News & Opinion

Only Faldo can eclipse NBC's sunny day

Waking up at 3 a.m. to watch a golf tournament might seem disturbing to some, but the British Open always has required a bit of extra effort, especially those held at Carnoustie. I’ve played the famed links course a couple of times and was on hand to cover Opens held there in 1999 and 2007, but Thursday morning’s telecast revealed something I’d never seen in all my trips to the old Scottish ballyard.

Sunshine. It was as if somebody flipped a switch and lit up the grounds, which made Carnoustie look much less menacing, at least until Ernie Els striped a 6-iron down the center of the first fairway and watched it roll 40 extra yards into the right bunker. Better safe than …?

It was a day full of unusual stuff, even by British Open standards. This marks the third year that Golf Channel has carried the telecast of the year’s third major, and though it is largely an NBC production, the early hours featured fledgling analyst Justin Leonard alongside veteran anchor Terry Gannon, with Jerry Foltz and Billy Ray Brown supplying on-course commentary.

As B teams go, this group was more than adequate. Foltz, who has never gotten proper credit for his work at Golf Channel, offered perhaps the best observation of the day while Jordan Spieth took forever to hit his third shot into the par-5 sixth. “All this talk with [caddie] Michael Greller, is it a sounding-board thing, or is it influencing the decision?” Foltz wondered aloud. “I mean, he got to this level by playing golf on his own. Now it seems he’s so reliant on that information.”

After missing the shot to the right, Spieth would get up and down and eventually reach 3 under, but his awful finish – 4 over for the final four holes – reminded me of Foltz’s earlier comments (scores). The kid is trying too hard, trying to be perfect, instead of searching for a balance between pre-shot preparation and his immense natural ability.

Leonard, meanwhile, is relatively new to the booth, a guy whose verbal skills and experience as a former top-level player seemingly would make him a candidate to replace Johnny Miller, who has been NBC’s lead voice since 1990 but has hinted that he might retire at the end of the year.

At NBC’s presentation of the Players Championship in May, Leonard actually sat in with anchor Dan Hicks for the first half-hour of both weekend telecasts, then exited when Miller arrived to occupy the chair. A friend at NBC referred to Leonard’s presence as a “mini-shift” of sorts, but rebutted any suggestion that it was part of a grooming process that eventually would lead to Leonard replacing Miller.

Having known Leonard for more than 20 years, I have no doubt that he could blossom into an excellent lead analyst, but it might take some time. His superb sense of humor is built on dry wit and sarcasm, two components that don’t always translate to a large, seriously minded audience. Miller has been golf’s ultimate polarizing figure for decades. Brash and brilliant, he is known as much for rubbing viewers the wrong way as he is for his unfiltered insight.

When Miller steps down, the hole will be massive. Love him or loathe him, he has gigantic presence.

It would be nice to say the same of Nick Faldo, who will get a ton of airtime this week with Mike Tirico, his partner in the ABC booth back in the mid-2000s. Tirico seemed to get the most out of Sir Nick on Thursday, especially when the mood turned light, but Faldo still spends too much time making very little sense, as evidenced by this late-morning exchange.

Tirico: “Give me your thoughts on what we’re seeing here. The way play is going, it’s really hard to figure out what a target [winning] score will be. What are you feeling as you’re watching?”

Faldo: “There’s been so much talk because it’s playing short and fast, and it’s deemed to be easy because Carnoustie’s always been such a brute to play. But as we’ve seen, when you get out of control, you can’t cannot put the right amount of spin or guess where it’s gonna land. This golf course really does come alive. When you hit it in the wrong rough or on the wrong side of the hole, it becomes amazingly difficult.”

All he needed to do was say “6 under,” or anything with a number in it, and he would’ve answered Tirico’s question. Faldo’s insistence on marching to his own beat creates a lack of sufficient interaction between himself and the guy sitting next to him. Tirico is deft enough to deal with those tangents, but there is a frequent disconnect between Faldo and the rest of the broadcast team, especially the on-course reporters.

How he continues to work for NBC and CBS is one of golf’s great mysteries.

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: johnhawkinsgolf@gmail.com