Some thoughts on coverage of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open:
If you want to understand the value of on-course microphones in golf, you need look no further than the Shriners. We saw a fascinating rules dispute play out in real time, and because of the microphones, there was no ambiguity among TV viewers as to what was going on.
As Harold Varner III was preparing to strike his approach to No. 11 during the third round, he stepped away and indicated his ball had rolled backward. Varner said to one of his playing partners, “Hey Bryson (DeChambeau), I hadn’t put my club on the ground yet. I was looking at (the target). I looked back and my ball moved. Do you play it from here or play it from there?”
DeChambeau asked Varner if he had caused the ball to move.
“I didn’t touch it,” Varner said.
“If you touched the ground and it moved, that’s where I think you replace it because there was no intention under the rule…” DeChambeau said. “I’ve had it where I’ve touched the ground and it’s moved, and they asked me to move it back. As long as you didn’t touch the ground, you can play it.”
DeChambeau recommended getting a ruling. Steve Rintoul, a PGA Tour rules official arrived quickly.
“You didn’t sole the club behind the ball?” Rintoul asked Varner.
“No, not at all,” Varner said.
“Just show me what you did,” Rintoul said.
Varner went through his pre-shot routine, hovering the club above the ball. The problem was that the earlier video showed Varner soling five times before backing away and calling in DeChambeau.
“Unaware,” analyst David Duval interjected as Varner was talking to Rintoul. He meant that Varner didn’t realize he had soled his club.
There’s no reason to think Varner was trying to pull a fast one. As he said in his post-round interview with George Savaricas, after he had been assessed a one-stroke penalty, “If I was deliberately trying to cheat, I wouldn’t have said anything (about the ball moving).”
Rules disputes always are delicate subjects, and frankly, that’s especially true when they involve someone like Varner, who is one of the Tour’s most likable players. By the same token, there was no reason for Golf Channel’s analysts to waver given that they had video evidence of a rules infraction.
“He said to Bryson that he did not ground his club,” anchor Rich Lerner said, “but it appeared, and he may not have realized it, it appeared that he did.”
“It appeared to us, but again, we will have to see,” analyst Peter Jacobsen said.
At that point, having seen the video replay, there’s no need to say that Varner “appeared” to ground his club. We can plainly see that he did.
Announcers need to speak with authority, particularly former Tour players such as Jacobsen, who are hired for their expertise. If have the video evidence, you can state the facts without prematurely indicting Varner.
High points of the fall
The Varner incident and other moments during the weekend’s Shriners coverage illustrated some of the things I’ve always enjoyed about the fall coverage.
There tends to be a more intimate feel to the live shows. The crowds are smaller than what we see during the first eight months of the season, the cameras and microphones seem to be closer to the players, and we get an extended introduction to players such as Cameron Champ who are new to the Tour.
There was some excellent on-course audio throughout the coverage, which made up for the lack of tools such as Toptracer, which apparently didn’t fit into Golf Channel’s fall budget.
On Sunday, we heard DeChambeau ask the Golf Channel crew what Patrick Cantlay, playing in the group ahead, had made on the 16th hole. He was informed Cantlay had birdied the hole. That gave some insight into the clarity of DeChambeau’s thinking as he attempted to close out the tournament.
Champ’s caddie, Kurtis Kowaluk, also got airtime on several holes. This was fascinating just because Champ was hitting the ball distances that were absurd even by modern standards.
On 16 on Saturday, for example, Champ’s drive traveled 358 yards, leaving him a wedge into the par 5.
“If you’re hitting to the middle of the green, that’s right of the pin and past the pin,” Kowaluk said. “So let’s pick a number. … A north wind could be just straight across. Is that what you have?”
Champ: “Yeah, but it’s a touch of hurt. Do you think it’s a wedge?”
Kowaluk: “I’m asking you for 55 (155 yards). Your stock pitching wedge is 57 (157 yards). You can see (the target) about four yards right of the pin?”
That sort of inside baseball is good TV. Unfortunately, though Champ hit the ball exactly where he and Kowaluk had planned, he three-putted for par.
Chamblee joins Team DeChambeau
DeChambeau apparently has won over Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee, who described “The Golf Machine,” DeChambeau golf bible, as “the worst thing that’s ever happened to the game of golf.”
“He’s made a believer out of me,” Chamblee said on “Golf Central.” “When he first came out, he talked about how he learned to play the game reading a book that I adamantly oppose and adamantly disagree with. But he has his own interpretation of that book, which he sold me on. If he had come out with the typical interpretation of that book, there’s no way he’d be doing what he does.” Gwk