Golf on TV: Should NBC suspend the one-major rule for Johnny Miller’s successor?

Johnny Miller Chris Condon/PGA TOUR

Golf on TV: Should NBC suspend the one-major rule for Johnny Miller’s successor?

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Golf on TV: Should NBC suspend the one-major rule for Johnny Miller’s successor?

Some thoughts on Golf Channel and NBC’s coverage of the Dell Technologies Championship:

There is constant speculation about when Johnny Miller will retire, and Miller hasn’t done anything to discourage that speculation. The catch is that there’s still no obvious replacement for Miller.

The assumption within the industry always is that the lead analyst for the networks – NBC, CBS and Fox – must have at least one major championship on his résumé. In theory, it’s nice to introduce the lead analyst as a major champion. But in practice, does it matter? Did Paul Azinger suddenly become more knowledgeable or witty because he won a playoff at the 1993 PGA Championship for his lone major? Nick Faldo, with his six majors, unquestionably is a golf genius, but viewers wouldn’t necessarily know that given how often he stumbles over his words.

I bring this up simply to ask the question: Should the search for Miller’s successor extend beyond major champions? We’ve seen Justin Leonard, Davis Love III and Tom Lehman – each with one major championship – take test drives in Miller’s seat over the past year. They’re perfectly pleasant fellows, but none of them screams “lead analyst.”

This weekend, Frank Nobilo served as Golf Channel’s lead analyst, as he often does. Nobilo doesn’t have a major on his résumé, but other than Miller, he’s probably the most accomplished analyst in the NBC/Golf Channel family to sit in that chair. (He also works weekends for CBS.) Just thinking out loud, but if Miller does decide to retire, would it be so bad if NBC suspended the one-major rule and gave Nobilo a shot as Hicks’ sidekick?

That’s an unlikely scenario, but it seems worth at least considering.

Jim “Bones” Mackay needs to deliver more insight for NBC. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Coy ‘Bones’ keeps pulling his punches

We’re a little more than a year into Jim “Bones” Mackay’s tenure with NBC and he still can’t seem to give the job the same commitment that he gave to his previous boss, Phil Mickelson, when he was caddying the previous 25 years.

The NBC crew occasionally asks Mackay to share stories from his Tour days. He got the NBC job because of the following he built working for Mickelson and, presumably, because he can share insights into Tour players and caddies. The problem is, he’s plainly uncomfortable doing so. Perhaps he doesn’t want to be seen as the ex-caddie who talks out of school.

Apparently his reluctance to shoot straight extends beyond his Tour days.

On Saturday, for example, we saw a promo for NBC’s college football coverage, including 1984 footage of Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary pass to Gerard Phelan that allowed Boston College to defeat the University of Miami. It was a set-up for Mackay to share a story about a former high school classmate who was supposed to cover Phelan on that play.

“What was his name, Bones, the guy covering Phelan?” anchor Dan Hicks said.

“Uh, it escapes me at the moment,” Mackay said.

Let me help you out, Bones. It was former Miami safety Darrell Fullington, your schoolmate in New Smyrna Beach, Fla.

When Mackay was caddying, there never was any question about his commitment to furthering Mickelson’s success. That included going to Erin Hills on his own before the 2017 U.S. Open to survey the course, even though Mickelson ultimately decided to skip the tournament because it conflicted with his daughter’s graduation. Mickelson and Mackay parted company later that month.

With NBC, however, Mackay seems to want to skate by being just another guy who recites yardages, wind directions and clubs. We already have enough guys who can do that. I was hoping for something more from Mackay.

We saw some unique insights from Mackay last year at the Presidents Cup, but you gotta bring it more than once a year.

Aug 31, 2018; Norton, MA, USA; Dustin Johnson, and Justin Thomas talk to each other on the 15th green during the first round of the Dell Technologies Championship golf tournament at TPC of Boston. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes a bad shot is just a bad shot. (Mark Konezny/USA TODAY Sports)

‘Luck’ has nothing to do with it

One of the most misused terms among golf announcers is “unlucky.” Typically we hear it not when a player was “unlucky,” but rather when he hit a poor shot. For example, when Golf Channel came on air Saturday, the second shot we saw was Dustin Johnson, 121 yards from the pin, hitting a sand wedge that landed on the upper tier, about 12 feet beneath the hole. It spun back down to the lower tier of the green, about 30 feet from the cup.

“That’s unlucky,” said Roger Maltbie, who was following Johnson’s group.

No, it was a poorly executed shot. If Johnson hits a hard sand wedge from the fairway to a firm green, he can be fairly certain it’s going to spin back. So he has to hit the ball past the pin.

I’ve never understood why announcers such as Maltbie don’t simply say that Johnson hit a poor shot. It doesn’t mean that Johnson is a bad person. It just means that he’s human.

 

Jul 17, 2018; Carnoustie, Angus, SCT; Tyrell Hatton poses for a selfie during a practice round of The Open Championship golf tournament at Carnoustie Golf Links. Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

Tyrrell Hatton has no problem showing his personality. (Steve Flynn/USA TODAY Sports)

Are Hatton’s histrionics really a bad thing?

Tyrrell Hatton is known for his on-course temper, but that didn’t stop him from rising as high as No. 13 in the world ranking this season. (He’s currently No. 25.) NBC had a little fun during Sunday’s third round showing some of Hatton’s histrionics.

“You know exactly how he’s feeling after a variety of shots. … Imagine this guy in the cauldron of a Ryder Cup,” Hicks said.

“It’s just the opposite of a Jack Nicklaus,” Miller said.

Perhaps Hatton would play even better if he were less emotional on course, but perhaps not. The thing is, we always say we want the players to show their personalities. When Hatton does that, announcers suggest it’s not a good thing. For this viewer, those on-course emotions make Hatton more interesting.

Besides, NBC was happy to gloss over Tiger Woods’ histrionics, including frequent profanities, for much of the past two decades. So let’s not single out Hatton when he grouses about a poor shot. Gwk

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