My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana.
I covered 12 U.S. Opens for the Chicago Tribune, and I came away with a headache from each one.
The cranky level always is at the highest levels. The five-hour-plus rounds leave everyone drained. The players are perpetually ticked off with the United States Golf Association’s wacky set-up. It wasn’t just last week at Chambers Bay. Check out the complaints from the first U.S. Open at Bethpage in 2002 and when the USGA lost the greens at Shinnecock in 2004.
As for the press, the logistics usually are challenging, and we live in constant fear of having to cover a Monday playoff. I imagine the press room delivered the biggest cheer at Chambers Bay when Dustin Johnson missed that putt at 18 Sunday.
It isn’t just the players and media. The U.S. Open also has viewers reaching for Tylenol. It’s just that kind of tournament.
From that perspective, Fox Sports really had no chance in airing its first U.S. Open. No matter what the network did, the transition from 20 years of the NBC’s coverage wasn’t going to be met fondly.
The reaction was the equivalent of Joe Buck and Greg Norman standing in the middle of the driving range with no protection. Prior to the tournament, I told Fox Sports officials to stay away from social media. I hope they heeded my advice, because it wasn’t pretty.
A few samples:
@breitwieser: People are very divided on Fox Sports coverage of the U.S Open. Some people hated it and others truly hated it.
@Sskoneki: Can we start a kickstarter account to buy the U.S. Open from Fox and give it back to NBC?
@iveyjanette_207: Jim McKay,Pat Summerall and Henry Longhurst are all turning in their graves right now…Fox’s U.S. Open coverage is #brutal.
Now was Fox’s coverage that bad? No. Can it be improved? OH, YES.
For starters, Buck and Norman were fine. I know people like to dump on Buck, but he generally did a good job directing traffic and setting the stage.
Norman, meanwhile, delivers that big-name presence to the telecasts. He’s “The Shark,” after all, and I found myself interested in what he had to say. He wasn’t Johnny Miller, but he offered some illuminating perspectives.
As for the other commentators, I liked to talk to Brad Faxon as a player. So naturally, I liked him in the booth. Corey Pavin also was better than I expected, given he was really dry as the 2010 U.S. Ryder Cup captain.
The biggest complaint I had, as did others, is that too often I had no idea who was talking beyond Buck and Norman. These are new voices and Fox needed to do a better job of identifying its announcers.
From a gizmo standpoint, many of the new graphics, including the distances and tracers, were nice additions. The score bug in the right corner seems so logical, it is hard to believe nobody has done it before. The amped-up sound picked up Jordan Spieth on Friday proclaiming the 18th hole as a par 4 was “dumbest hole I’ve ever played.” That became a story, perhaps prompting the USGA to play the hole as a par 5 on Sunday.
However, there were more than a few bogeys. The biggest was a feeling that the overall production seemed disjointed. There were several glitches and a general lack of seamless flow that viewers have come to expect from NBC and CBS.
There were some baffling decisions on the climatic 18th hole Sunday. Instead of breaking down Dustin Johnson’s all-important second shot from the fairway, Fox inexplicably went to an interview with Louis Oosthuizen. Why? Sorry, but nobody cared about Oosthuizen at that moment. As a result, Fox quickly had to cut to Johnson as he stepped to the ball.
Also, Fox dropped the ball on Johnson’s epic miss. What happened? Why did he rush that putt? How about some replays? Oh, to have heard from Miller at that point.
There is no need to hear again from Holly Sonders or Curt Menefee on these telecasts. Sonders’ post-round interviews were painful, as she was woefully over her skis. She is going to have a tough time living down asking Jordan Spieth if he bought a fifth outfit for a possible playoff that didn’t happen.
Menefee did a poor job faking that he doesn’t know anything about golf. Fox badly needs someone like the Golf Channel’s Rich Lerner, who is well-versed in the game and its history, in the studio role.
Despite all the social media slams, Fox isn’t going anywhere. It has 11 more U.S. Opens with its USGA deal. Deal with it.
Fox will make adjustments. Telecasts evolve over time, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the network’s coverage of the 2020 U.S. Open is markedly different from 2015.
If not, Tylenol should consider taking out ads during future U.S. Opens. Viewers will need something for those headaches.