Mic’ed Up: Rose Isn’t the Only Player Who Doesn’t Prefer to Wear One
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Justin Rose shares a laugh with his caddie Mark Fulcher

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: When athletes pen a guest column, they don’t usually write it themselves — a ghostwriter does. Here’s what happens: A journalist will interview the player, take their words and put them together to sound like the player (as much as possible). Sorry if that just felt like I told you Santa Claus wasn’t real!

In the case of Justin Rose’s “My Shot” in SI/Golf.com this week, I was the ghostwriter. Justin was kind enough to agree to my request and I had more than enough material to work with — which isn’t always the case — but he’s one of the most eloquent (and nicest) guys out there.

The blogosphere jumped on Rose for his opinion. After talking to him, along with Matt Bettencourt and Graeme McDowell, I have a much better understanding of the player side of things. Sure, Golf Channel’s coverage is on tape delay and it’s not in their best interest to air anything controversial. It just comes down to personal preference. There are some guys that don’t care if others can hear their innermost thoughts and others that would feel self-conscious and don’t want the added distraction.

There’s already so much coming at the players down the stretch that they don’t want in their heads — whether it’s fan noise, handling the pressure or what their playing partners are doing. The more they can block out, the better. Even if you physically forget you’re wearing a mic, there’s a chance you suddenly remember it and it causes you to lose your focus for a split second. Having something so close to you, like the mic, that reaches out so far and wide, can be quite bothersome to some players. Even if the coverage isn’t going to show a player and caddie talking about the hot blonde in the right-side of the gallery, there’s still someone listening. So what? Again, it’s a personal thing.

Some players might feel like they have to put on a show and try to be funny. Instead of being themselves (not saying that it’s not entirely possible for a rare breed), they overdo it and play up their personality (or lack thereof). For example, at the announcer-free Nationwide Tour event last September in Boise, Hunter Haas was mic’ed up and he seemed like he was being overly self-deprecating to amuse the audience. He won the tournament and it’s hard to imagine someone having so much success with such a supposed negative view of his own game.

Rose made it clear that he was all for miking players and he’d be more than happy to wear one if it were a silly season or exhibition event, but he wouldn’t be the first to raise his hand. He’s not alone. Golf Channel asked four or five guys to wear a mic during the first round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, but none of them would do it. (The players chosen were popular and their tee times lined up with prime TV telecast hours.) Just to clarify, players would only be mic’ed in the first and/or second rounds, as the Tour doesn’t allow it over the weekend.

Eventual champion and first-round co-leader Jonathan Byrd was the only player who agreed to wear one last week, but it didn’t happen due to technical difficulties. Defending champion Ryan Palmer is scheduled to be mic’ed up in the first round of the Sony Open (if it ever stops raining).

From what I’ve seen, Rose has a calm demeanor relative to a lot of guys on Tour, so he’d probably be able to adapt to watching his language and reacting positively if needed, but Golf Channel promises to protect the players. Still, he thinks he might feel constricted. When you’re playing a competitive round, you want to be as free as possible. But one of his points was that he didn’t want to reveal some of his personal chats with his caddie and strategy secrets:

There’s also a lot that goes on that’s considered intellectual property. It’s a competitive disadvantage if players can listen in on other players’ conversations. Each guy is different, but I like to talk strategy with Fouch. We’ll have chats that help me stay in the moment, and there are things he’ll remind me to do. Regarding course strategy, there might be a bunker shot that most guys play straight for the pin, but they don’t realize that if they hit 20 feet up a ridge — a much easier shot — the ball will roll back to six feet. It’s difficult to gain an edge, and I don’t want to give up any that I have.

With regard to giving up his IP, I think he meant more personal type of things — like he’ll say stuff out loud sometimes to pump himself up or his caddie will remind him of swing thoughts and things that help keep him in the moment under pressure, etc. I mean, why would you want a competitor to know what makes you tick? That is putting yourself in a vulnerable situation. It doesn’t bother some guys, but others are more complicated.

Bettencourt explains his thoughts on the concept:

One, the device they put on you is not the most comfortable thing in the world. Two, you’re with your caddie out there, it’s a long day out on the course and you talk about stuff you don’t want people hearing, which might deter from your image. For me personally, it’s kind of an intimate moment on the golf course with my caddie. I don’t want people hearing some things.

He agreed with Rose that it’s a competitive disadvantage:

If you’re playing really well that week, it’s distracting. You can’t let everything truly out. If you want to vent to your caddie or something, you have to watch what you say. It makes you a little self-conscious…Everybody handles everything differently. You don’t want to give guys an idea of what’s working well for you.

McDowell, who was asked to wear a mic in the first round at Kapalua, took a slightly different stance on this issue:

The only thing would be a little discomfort wearing it, but there’s zero competitive disadvantage. Absolutely not. You nearly forget you’re wearing it sometimes…I’m not going to say anything to my caddie that hasn’t been heard before, you know. It’s all pretty normal type stuff. I wouldn’t be too worried about giving anything away.

He went on to explain why he didn’t volunteer:

It’s an interesting one. I knew I was going to have a lot going on today regardless — new equipment, first time here in Hawaii, first time playing this golf tournament and this golf course. I figured I had enough going on without having to worry about what I was saying, as well. Not that my language is, you know, I’m sure some stuff wouldn’t fly on TV. I just didn’t want to have too much to think about.

I think the miking up stuff is good. It gives people a great insight as to the interaction between player and caddie. Maybe even mic the caddie up — that could be an interesting way. I think it definitely gives (viewers) good insight as to how we think our way around golf courses.

McDowell had another very good point: They have boom mics shoved in their faces on many holes, anyway. Lots of chatter is picked up there.

Unfortunately, much of that insightful banter is drowned out by blabbing announcers. If only Sir Nick Faldo would stop talking over the players/caddies, then it might even work better — it would go with the flow of the telecast and not come across forced.