News & Opinion

2020 Masters: Timeless TV classic, regardless of the timing

Sungjae Im in 3rd round of 2020 Masters
Sungjae Im and his caddie soak up the serenity of the 12th hole on Amen Corner during the Masters' 3rd round Saturday at Augusta National Golf Club.

Unobstructed long views of Augusta National provide a different backdrop for a telecast that proves to be bold and better than ever

As you know, a lot of things are different about this Masters. No need to go over it all – November, no galleries, no ropes, no Par 3 Contest, no azaleas and so on.

At the same time, for the vast majority of those watching the fun at the Fruitlands, this Masters is not entirely different from many they’ve watched previously. That is, they are watching from their couch, anchored to a television.

To that end, as CBS has been wont to tell us, with grainy black and whites and fabulous flashbacks, the tradition continues. Part of that tradition would be for scribes, such as myself, to critique the coverage with a sharp pen and sanctimonious nitpicks. 

But these are unusual times, clouded by COVID-19 concerns and fraught with mixed messages. Frankly, everyone’s trying to cope the best they can, with what they have in front of them. So, far be it from me to be “that guy,” the source of second-guess swipes or cold-blooded barbs. Far, far be it.

That said, let it be stated, first and foremost, that watching the Masters this week, even without a full cast of fans and flowers, has been terrific. The pictures have been different, but in a decisively good way, at least from a golf-centric perspective. Normally, the spectacle is as important to the canvas as the golf. This time, there is no spectacle to speak of, something we have had to get used to in the weeks leading up. 

But unobstructed by galleries, the views from Augusta National – with daylight savings gone and winter on the tee – have been bold and better than ever. 

Watching from behind Tiger Woods on the 17th tee Saturday, his purple shirt in the forefront of the lush green fairway, the bright sun slicing through the encroaching afternoon shadows … it doesn't get any better. Why, visions of stuffing the Thanksgiving turkey with jelly beans and chocolate bunnies were dancing through our heads. Well, some heads.

Point being, all of the positives should be emphasized and stated up front. 

Sure, we could be more judgmental. We could say something about how Masters coverage has become a caricature of itself. We could say television producers play the “tradition” card as if it's a morphine button, pushing it every chance they get. 

We could discuss how golf coverage inherently is overstated and overdramatic. To some extent, it has to be. There are no formations to discuss, no defensive shifts, no team standings. Instead, there are lots of individuals, lots of time between shots, lots of gaps to fill while people talk yardages and walk around. History is paramount; human interest is gold. 

That said, Drama Enhancing Drugs are prevalent during Masters week. The syrup gets so thick, you need a tunnel-boring machine to get through it. Mike Lindell brags about going all the way to Egypt to find the Giza cotton that makes his My Pillow sheets so soft. He could cut costs and go to Augusta. Nothing is softer or more absorbent than Masters coverage.

The texture is particularly mushy early in the championship, when Golf Channel and ESPN have the reins. Those first two days, there is no such thing as too many commentators or essayists. And apparently, it is important for commentators to remind the audience where the Masters is played. Apparently, viewers become disoriented, lose their bearings and are uncertain about where the telecast is originating. Because every sentence ends with "here at Augusta National."

Moreover, research must show viewers get confused in their effort to keep track of exactly how many editions of the championship have been conducted. For the record, and for the umpteenth time, this is the “84th Masters Championship” … not the 83rd … not the 85th … the 84th.

Early in the week, with so many assessing and offering opinions, no stone goes unturned, unanalyzed or under-hyped. We heard all about Bryson DeChambeau hitting satellite-launching drives and turning No. 13 into a par 3. Then he went out and double-bogeyed it on Thursday. Classic.

With the carpet-bombing commentary, the search for different things to say and different ways to say them becomes unfettered. The result are thoughts such as Justin Leonard’s description of Xander Schauffele: “I don't know in what area he's exceptional, other than the fact that there's no way in which he's deficient.” 

You might get car sick just reading that line.

But the weekend arrives like a stimulus check, as the telecast moves to CBS. Again, one could be more demanding. Nick Faldo regularly reminds you that, in golf, it doesn’t matter what comes out of a color analyst’s mouth, as long as it comes out with a British accent. Be it germane or absolute gibberish, the U.K. way works. 

Like the others, CBS is still doing golf. The obvious is accentuated and the moment is inflated. The drama, the romance, the pertinence – along with the piano – gets lavishly overdone. But you hear Jim Nantz, and it all makes sense. 

The 61-year old Nantz has done 35 of these puppies. The excess fits him seamlessly. He is like the pianist at the bar, and you’re the guy, asking, “Mister, did you know your fly is open?” 

Nantz answers, “Know it? Hell, I wrote it.”

This is his territory, his home run call. He is the “tradition unlike any other” guy. It’s how he rolls. He has overripe and exaggerated down to a science. He is the Michael Buble of sports announcers, the authentic voice of Augusta National, and that's what makes the others sound sophomoric.

If it’s earlier in the week, if it’s one of the many knockoffs, it’s like Miley Cyrus covering Roy Orbison. Even dark glasses wouldn't help.

This Masters unlike all other Masters is headed for a dynamic conclusion. The final round will begin with Dustin Johnson chasing scoring history. Other big names and interesting stories will be in pursuit. Even Woods and Phil Mickelson are still around. On Sunday, the stage will be bigger and the sentimentality will spike.

For all the things different about this Sunday, some things are gratifyingly familiar. Nantz and CBS make it feel that way. And in the middle of all that is different, let it be said, that's terrific. 

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