Golf on TV: American stars could learn a lesson from the fan-friendly Euros

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 18: A general view of the 13th hole during day four of the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates on November 18, 2018 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images) Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Golf on TV: American stars could learn a lesson from the fan-friendly Euros

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Golf on TV: American stars could learn a lesson from the fan-friendly Euros

Much has been made of the fact that Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and their caddies will wear microphones Nov. 23 for “The Match: Tiger vs. Phil.”

So now we know what it takes to get PGA Tour players to wear microphones on course. You just have to offer them the prospect of winning $9 million in one afternoon.

The irony, of course, is that the players and caddies might be drowned out by the announcers. Turner Sports, which is producing the coverage, foolishly has decided to flood the zone with five announcers for the live coverage – three in the booth and two on course.

As I said following the U.S. Amateur – when Fox Sports had three times as many announcers as players during the championship match – this is the tyranny of modern golf announcing. Pack the booths with a bunch of announcers and fill the airwaves with pointless chatter.

An industry friend who already has bought the pay-per-view coverage said he would have paid twice as much if there were no announcers – just microphones on the two players and two caddies. That certainly would have been more interesting than the cacophony of voices we’ll almost certainly hear the day after Thanksgiving in Las Vegas.

While it takes the prospect of a big payday to get American stars to wear microphones, players on the European Tour have shown themselves to be far more fan-friendly. That’s one of the reasons why the final weeks of the Race to Dubai have produced some of the most enjoyable coverage of the year.

Time and again during the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, we saw players doing walk-and-talk interviews with Tim Barter of Sky Sports. These were players at or near the top of the leaderboard, including eventual champion Danny Willett, who acknowledged as he prepared to play the back nine Sunday that there’s “a few nerves still in there.”

Jon Rahm, who finished T-4, visited with Barter each of the final two rounds, and the gregarious Andy Sullivan illustrated why he’s one of the most appealing characters on the European Tour with his animated conversation with Barter. Dean Burmester, who also finished T-4, looked as if he were out for a pro-am round stroll rather than competing for one of his tour’s biggest championships.

Barter’s best interview came Sunday with Matt Wallace, who finished T-2. Wallace spoke with Barter coming off the ninth tee, when he was three shots behind Willett.

“A fan just said, ‘Think of Denmark,’” Wallace said. “I was on that tee thinking, ‘You know what, this is exactly the same situation I was in last time. So I’ve done this before.” (Wallace birdied five of the final six holes at the Made in Denmark tournament Sept. 2 to get into a four-man playoff, which he won for his third victory of the season.)

When Barter asked Wallace about his game plan for the back nine, the player said: “Let my emotions come out. I seem to calm down when I’m in a situation where my back’s up against the wall, which can help me in these situations. So I’m looking forward to the back nine and I’m going to play hard and hopefully give myself some chances.”

Wallace subsequently stuffed his approach to 4 feet and made birdie. Sam Torrance, in the booth, purred with approval: “That’s fantastic that a man so young could have that confidence. … Just magnificent!”

It was, not just for Wallace but for viewers as well.

Years ago, I recall writing that I often enjoyed watching the old Nationwide Tour (now the Web.com Tour) more than the PGA Tour because the players and TV crew seemed to be having more fun than their more well-heeled counterparts on the PGA Tour.

These days I could say the same thing about the European Tour. Much of the credit goes to European Tour Productions, which really stepped up its coverage in the season’s final weeks. Part of it, however, goes to the players. Whether it’s on-course interviews or fun features such as the “14-Club Challenge” between Spaniards Rahm and Rafa Cabrera Bello, they seem to understand that they have a bigger obligation to fans, viewers and sponsors than simply to hit great golf shots.

The question is: Will the Americans on the PGA Tour ever grasp that concept, or will they only find religion if there’s a $9 million payday attached? Gwk

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