The 2014 U.S. Open is the end of an era. It will be the 20th and final* U.S. Open televised by NBC. The NBC team includes Johnny Miller, Dan Hicks, Gary Koch, Roger Maltbie, Peter Jacobson, and Jimmy Roberts. They have called several of the greatest U.S. Opens in history, and their coverage of the national championship will be missed.
I highly recommend reading Ed Sherman’s Golf World article, “Once More, With Feeling,” about NBC’s (and ESPN’s) final U.S. Open. Fox will be taking over coverage for the next 12 years, beginning in 2015.
What struck me reading Sherman’s piece is the NBC team has televised the U.S. Open during one of the most successful runs (if not, the most successful run) in the history of the championship. The network originally paid the USGA $13 million a year to televise the Open beginning in 1995. Fox’s winning bid for the next 12 years is $93 million per year, which includes other USGA events.
NBC did not cause the 700% increase, but it recorded the U.S. Open’s tremendous rise in popularity. The person who is most responsible for the tidal wave of money is Tiger Woods. Tiger won three U.S. Opens (2000, 2002, 2008) during NBC’s run, and he became the most iconic sports figure of our generation. In addition, Phil Mickelson developed a U.S. Open curse, and finished runner-up six-times (1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2013), and Payne Stewart won the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, four months before his tragic death.
When I watched the replay of the ’99 U.S. Open a few weeks ago, I was surprised to hear the same crew that calls the shots today. Both Woods and Mickelson were rising stars in the game, but Stewart won with a clutch 15-footer for par on the 72nd hole. The ’99 Open seems so long ago, Payne Stewart is now a legendary golfer, and Tiger and Phil are living legends. For NBC, it must be special to be back at the place that precipitated a transcendent moment in golf’s history.
Speaking of transcendent moments, Johnny Miller’s final-round 63 at the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont to win by one stroke will forever connect Miller to the national championship. Because of his unbelievable victory, Miller gets emotional when talking about the U.S. Open, and I respect his profound admiration for the tournament.
I understand Miller can be a demanding lead golf analyst, but the U.S. Open is the toughest and most gut-wrenching major of the year. Miller and the Open are a perfect fit, and he deserves an unforgettable script at Pinehurst No. 2.
–Bernie D’Amato (@bdamato711)
*NBC will have an opportunity to bid for U.S. Open coverage in the future.