The voices have changed, but CBS Sports is still struggling to bring golf to the present
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The voices have changed, but CBS Sports is still struggling to bring golf to the present



The final round of The Genesis Invitational was borderline unwatchable on Sunday.

CBS put together a disjointed broadcast that struggled in telling the story of Adam Scott's path to victory at Riviera. They didn't show a guy who was tied for second place for much of the late afternoon. They outright failed to air some shots -- or when they did, it was far too late. They showed far too many shots from golfers who didn't have a chance to win. They didn't explain whatsoever what it takes to win at Riviera.

It was a signal that, for all the new and interesting voices on CBS, the production doesn't seem to have improved.

Lots of people, myself included, voiced their frustrations on Twitter. It's not fun throwing my hands up in the air in absolute disgust. I don't enjoy writing tweets about the coverage. I'd much rather make wise cracks about what's happening on the golf course, not what I'm not seeing on the golf course. Instead of just sniping in 280-character bits, I wanted to explain myself.

What went wrong

CBS often likes to come on the air with a few highlights, then some time in the booth with Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo setting the scene. There's nothing inherently wrong with that. However, on a day where the final threesome started the day tied for the lead and when the action had been insane to start the round, that setup should be shorter. Things are crazy; show it.

The first hour of coverage typically is littered with commercials, more so than the rest of the window. It's true that the tournament is still taking shape, and CBS has to pay their bills, but a few shots and a commercial, a putt and a segment and a commercial -- the rhythm of the telecast is completely missing. It's not as jarring when the leaderboard is weaker, the course isn't as compelling or the action is slow. However, on a day when 10 guys could have legitimately won, it's more frustrating.

The CEO interview in the 18th tower is an expected diversion every week. It's not great, but these companies are shelling out big bucks to get their name on an event, so they bought the time. However, the head man for the Genesis brand was not prepared for the interview -- at least in a sartorial sense. He wore a shirt at least a size and a half too small, and CBS had to quickly zoom in to a shoulders-and-up shot so some crotchety viewers wouldn't phone the FCC. The sheer amount of jargon spewed in those few minutes didn't sell cars and undersold the impact of Tiger Woods' foundation and the tournament's charitable endeavors over the years. This wasn't a CBS problem; it just warranted a mention.

The executive wearing a smedium aside, that's all standard fare for CBS. It's a weekly frustration that's kind of baked into the cake. However, public sentiment seemed to take a turn when leader Harold Varner III topped his tee shot on the short par-4 10th hole, and CBS didn't show it. The commentary team acknowledged it happened, then they showed Varner's mid-iron approach to a hole that is certainly not built for that. Varner made double, and that was pretty much his tournament. By the time they could get back to it, the moment had long passed.

Credit to Trevor Immelman and Frank Nobilo for explaining the situation to the viewer, but it's not like CBS didn't have a camera on the 10th tee. I can understand the desire to not show an embarrassing shot, particularly during an early-round telecast. The Tour has sometimes pulled down digital highlights of players hitting poor shots, and they've been summarily roasted for it. However, this was the leader of the tournament in the final round, as he was looking for his first win. There's every expectation that shot makes air immediately.

Meanwhile, Max Homa had played his way into contention. He was T-2 for several holes before CBS finally decided to show a shot of his. CBS has a penchant for avoiding players they don't think are going to win for extended periods of time. It often feels like they finally check in with the nail-in-the-coffin shot that derails their chances. Homa didn't win, yes, but that doesn't justify cherry-picking when he should make air. If a player is in the top two with nine to play, they should be showed extensively.

Instead, Tiger Woods, who was 11 over this weekend, and Brooks Koepka, who was never a factor this week, got some extra air time for meaningless shots.

During a break to go through the action on the other tours playing this week, CBS showed a patently wrong leaderboard for the final results of the LPGA's ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open. The tournament had been done for some 10-12 hours at that point, and CBS showed a graphic with the leaderboard through three rounds.

That's an insult to the LPGA, with whom the PGA Tour has a strategic partnership. For the Korn Ferry Tour, CBS aired a highlight from 54-hole leader Peter Uihlein -- who was eight shots out of the lead by the time the footage was aired.

What went right

CBS occasionally uses the blimp to great effect, like when they aired Adam Scott's tee shot on No. 15 as it rolled into the group in front of him. That kind of thing is unpredictable, particularly on the PGA Tour, and CBS fortunately had an angle that could put the shot and the intruded group's reaction in context.

Dottie Pepper and Trevor Immelman are solid inside the ropes. They call it for what it is, and they don't sugar coat it.

Frank Nobilo is one of my favorite voices in golf. His addition makes CBS a better team.

Amanda Balionis does a really good job when she's actually allocated more than a minute to do anything, whether that's looking at stats or interviewing players. If you're going to have someone like Balionis in the role she has, embrace it.

Everyone has certain things they want from a golf commentator or interviewer, so appeasing every golf viewer is impossible. But I like the on-air talent at CBS. I liked the old talent. The issue is with what I'm seeing, not what I'm hearing. The talent will be in a better position to succeed as a team with a different presentation.

What needs to happen

Aside from the obvious -- less commercials, more cohesion, less unnecessary diversions -- there are some things CBS can do to dramatically improve the telecast and make the golf fan smarter.

No network really does a good job of explaining how golf is played at this level. Not just CBS. NBC and Fox struggle with it, too. But the PGA Tour has ShotLink data that can help a golfer understand strategy and compare players.

When showing a hole, showcase the five or 10 drives of the day that have gained the most strokes off-the-tee. Explain why those gained so many strokes, and put it into perspective for the particular golfer they're showing.

On approach shots on the weekends, show the hole locations for the prior days and a heat map of strokes gained on the approach to each hole location. Show the strokes gained for a hole location that day and compare it to a particular player's usual SG:OTT or what they're doing this week.

Embrace data! The PGA Tour has tried to do that with PGA Tour Live, and it's helpful. There still seems a lack of context that would make fans smarter, but that kind of education can be subtle and done over time.

Of course, the telecasts should embrace betting. While a minority of Americans can place a legal wager on golf right now, it's coming. Betting odds also help explain expected outcomes and probabilities. They show which guys are outperforming public expectations. Show how a player's odds have evolved from pre-tournament through to the current shot.

I understand that not everyone is a data geek or has an interest in wagering. However, telling the story of a tournament can be done better when those things are embraced.

I want CBS to succeed, not only as a long-time golf fan but also as someone whose business is largely discussing the PGA Tour. When fans are engaged in the tournament and watching it on TV, I have a larger potential audience here at GNN. They'll want to know how things turned out, why things are happening as they are and want to learn more about the players. If they're frustrated watching golf, they'll either turn it off or take a nap.

About the author

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Ryan Ballengee

Ryan Ballengee is founder and editor of Golf News Net. He has been writing and broadcasting about golf for over a decade, working for NBC Sports, Golf Channel, Yahoo Sports and SB Nation. Ballengee lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his family. He used to be a good golfer.

Ballengee can be reached by email at ryan[at]thegolfnewsnet.com

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