Five observations from the weekend coverage of the LPGA’s final major of the season, The Evian Championship:
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The normally cheerful Tom Abbott was a bit peeved early in Sunday’s coverage, and I have to say, it was with good reason.
Evian’s second hole is a par 3 that plays 30 yards downhill, across an active roadway. That results in lengthy backups on the second tee, with players sometimes having to wait 20 minutes to hit their tee shots.
“We’ve got a crazy situation here,” Abbott said. “We’re going to have the final two groups waiting on the tee. I don’t think that is fair to the competitors in the field, in a major championship, to have two groups waiting on the second tee.”
“It’s kind of always been that way,” lead analyst Karen Stupples said.
Abbott: “You’ve got to look at changing that somehow.”
“Two groups up there is bad, but we’ve had more,” said tower announcer Richard Kaufman, recalling three or four groups waiting on that tee some years.
Evian has been plagued in recent years by a lot of issues – weather, set-up decisions, scheduling, player ambivalence, light attendance – and the logjam at No. 2 doesn’t help. It looks less like a major championship than something you might see on a Saturday morning at your local muni.
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Stupples is one of the best analysts at breaking down video of players’ swings – perhaps second only to CBS’ Peter Kostis among announcers who cover tournament golf. But Stupples missed an opportunity to show off that knowledge at Evian.
Several times over the weekend, Stupples referred to swing changes that Amy Olson has made the past two years with her swing coach. The natural question is: What are those changes? Stupples didn’t go to that next level and tell us.
Whenever an analyst makes a vague statement – “She is making changes to her swing,” for example – a silent alarm should go off in the minds of the announcer and producer. Each should be asking: How can we drill deeper? What details can we offer viewers that will help them understand those swing changes?
As a viewer, I was curious why Olson, who had a fabulous junior and college career, suddenly seems to have figured out the pro game. If Stupples had taken 30 seconds to share a couple of details about Olson’s swing changes and their impact on her game, that would have been great information. But we didn’t get that.
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Major vibe lacking
Evian offers a lovely setting and a nice purse, but as noted above, it has trouble generating that major championship vibe. Here’s one example. After Angela Stanford eagled No. 15 to tie Olson for the lead Sunday, she received tepid applause from a modest gallery around the green.
Kaufman wondered if Olson, in the trailing group, would be impacted. “I don’t know if she heard the cheers of what was going on ahead of her,” he said to Jerry Foltz, working as on-course announcer.
“No. It was just a polite applause, it wasn’t an eagle roar, if you will,” Foltz said. “So I’m pretty sure (Olson) doesn’t know where she stands.”
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Making the best of a difficult situation
My general rule is never to criticize the saintly Judy Rankin, lest God strike me down with a bolt of lightning for my heresy. But perhaps I can offer a couple gently worded suggestions and still live to see another day.
When Sei Young Kim chipped from thick rough left of the 14th green and her ball rolled 10 feet past the cup, Rankin said: “You can see what a wonderful shot she played, how well she gauged it and all, and it’s still not the kind of shot from this distance from the green that you think is a really good shot, which would be in that 5-foot circle.”
Kim is a professional golfer. Her shot was not a wonderful, well-gauged chip if it rolled well past the hole. Rankin would have been better off saying something like: Kim made the best of a difficult situation.
After Stanford hit two terrible shots on her way to a double bogey at No. 16, Rankin said: “This is, like, unbelievable to play this little hole this way.”
Admittedly, I found it kind of cute that Rankin sounded a bit like a valley girl. But as I’ve been counseled repeatedly, it’s not “unbelievable” because, well, we just saw it happen.
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Stupples said this of Mo Martin, who finished T-2: “She’s such a plodder.” Stupples meant that as a compliment. Martin is a short-hitter who manages her game, and often has to hit fairway woods into greens that her playing partners reach with mid- and short-irons. Gwk