News & Opinion

Feherty soars as NBC’s big-game talent

You like chocolate, I like strawberry and the guy down the street digs butter pecan. Life comes at us in many different flavors, whether it’s ice cream or sports commentators, but a simple matter of personal preference can stir up quite a rhubarb when it comes to assessing the people who talk about the little white ball on TV.

Nobody has fanned the flames more effectively than NBC lead analyst Johnny Miller. He is an alligator in a pond full of smallmouth bass, which is why so many people don’t like him, but I’d venture to guess Miller has been the subject of more golf-related conversations over the past 25 years than anyone not named Woods or Mickelson.

His fastball isn’t nearly what it once was, although Miller is still very good at what he does, which makes him one of several reasons I favor NBC’s golf coverage over the fine product at CBS. The Peacock’s presentation of the 147th British Open has been superb. Any network with Mike Tirico as its backup anchor is whistling Dixie, and NBC’s depth since merging seven years ago with Golf Channel is formidable, but on-air talent is only part of the equation.

A big difference in the telecasts from Carnoustie has been the auxiliary stuff: a medley of outstanding mini-features in addition to the offbeat segments showcasing the one and only David Feherty. These televignettes are nothing new, but CBS really doesn’t do them, and the collection that NBC aired this week is the strongest I can remember.

David Feherty
David Feherty, working as an on-course reporter at the British Open, gives NBC an edge with his offbeat segments.

© GOLFFILE/EOIN CLARKE
David Feherty, working as an on-course reporter at the British Open, gives NBC an edge with his offbeat segments.

Jimmy Roberts’ profile of Australian golfer Jack Newton, who took Tom Watson to the wire at the 1975 British Open at Carnoustie, was exemplary. Tirico’s sit-down with Curtis Strange to review Jean Van de Velde’s 72nd-hole collapse in 1999 offered a slightly different approach to a story that has gotten a ton of attention in recent weeks.

Not that anyone asked, but I will go to my grave agreeing with Strange, who called the action with Tirico that week for ABC: Van de Velde thought he’d won the tournament after holing the 8-footer for triple bogey. Speaking of which, NBC had a camera on the bearded Van de Velde, who was doing on-course commentary for French TV, as Kevin Kisner gave up sole possession of the second-round lead with a double bogey from Barry Burn.

Little stuff like that obviously doesn’t make a telecast, but it certainly makes it better. Longtime NBC golf producer Tommy Roy has consistently demonstrated a knack for finding shots to suit the moment. And on a week when sunbaked Carnoustie had a very different look than during its previous years as host, Roy employed a wide variety of angles and camera positions to show us the old ballyard in a different dimension.

As Miller’s role continues to diminish, Feherty has become the star of the show, which was bound to happen anyway. Neither CBS nor NBC has suffered much personnel turnover in the 2000s, but the Northern Irishman’s transfer from the Eye to the Peacock in 2016 clearly has affected both networks. NBC’s telecasts are lighter and more likable, whereas CBS’ old-school method is starting to look and sound a bit dated.

Of course, it is illegal in 47 states to dislike Feherty. Golf’s clown prince isn’t quite as popular as former NFL analyst John Madden once was, but he’s getting there. His role as an on-course reporter almost seems like a waste of his talent. With Roger Maltbie, Notah Begay and Jim Mackay capably handling similar duties, Roy might want to consider simply handing Feherty a microphone and telling him to go find a story.

His comedic offerings this week have included several man-about-town visits with the commonfolk and a journey to Carnoustie’s sixth hole, better known as Hogan’s Alley (video). Forever clever, Feherty’s eponymous Golf Channel show is a bit campy for my liking, but when it comes to improvisational skills and the instant laugh, the man is beyond talented.

I was preparing for a “Grey Goose 19th Hole” episode one afternoon in 2011 when I walked into the dressing room and found that evening’s guest panelist rummaging through my locker. “This is the ugliest collection of ties I’ve ever seen!” Feherty roared, thinking he’d been caught red-handed.

“Those are mine,” I said.

“In that case,” he replied, “I’ll give you $500 for the entire rack.”

Feherty is a difference maker, and NBC’s golf coverage is better than ever. That knucklehead can buy his own ties. He certainly can afford them.

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