News & Opinion

TV golf needs more analysis and insight, less vanilla

There’s no longer a need to hit the mute button. Televised golf hardly makes a sound any more.

Golf always has been a better game to play than to watch, and never has that been so true as it is now. Simply put, golf on TV is a big snooze these days. Whether that’s by design or something that’s just devolved, the networks – cable or otherwise – have dialed down their telecasts to become just plain vanilla.

Don’t misunderstand. Golf on television is not offensive, unless you’re not a fan of Johnny Miller or Brandel Chamblee. It just isn’t very insightful, thought-provoking, funny or entertaining. And isn’t that what TV was designed to be?

David Feherty has been tamed, Gary McCord is muted and Miller just seems tired. And Ian Baker-Finch is nice to everyone.

Here are a few observations from someone who watches way too much golf on television:

·      Show, don’t tell: When is it a good shot to just hit the green, and when do players expect to get it to within 10 feet? If a player has 187 yards to the green, why can’t we see the statistic that tells us what his average proximity to the hole is from that distance? If a player has a 10-foot putt, what’s his make percentage from that distance – and not the field average?

·      Analyze, analyze, analyze: The sole reason to have former players as broadcasters is so that they will share a special insight as to what a player is feeling or thinking over a shot or during a situation. Golf is the most cerebral game there is, and anyone who’s ever played – from hacker to pro – knows about the swirl that goes around in your head before you hit a shot. Does that happen to the best players in the world? The best analysis on television is on Golf Channel in a group setting when Chamblee, Frank Nobilo and David Duval are on at the same time. They are smart, well-prepared and aren’t afraid to break out into an argument. The networks could learn valuable lessons from this kind of coverage.

·      Meet the players: On Golf Channel’s coverage of the Web.com Tour, Jerry Foltz does a periodic segment called “Caddie Knows Best.” It’s a mini-quiz show in which players try to guess the answers to questions asked to caddies about each other. Because no one watches the Web.com Tour, it hasn’t caught on. Whether it was Foltz’s idea or someone else’s, it’s a great way to get to know the players.

·      Innovate: The technology that allows the networks to trace shots in the air is terrific, but it’s often misused. For instance, NBC used it on the 17th at The Players Championship. It was a pitching-wedge shot that doesn’t curve an inch. Why waste valuable resources following such an uncomplicated shot? Why not show the tee shot at the par-5 16th at TPC Sawgrass, which has to be curved to get in position for the all-important second shot?

·      Humor us: The funniest broadcasters in golf no longer have a platform to make us laugh. NBC has found a way to keep Feherty from saying anything outrageous. Instead of having him follow the final group – which is Roger Maltbie’s territory – he’s now in a tower whispering breathlessly over each shot that he describes. In his words, he’s an “outdoor pet,” not a caged one. McCord might have reached the point where he doesn’t want to work that hard to be funny any more. And with Feherty not on the same air, it makes it harder to walk humor’s high wire alone.

 

CBS is stealing Billy Jenkins from the European Tour. Little Billy, 9 years old, interviews European players with no restrictions, and the result is absolutely, hold-your-sides hilarious. Go to YouTube (http://bit.ly/2fjaWaT) for one of his “Little Interviews,” with Rory McIlroy.

Now, that’s television.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter@mikepurkeygolf