a really special moment because you get to the tee and it’s the realization of all of your dreams coming true, everything that you worked hard for, all the sacrifices that your parents have made for you to even be in this position to play golf,” Stupples said. “You’re thinking about them, you’re thinking about your friends, and it’s just the most amazing thing.”
As Stupples started to talk, her voice started to crack, but she held it together. I messaged her after the round and asked her to share her thoughts on that moment.
“It really was emotional for me, all the emotions I felt making that same walk came flooding back to me,” Stupples wrote in her reply. “I am so proud to see another woman from England win the Open. She played with guts and determination. … It was a big move trusting me in that spot (covering the final group), and I’m really glad I had a front-row seat at Georgia’s first major victory.” Gwk