News & Opinion

Lack of spark mars lame-duck broadcast

Presidents Cup organizers and analysts envisioned a boisterous atmosphere in which fans would cram into Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, N.J., like a crowded subway car, and scream as if they were attending a Springsteen concert. However, the vibe Thursday was mostly subdued at the $250 million course that was built on a landfill across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

With no Golf Channel lead-in show because of the Web.com Tour event televised in the morning time slot, the foursomes matches started five minutes into the live broadcast with an absence of the fanfare and goosebumps that often accompany team events. If the Ryder Cup is theatrically akin to New York City, then the Presidents Cup is New Jersey all the way.

The network feed featured spectacular shots of the World Trade Center, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty, whose backside faces the golf course and the rest of New Jersey. It certainly seemed fitting Thursday.

About an hour into the five alternate-shot matches, Golf Channel analyst Jim Mackay noted the lack of competitive spark, though he chalked it up to nerves, not an absence of energy. 

“It’s a little nervous out here,” Mackay said. “It’s obviously very early in the competition, and these guys have been thinking about this great event for months. So you’d expect them to be a little bit flighty early on.”

A debatable assertion, for sure. The heavily favored Yanks mostly performed like a bunch of guys being asked to play for free in an exhibition match outside Newark in which they hold a 9-1-1 series lead, on the heels of the busiest stretch of the 2017 season. Small wonder that any buzz seemed intermittent, at best.

For the most part, the International team played as if its cab were double-parked on Madison Avenue. In one stretch, playing in separate groups, Si Woo Kim and Charl Schwartzel hit consecutive televised shots into the water.

Schwartzel and partner Hideki Matsuyama, playing in the first group off the tee and expected to lead the International charge, shot an ugly 42 on the front nine and were finished before rush hour began. The Yanks could have won that match by sending out any combination of former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, all of whom attended.

The Americans had their unwatchable moments, too. The tandem of former Florida State stars Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger each dunked a ball into the water on the same hole at one point, prompting grumbling from the grandstands. Kevin Kisner hit a recovery shot from the rough that moved about 4 feet.

While drama is predictably in shorter supply at the Presidents Cup than at the Ryder Cup, at which play is staged over three highly compressed days, not four, the thrills were not forthcoming.

“There is going to be a lot of energy here,” Golf Channel analyst Justin Leonard said on the eve of the event. “A lot of it is because of this property. These New York and New Jersey fans will be right on top of the action here.”

In fact, cohort Brandel Chamblee predicted that the International team’s support might trump the Yanks’ backers, given the cosmopolitan nature of the Big Apple.

“This has potential to be the most compelling event in the history of these team competitions,” he predicted.

Frankly, that’s not saying much. The Internationals haven’t won since 1998, and the Americans only occasionally have been shoved with any lasting conviction. Predictably, the Yanks won the first three matches and finished with a 3½-1½ lead heading into today’s better-ball session (scores: http://bit.ly/2xzUKfk).

As though the uneven play weren’t enough of a buzzkill, the number of commercial breaks during Golf Channel’s coverage drew complaints from viewers and Tour players alike. 

The session’s most memorable blow might have come off the driver of former world No. 1 Jason Day. He and Marc Leishman rallied to win four holes in a row against Phil Mickelson and Kisner to take a 1-up lead after 11, eventually settling for a half-point. After standing on the 12th tee for a full 90 seconds, notorious dawdler Day shoved a driver miles offline – despite a 15-mph crosswind off the right – and into a lake.

Despite the presence of many of the world’s top players, even the good stuff had a limited shelf life Thursday.

Steve Elling has covered golf for the Orlando Sentinel, CBSSports.com and numerous other global print and online outlets. Email: ellingink@gmail.com; Twitter: @EllingYelling