News & Opinion

To excel on TV, Mackay must be candid

After listening to news about health care, the Russia investigation and the media controversies, I found Thursday’s golf headline to be refreshing: Jim “Bones” Mackay is going into television.

OK, maybe it’s not monumental world news, but it’s a clear victory for NBC and Mackay.

After 25 years on the bag of Phil Mickelson, Mackay should provide keen insight as an on-course reporter, beginning with the British Open in two weeks. He participated in more than 500 tournaments, including 41 of Mickelson’s 42 PGA Tour victories, dating to 1993.

No golfer or caddie brings that level of experience to a broadcast, some of which Mackay displayed in limited duty in front of the camera two years ago at the RSM Classic.

Yet, the change in responsibilities inside the ropes will not be as easy as it might appear. 

Every player who has made the transition to broadcasting has offered plenty of tournament experience and knowledge about how the game is played at the highest levels. Few have been able to dispense candid insight about another player or caddie.

“There’s a period of adjustment,” said a current TV analyst, who played on the Tour for more than 20 years and spoke on the condition of anonymity. “You start out both as a player and a broadcaster, sometime being very reticent to say something that may be offensive. There will be a time when he will no longer be a caddie and a broadcaster.”

Lanny Wadkins was one of the most witty and interesting personalities in golf, which seemed to make his transition from a player into the tower with Jim Nantz at CBS an ideal match.

It didn’t work, mainly because Wadkins wasn’t himself and was unwilling to be critical of his former Tour colleagues. He didn’t voice his opinions.  

Wadkins was booted out and now is on Golf Channel coverage of the PGA Champions Tour, where he is more insightful and critical of the play that he is paid to analyze.

Can Mackay, who did not rule out future caddie jobs, be critical of the same players for whom he might loop in future weeks? If he picks up an occasional bag, the transition to TV could be more difficult, and viewers might not get his unvarnished insights.

Many reporters and analysts who cover golf on TV say the move from one job to another takes 1-2 years to become comfortable and fully transitioned. That means Mackay, 52, could be a potentially fine wine, but we would have to wait until he is fully uncorked.

According to those same TV reporters, Mackay will benefit from not being in the 18th-hole tower, unlike Wadkins, who needed to offer an opinion. Mackay will be on the ground reacting and reporting about what he sees, with few opinions.

So much of the golf community rushed to congratulate Mackay via Twitter. It could prove to be well deserved, but let’s give it some time before we assess whether the move is a success or a failure.  

Good luck, Bones. At least the microphone will be much lighter than Mickelson’s golf bag.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli