ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Two things were debuted at the 2015 US Open, the golf course, Chambers Bay, and the TV network, Fox Sports. To say the reviews of network’s maiden outing were mixed would be kind. Some found some positive moments but most were highly critical. It seemed wiser to wait a second week, with the US Senior Open increasing the sample size, before weighing in with some opinions.
So let’s start with the positives.
It was never a doubt in this corner that Joe Buck would handle the traffic cop duties of the lead announcer with ease. He always comes across as relaxed and aware. There is no doubt that as opportunities come along his chemistry with Greg Norman and the rest of the on-air talent will allow for his personality to fill the role even more.
The general criticism that he is not a “golf guy” is probably overstated. It seemed over the two weeks he knew enough to not expose his lack of depth in the game for the most part. Two exceptions stood out.
As Dustin Johnson made the turn on Sunday at Chambers Bay he held a two shot lead and was driving the ball well. Fox went to a booth shot and Buck offered the opinion that Johnson seemed to be taking this Championship by the throat. Since there was no sense in being on the golf course where nothing could be seen I was sitting with some veteran golf writers watching and comments flew at Buck’s rush to judgment.
In less than two holes Johnson was trailing Jordan Spieth.
On Sunday at the Senior Open, when the crowded leaderboard appeared to be coming down to two players, the traditional mistake of all golf announcers again surfaced. “It looks like it is coming down to match play.” That was compounded when Norman chimed in about the experience the competitors had from Ryder Cups.
Ryder cups are match play. The US Senior Open is stroke play. If the desire is to focus the competition on two players, the term is head-to-head, not match play. Opposite on CBS, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey went into sudden death at Hartford. That did turn into match play.
Technically Fox miked the courses well and the announcers had the good judgment to let us listen. The graphic yardage to the hole indicator over the flags is a nice addition as, I think, is the animated change of score for individual players.
Buck and Norman are certainly the best-dressed golf announcers I have ever seen. I suspect one of Norman’s suits would cost more than all the clothes in my closets.
Much has been made of the tracer technology Fox used, especially at Chambers Bay, but it is certainly not new and seemed pretty much a crutch at the US Open where it was difficult to figure out even where the greens were in the picture.
On the negative side there is one over riding necessity that needs to be worked out and quickly. Where’s the ball? The camera’s seldom found it. The on course announcers seemed lost. At Chambers Bay some approach shots turn into video versions of “Where’s Waldo” as cameras scanned the lunar surfaces. You would think the network that invented the glowing puck would have been better prepared to locate an even smaller object.
At the big rollout in Seattle Fox made certain they weren’t going to be understaffed with on air talent as a cast of thousands, nearly all rookies, made there debut. When I was on the course I had one of the spectator radios in my ear and beyond Norman, Buck, the infrequent Julie Inkster and Jay Delsing who I have known since high school, I had no idea who was talking. Eventually Brad Faxon carved enough of a slice of the production to become recognizable. Fortunately, by the Senior Open two thirds of the Fox army had been retired.
At Chambers Bay, I am not sure other than Buck and Norman anybody was employed as a tower announcer, but I believe on Sunday at the Senior holes 16 and 17 were staffed. The problem there is those two announcers were a part of the call for the first fifteen holes and could have been in downtown Sacramento for what there tower perches added to their perspective.
It also seemed there is a fondness for really wide angle shots of the players, which was appropriate at the US Open, where that is all spectators had as well, but seems defensive of camera operators unable to go in tight.
From a direction standpoint it would appear that Fox likes tee shots and putts and chips because particularly at the Senior that is mostly what we saw until the crowded leaderboard winnowed down. For me that left the storyline too scattered to be followed unless I was tracking all the scores. Which brings up the five spot leader box.
If five guys are separated by a shot the little box is great, although it was a little slow to update at Chambers Bay. If there are six guys, or seven, or more, the five spot box is nothing other than deceptive. There were numerous times when someone not in the box suddenly appeared tied for the lead making you wonder what hole they eagled to jump to the top.
For me, the shadowy greens filter to show contours doesn’t work except at Chambers Bay when it should have been left on all the time to make the surfaces look less brown and scruffy. And I recall seeing a green glowing cup at Chambers Bay.
Then there is Holly “Golightly” Sonders. Fox has always shown a fondness for attractive women on the sidelines of the NFL and Ms. Sonders fits that description aptly. (I challenge the network to work that into their baseball coverage.) By reputation Sonders was a talented collegiate golfer and well understands how to accentuate her other assets when on camera. That qualified her for a lightweight spot on the Golf Channel and a cover on Golf Digest. But I cannot think of one meaningful thing she elicited from players in her video booth over the two weeks she manned the play button.To be fair those moments are pretty lightweight on all telecasts of golf, but I can hardly wait for Sonders to exchange niceties with the parade of Korean golfers who will drop by for a chat at the US Women’s Open next week.
Fox has room to grow.
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