My favorite moment in Fox’s final-round coverage of the U.S. Open occurred hours before the leaders teed off. The inimitable Ken Brown was standing on Shinnecock Hills’ 13th green, site of the Phil Mickelson fiasco the previous afternoon, and perfectly replicated the bogey putt that caused all the fuss. Instead of chasing after the ball and hitting it before it stopped, however, Brown let the infamous putt run its course.
It wobbled in a couple of directions along the edge of the green, then caught a swale and suddenly bolted diagonally to the left, tumbling 20 or 30 yards off the putting surface before coming to rest. The subsequent shot looked impossible: fly a greenside bunker and land a towering flop into maybe a 2-yard window, which still would have left Mickelson with perhaps a 30-footer for double.
Viewers were left to wonder what was more ridiculous: Mickelson’s gross breach of conduct, the ensuing explanation or the miracle shot that he never struck.
All things considered, Fox did a pretty solid job of handling the entire mess, but its telecast of the tournament as a whole still lacks the polish and a few vital elements with which we’ve grown accustomed at CBS and NBC. Gradual improvement has been made since Fox’s difficult U.S. Open debut in 2015, but changes need to be made. Here are some ideas.
Add a real studio show: Ninety minutes of in-depth, pregame analysis would go a long way toward establishing Fox as a network capable of credible golf insight. You can rehearse topics and follow a script in a studio, whereas most live commentary tends to be thin or flimsy, even reactionary. Fox spares no expense (or resource) with its studio productions in other sports. Its presentation of World Cup soccer is a perfect example.
If they put Jack Nicklaus, Butch Harmon, another former U.S. Open champion (Ernie Els?) and current backup analyst Brad Faxon on a couple of couches and engaged them in roundtable conversation, it’s hard to imagine people not watching. On the weekend, in particular, how could that not make for better TV than showing a bunch of guys hopelessly out of contention?
Find a swing analyst: This is a glaring omission in Fox’s current format. Like him or not, Peter Kostis is brilliant at dissecting a player’s mechanics for CBS. Johnny Miller still has his savant-like observations at NBC, and teammate Gary Koch is highly underrated as a swing technician. In a game in which most of the viewers also are recreational participants, there is no overestimating the value of going to the super-slow-mo and explaining why Tiger Woods lost that drive 50 yards to the right.
Just for kicks, I asked one well-known instructor whether he’d be interested in such a job. “They couldn’t pay me enough to spend a week doing that stuff,” he said. “And don’t forget, you’d have to do [Fox’s other USGA telecasts], too. No way.”
Here’s to thinking that somebody would love the opportunity.
Tighten up the little stuff: There were at least a half-dozen instances when an on-course reporter told us a player’s yardage to the hole and the on-screen graphic had a different number. In one case, the two were more than 30 yards apart, which is a mistake you rarely see on golf’s two lead networks. Once in a while, those types of errors are unavoidable, but repeatedly? No excuse.
Fox also had an annoying habit of going to a hot golfer and showing him make a couple of birdies, then not get back to him at all. Not even as he finished his round, which was the case with Matt Kuchar on Thursday and Henrik Stenson on Friday. Even if it’s with videotape, you have an obligation to complete the storyline, no matter how insignificant it might become.
Improve the scoring graphics: A pet peeve of mine, and surely others, was Fox’s unwillingness to run a ticker at the bottom of the screen with any consistency. Lots of viewers are in fantasy golf leagues or U.S. Open office pools. They want to know how their guys are doing, and it certainly doesn’t take much to scroll the full list of real-time scores several times an hour.
I’m not a fan of cluttered screens, but televisually, it’s a product of the world in which we live. Deeper scoreboard runs also would serve Fox well, as would a mandatory scoring update on any player who has just finished a hole on the telecast.
A lot of style, not enough substance. When Fox finally realizes the two can achieve a productive balance, knuckleheads like myself won’t have nearly as much to complain about.
John Hawkins is a longtime sportswriter who spent 14 years covering the PGA Tour for Golf World magazine. From 2007 to 2011, he was a regular on Golf Channel’s “Grey Goose 19th Hole.” Email: John@HawkGolf.biz