With the highly anticipated second year of Fox Sports’ signature golf event coverage, there are many outstanding questions on how the coverage of the season’s second major will improve from a year ago. For Golf News Net, that means a before, during and after analysis of the coverage.
For Coordinating Producer Mark Loomis and company, months of work built up to the lights coming on for Thursday’s opening round. Within minutes of being on the air, the horns sounded, prompting a lengthy weather delay. It was a nightmare start that nobody could control. Mother Nature shouldn’t affect how the coverage is judged.
The new main booth – Joe Buck, Paul Azinger and Brad Faxon were tasked out of the gate with carrying the show, and the rhythm was good from the opening. Azinger would get the first crack, and Faxon’s experience and intelligence often delivered more insight and complimentary observation. The difference in substance coming from the booth compared to 2015 was substantial, and strong.
The prepared material – The 2015 coverage felt full of pre-packaged elements that didn’t often fit in the puzzle. Needing to go to the well early, Fox took advantage of the history of Oakmont and the people familiar with it (Bob Ford has been a solid voice) to fill the gaps with material that fell seamlessly into the telecast.
The secondary booth – Not a lot to add on here. Holly Sonders looks great, sounds great and seems comfortable. Ford is comfortable talking and has more stories than anybody. Gil Hanse has always been balanced. The contrast from golf in the main booth to the broader discussion in the secondary booth has given the whole telecast good depth.
Ken Brown – More than the accent, Brown has shown a great combination of character and content, highlighted by his video feature with Bryson DeChambeau that would make any Calculus professor proud.
Buried in notes – Having Andrew Landry lead early (and big) during a lengthy rain delay highlighted some wrinkles. Buck went to every line of the standard bio to try and fill viewers in (fans of college golf know Landry was involved in, arguably, the most exciting match in NCAA championship history, back in 2009). This doesn’t fall on Buck. He shouldn’t be expected to know everything on 156 players, but under the microscope, it felt forced. Save some material for final groups on the weekend.
“We have clearly cleaned out our bucket of things to talk about,” Buck said prior to a restart on Thursday.
The golf – Alarmingly, covering actual golf proved more difficult during the live portions, especially on Thursday. Ball follows continued to be trouble for some camera operators. There were open mics of on-course reporters when the focus was elsewhere. Andrew Landry was leading and wasn’t shown for an entire hole. And…
Getting to on-course reporters – Without the traditional ‘announcers in multiple towers’ setup, the play-by-play of each shot is coming from the main booth. That requires the voices on the course (who have had time to assess and prepare material) to be a part of the call to give the viewers something more. With no real Alpha Dog inside the ropes, the transition down has been few and far between.
The conversation – It seems that the group of announcers really enjoy one another. That’s great, but with delays early and a lack of content, it ratcheted up the banter. This is a polarizing feature of television. Some love it (“I want more than just golf!”). Others loathe it (“Just show me golf!”). There is no right or wrong way of doing business, but how it plays out when we focus on getting a winner Sunday will be the test.
The toys – ProTracer has appeared sharp and is still underutilized by all networks covering golf, but the jury is split right now on the much-ballyhooed grids on the green. A few putts have even defied the grid, which doesn’t give the technology much credence. How the bells and whistles are woven into a weekend story will be interesting to track.
How the coverage is judged has two vastly different comparisons. If you look at it compared to the effort at Chambers Bay in 2015, Fox must be thrilled with the improvement to this point. A compelling finish on Sunday will give them a chance to really shine and earn some fans moving forward. If the coverage is compared to the competition (CBS, Golf Channel/NBC), the curve gets tougher.
There has been noticeable growth, in both a year and from Thursday to Friday. It’s been a very good start.