I’m a little late to the party on Fox’s inaugural broadcast of the U.S. Open — and golf, for that matter, but I decided to stay in Seattle for an extra week to hang out with my family and friends. After all, as you could see on the telecast at Chambers Bay, the weather is friggin’ beautiful in this area of the country.
(I love how Seattle-ites have been complaining about how it’s “too hot” when it’s, like, 85 degrees and no humidity, though. I mean, I guess it does suck when 99% of people don’t have air conditioning in their homes.)
But I digress. The Twitter-sphere exploded with armchair TV media critics griping last week about Fox’s first-ever time covering the U.S. Open. People seemed to really miss Johnny Miller (just admit it) and the rest of the familiar NBC crew.
Now, I didn’t catch every single second of the broadcast, as that’s hard to do when you’re on-site covering the tournament, but I was a little surprised that it appeared like everyone and their grandmothers had an opinion — which was generally negative. I mean, this was Fox’s first time really covering golf, did you truly expect it to be a production worthy of an Oscar (or whatever the sports broadcasting equivalent is)?
I was seriously astounded by how much negative feedback there was, but I suppose it was an all-new cast on a network new to covering golf, which made it all so damn unfamiliar and people just can’t take change. NO MORE JOHNNY MILLER?? NO ROGER MALTBIE? WTF.
I thought some of the people I saw ranting on Twitter were going to have coronaries…over a golf telecast.
Sure, Fox’s coverage didn’t go off without a hitch, but like I said, if you expected it to be absolutely flawless and go uncriticized, then I’d like to have whatever pills you’re throwing back.
On Monday SI’s Richard Deitsch asked a group of us media types who are regular golf viewers to answer the above question in the headline:
“What would you advise Fox to do for next year’s U.S. Open coverage?”
Which was purposefully broad and open-ended. I participated in this exercise, via SI.com:
First of all, I have to admit I didn’t catch every minute of the broadcast, as I was out on the course and interviewing players for a fair portion, but I caught enough of it to form an opinion. I think overall Fox did a good job with the coverage considering it was the really the first time broadcasting golf (yes, they covered the four-ball at Olympic in April, but that was merely a warm-up), not to mention a major championship.
Fundamental things you’ve come to expect with golf coverage is where Fox dropped the ball—or need more work and experience—but the chances they took with pushing the envelope with innovation and technology were fantastic (which you might expect to fail). Some examples: cameras on drones, intrusive microphones “eavesdropping” on player-caddie conversations, and advanced graphics showing carry yardages to bunkers and such, along with the slopes and contours of the course. It was great that their mics picked up on Jordan Spieth calling the 18th, which was playing as a par-4 on Friday, the “dumbest hole I’ve ever played.” Same goes for the conversation between Spieth and his caddie Michael Greller as they discussed the second shot into 18 on Sunday.
I think Fox could improve on some of the basic things that regular week-to-week golf viewers have come to expect, but most of my criticisms will come with more experience. It was great that they had a leaderboard in the corner showing the top six or so, but they seemed to rarely show the full leaderboard, whereas on CBS/NBC telecasts are displayed regularly before each commercial break, with the host/analyst providing commentary on notables or interesting tidbits about the lesser known players in contention. The on-course announcers should provide more insight into the players and what’s happening on the course. They also failed to consistently provide yardages and (the correct) club selection.
The random features that interrupted showing the actual golf seemed like they would fit better during the pre-game or post-game shows. The on-air talent lacked chemistry and didn’t have the regular banter we’re used to hearing between them, but that’s something that will come with time. There was also not enough reaction to shots, especially during crucial moments of the telecast. I’d hire more on-air talent that covers golf regularly, not to mention perhaps a few with more charisma. It was obvious that some of the guys (and gals) weren’t familiar with the players, misidentifying them or their nationality. There seemed to be a lack of insider knowledge on most of the players. I’d have more coverage from reporters who regularly cover golf providing those insights, especially when they show players warming up on the range.
Fox focused mostly on a core group of big-name players and didn’t show some of the lesser-known guys in contention. For the first round, I don’t think I ever saw Colin Montgomerie or Miguel Angel Jimenez, who were both under par and interesting characters who are familiar with regular golf audiences. There was also little-to-no mention of the qualifiers who were playing well, most notably Cameron Smith—I don’t think I ever saw him hit a shot. It would be nice to see more random players hitting interesting or good shots, as well, but perhaps that was more of a logistical issue with cameraman having difficulty getting around the treacherous terrain at Chambers Bay. At the same time, they could have utilized the drones in those cases.
In the final round, I would’ve liked to see Jordan Spieth and his caddie Michael Greller nervously watching Dustin Johnson finish on the 18th in the scoring trailer. We also didn’t get to see his immediate reaction. (I might be wrong on this.) Usually, on CBS and NBC, they always have a camera on the player waiting to see what happens. Overall, Fox did a good job and improved tremendously over the weekend. Most issues will come with time and experience and as viewers become more familiar with the on-air personalities. Perhaps even if they don’t have the rights to regular PGA Tour events, they should employ more regular coverage from reporters on-site, like ESPN often does.
I am 100% certain that Fox’s U.S. Open coverage next year will be a gazillion times better. I’m sure the execs are reading all the media columns and getting advice from experts. They’ll undoubtedly learn from their first go at a difficult art — after all, broadcasting golf is hard!
Check out what Deitsch, SI’s media aficionado, and others had to say. Also, please free to to chime in on the conversation.