News & Opinion

Now playing at Erin Hills Comedy Club …

“Cyberloafing” at work has reached an all-time high, The Wall Street Journal noted last year. That isn’t particularly surprising, given that cellphone apps stream more live TV than ever and online portals offer more unique content.

Whether employees will get away with surreptitiously watching the 117th U.S. Open this week might depend entirely upon which feed they choose. One online stream, in particular, easily could have gotten viewers busted for laughing out loud. 

As the four host organizations at the game’s Grand Slam continue to take ownership of their Internet offerings in an era of cord-cutting, streaming phone apps and multiple feeds online, the Open found gold with the guys manning the “featured holes” this week at Erin Hills.

Robert Damron and Jason Gore, both former PGA Tour winners, joined play-by-play hosts Luke Elvy and Ned Michaels on Thursday for the most entertaining broadcast option. Damron already has a part-time gig at Golf Channel, and based on their easy rapport Thursday, Gore should be next in line, after his playing days.

Sure, Paul Azinger and Brad Faxon make a nice tandem for Fox Sports 1’s TV broadcast. But even Azinger’s best line -- “It’s like the Bob Hope Classic just broke out at the U.S. Open" – was no match for the repartee of the guys manning hole Nos. 13, 14 and 15.

If the Open usually commands a reverent, starched-shirt approach, these guys were rollicking, irreverent, self-deprecating and seemingly unafraid of potential blowback. Consider the conversation when unheralded pro Aaron Rai played their three-hole stretch.

Elvy: “He’s quite the golf nerd,” noting that Rai wears gloves on both hands. Gore then related how he and another commentator watched Rai play in practice earlier in the week, and the 22-year-old Englishman looked out of place.

“He’s got dirty white pants on, no belt, two gloves and iron covers,” Gore said. “It’s the U.S. Open, man. Anything happens.”

The highlight was a spontaneous conversation about the use of rangefinders during competition, and whether it will ever happen on Tour. Damron said rangefinders could help speed play when a player hits it well offline, saving him from trying to compute yardage via the “Pythagorean theorem of A-squared plus B-squared equals C-squared.”

Cracked Gore: “Spell it.”

Added Michaels: “Let me towel you off there.”

Michaels uttered a prescient line when, watching player after player hack out of the deep hay, said: “What was it Mike Tyson said? Everybody has a game plan until you hit them in the face.”

For Fox, the sky isn’t falling: Those who weren’t following the action Thursday online had no clue that the day’s most dramatic moment had just transpired above Erin Hills.

A commercial blimp emblazoned with a local credit union’s logo fell from the sky and burned as the pilot escaped via parachute. Horrified fans watched, with dozens posting videos. 

"It was a horrific scene,” said Jamie Lovemark, who shot 3-under 69. “I've never seen a plane crash, blimp crash, anything like that. So, it was pretty awful. I thought they might stop play. I don't know. It was scary."

Fox Sports 1 waited about an hour to report the crash. Thirty minutes after the incident, the USGA issued a statement distancing itself and Fox from the blimp, saying the aircraft was “unaffiliated” with the Open. 

Why should that matter? At that point, nobody knew whether the pilot, who reportedly was treated by paramedics and airlifted to a hospital for treatment of “serious burns,” had survived or whether the blimp had landed in a populated area. ESPN newshounds Ian O’Connor and Kevin Van Valkenburg hustled over to the crash site and filed photos and video from the crash. As one longtime media wag said on Twitter, it’s a good thing Fox Sports 1 wasn’t covering the Munich Olympic Games.

That didn’t last long: It took half a day before the Fox crew violated a pre-tournament directive from their producers not to talk over any player-caddie discussions on the course. While Dustin Johnson was surveying his second shot from the fescue located left of the 17th fairway, and talking with his caddie about his options, the commentators yakked incessantly to the point that none of the strategy could be understood. Hey, Johnson’s only the world No. 1 and defending champ. 

Overheated in the heartland: Rising star Jon Rahm is developing a reputation as a player who can quickly overheat, and it has little to do with the weather temperature. Rahm, a Spanish rookie and one of the pre-tournament favorites, whacked shots into the hay on his first two holes and soon thereafter was beefing aloud about the course. 

On the third hole, he told former PGA Tour player Jay Delsing, one of the roving reporters for the USGA’s online feed, that players couldn’t see where the balls were landing because of the staggering number of blind shots. Rahm suggested that forecaddies with flags were needed to signal whether a provisional ball was necessary. 

He wasn’t necessarily wrong, either. Rahm finished with a 4-over 76 and will need to rally to make the weekend.

Media one-liner of the day: From former PGA Tour winner Steve Flesch, a Fox Sports 1 analyst, on Johnson’s wild day: "D.J. spent his whole day in the thick fescue, so someone's gonna have to check him for ticks."

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