News & Opinion

CBS faces widening gap in its golf coverage

Nick Faldo conducts research for CBS Sports at 2020The Masters
CBS analyst Nick Faldo, conducting course research at Augusta National Golf Club before the recent Masters Tournament, needs to cut back on the inanity, John Hawkins writes.

With longtime producer Lance Barrow’s exit, the network needs to assess how far behind NBC it has fallen and raise its on-air game

Lance Barrow’s final telecast as lead golf producer at CBS Sports featured some of the most spectacular aerial views of Augusta National you’ll ever see. There were several nicely timed cutaways to historic moments in Masters history, the usual array of exceptional graphics and all the visual accoutrements we’ve come to expect from a major television network.

Optically speaking, Barrow went out in style. It’s when his announcers started talking that CBS repeatedly failed to deliver in 2020, offering viewers little more than apologies for bad shots, a barrage of banal happy talk and virtually nothing one might consider insightful. In that sense, Barrow is leaving at the right time.

A producer can’t control what his analysts say or how they say it, but it’s difficult to argue with the notion that CBS’ golf coverage has slipped substantially in recent years. When I originally addressed the matter back in February, that commentary produced more reader response than any article published by Morning Read to that point. More than 100 subscribers nodded in agreement and voiced their own displeasure. The number of CBS supporters, meanwhile, could be counted on one hand.

Barrow’s retirement means a promotion for longtime lieutenant Sellers Shy, who receives high marks even from the two notables inexplicably purged by the network last fall. “A good man, and he’s a golf guy,” former analyst Gary McCord said. “It’s very active, this whole TV thing. There’s so much going on that you never see if you’re watching the telecast, and you need a golf guy in there to keep up the energy and lay the right foundation.”

They don’t get any golfier than Peter Kostis, who spent 28 years with the Eye as an on-course reporter and swing whisperer. “He’s not just a good player; he plays competitively, and that will be good for CBS,” Kostis said. “I just don’t know how much leeway the network execs are going to give him.”

Probably not much. CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus hires the talent, and though he hit the jackpot in luring Tony Romo into the booth alongside Jim Nantz for NFL games in 2017, his decision to add Davis Love III to the golf presentation last year was a predictable bust. Love did just a handful of events in 2020 before quitting, telling Golf Channel, “I found out it was a lot harder than I thought. I just struggled at it, frankly.”

CBS Sports photo illustration

Frankly, so are several members of the broadcast team still on the job. McManus has shown a distinct preference for analysts with foreign accents. There were four working the Masters, a list which doesn’t include Mark Immelman, who was relegated to streaming duties despite being far more polished and prepared than his younger brother, Trevor. The 2008 Masters champion can’t open his mouth with gushing superlatives; he must have used the word “special” to describe a shot at least a half-dozen times on Friday alone.

It can leave you wondering whether the higher-ups at CBS actually watch golf on the weekends. Immelman has an annoying tendency of repeating information offered by one of his colleagues just moments earlier, so he’s not listening to what the others are saying. Despite playing on the PGA Tour as recently as 2019, Immelman seems to know nothing about the styles and nuances of the men against whom he once competed.

That’s a huge problem at CBS. Other than Dottie Pepper, no one possesses anything close to comprehensive knowledge of the players’ strengths and weaknesses. This creates a product that becomes almost unlistenable on a regular basis. Ian Baker-Finch has a brilliant knack and understanding of putting, a skill that made him a successful tour pro for many years, and it would be nice if we heard more of that. Nick Faldo was the ultimate course manager in his day, but he’s usually too busy uttering inane thoughts or incorrectly guessing on the whereabouts of a particular shot instead of sharing his greatest acumen with viewers.

Take a look at NBC. Mark Rolfing is a veritable encyclopedia when it comes to the playing characteristics of every tour pro worth watching. Jim Mackay might know more about the PGA Tour than any man alive. Gary Koch says more in fewer words than anyone in the business. And lead analyst Paul Azinger certainly is the most candid voice at either network, an old-school opinionist who doesn’t mind ruffling feathers because he has the experience and credibility to do it.

It’s not even close nowadays. NBC’s golf coverage is far superior to that of CBS, and the gap seems to widen each year. That definitely isn’t Barrow’s fault; a producer can do only so much when the guy above him keeps making lousy personnel decisions. The blame here lands squarely in the lap of McManus, whose reluctance to acknowledge a sinking ship might be attributed to his misguided perception of what passionate golf fans are looking for on weekend afternoons.

Good luck, Mr. Shy. Having learned a bit about you on the Internet, you sound like an ideal guy for the job. And hopefully, the first good golf hire your boss has made in years.

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