Golf Commentators

I love golf, I think it’s a beautiful game. It teaches us more about ourselves than any other sport, it’s a model for life. OK, maybe I’m a little more golf dazed than most, but I care about this game and it’s future. Modern golf commentators are contributing to it’s downfall in my opinion. Keep in mind that the sport hasn’t grown in more than 20 years.

The US Open is still the pinnacle of US golf. The Masters is right up there, but the Open has the edge because it’s an Open – meaning anyone can qualify to play. It’s the true American championship, where the Masters is a global golf championship. The Open should be the height in US sports TV coverage as well, where the knowledge, reverence and respect for the game is clear and inspiring – yes inspiring.

Golf is not football, obviously. What works for football coverage does not work for golf because the atmosphere for each is so different. Golf is contemplative, lonely, steeped in tradition as much as rules. Players mostly walk around and think. If you added up the swing time for an individual player I can’t think it would add up to much more than 5 minutes. My longwinded point is that while Chris Burmen for ESPN is a perfectly nice guy, he doesn’t understand golf. One only has to look at the classic English golf commentators to see the difference. They are steeped in the game, whereas Chris looks like he’s only been prepped. His commentary is filled with phrases that apparently someone told him would appeal to all the average Joe’s and Joanne’s who play the game. Golf is a much more thoughtful game than the ‘yuk yuk’ comments and idle chatter that proliferate in football coverage.

At least Chris is positive and affable. While I admire Johnny Miller’s non-paralleled knowledge of the players, the courses and the game, I’m tired of the negative attitude. Did someone in golf do something to him that he’s still upset about. Guys can hit a bad lie to 15 feet of the pin and Johnny acts like it was a hack. Does he really feel that five foot breaking putts on the toughest greens in the world are kickins? He of all people should know how tough the game is. Tiger takes off 4 weeks and can’t make the cut. That’s how quickly one of the best games in the world can turn to just so-so on the pro circuit.

I’d love more commentary about the game and how it’s played. With golf not growing as a sport for 20 years, it ought to occur to someone that it’s in need of some help. If a pro’s blast out of a sand trap to 5 feet is ‘a bad miss’ then how do I feel when my blast doesn’t clear the lip.

Golf is a wonderful mental game. Why don’t the analysts explore more of it. Are most of the pros making a mistake at this year’s Open by playing for birdie. From what I can saw of Monty, he decided that par was right as long as it saved him the doubles that so many took because they tried to get a little to close to pins that don’t tolerate risk. Maybe that’s why so many non-US players did so well. They can think out of the box that so many US pros find themselves in, namely a monster drive and wedge for birdie.

I’d like to hear the commentators take on the increased length now in the game. Are they afraid to because of repercussions from club and ball manufacturers? How about the target golf that US tournaments have become. I’d prefer to watch lesser matches on Scottish links courses to see the real game being played.

With modern video tools, swing analysis has never been better. On the rare occasions when they analyze a player’s swing it’s fascinating. With more coverage the average player might realize that he or she could benefit from the same kind of analysis. Think what that might do for the game and those that try to make a living teaching it.

Personally, I think commentators owe as much loyalty to the sport they cover as to their employer. There are millions of fascinating things to talk about and watch in golf. Leave the jokes for football and the negativity for politics. Golf is under assault in many ways and commentators can do a lot to protect it.

  • JFB

    Good post John, I agree with you.

    The problem becomes one of “selling the sizzle with the steak”….it’s what newspapers have figured out all along…same goes for TV.
    People watch races(golf) for the crash(meltdown), not on why they go around the track(course).

  • Duke

    I was actually writing up this blog to post when I saw where you posted most of my thoughts. Like minds think a like.
    Yes, Yes, Yes, the mentality of TV Producers to mandate that golf be viewed like a team event is really wearing on me. Gone are the days when Lord Byron was on the tube and gave you lively stories on each player’s swing and reasoning on why they made a shot instead of Mr. Millers claim they hit the hit ‘about two groves too high on the club’ or ‘Gary, even though this is a 50ft putt it is really makeble for anyone who qualifies for the US Open’.
    Now we have to hear from Mr. Burman ask questions in terms that sound more like someone who wants to appear ‘cool’ when in fact he has no idea what he is talking about. But, the jocks like him because he is the guy they listen to while spilling beer all over the living room floor yelling at the football players on the screen to ‘Kill the Bum’, ‘Hit him where it hurts’ and ‘Come on Ref, get with the program’. So, these guys think, ‘if Chris is covering this, it must be Cool’ Thus, the ‘U-da-Man’ mentality was evolved.
    On the other hand you have the Masters, where due to political arrogance, have no commercials to fill the air so it is much calmer. It could be that it is that way my designed since the Masters controls everything about the event and may go so far as to have someone in the booth to direct, or oversee the direction, of how the tournament is aired. Whatever they do, it comes across as probably more like how Golf feels than any of the event.
    As far as the US Open, yes, the same should be true, but there is a difference in the US Open than any other golf tournament, outside of the FBR in Phoenix, where the crowds who come may not be as pure golfer as at the Masters or British Open. The US Open is more of an outing for anyone who wants to watch a very difficult sport. Or it could be that they keep the event up in the Northeast where people are starved for outdoor events and the people with the ‘full contact’ mentality want to get out of the house so they go to a golf tournament to, as you say, watch for the meltdowns ‘train wreak, car crashes, busted helmets, broken bones or players jumping into the crowds (like they got their wish for in this year’s US Open).
    But I agree with your point and take it one step further to say more needs to be done to let the media know what they are doing to the game. IF the game of golf is to grow as it should more people need to take action and express their opinions. More needs to be done to tell the sponsors of the event how disgusting it is to watch the bastardization of a game that does not fit in the model of NASCAR or NHL marketing.
    I share with you, and will take action in all areas I effect in the electronic media, online media and the printed media, (and in my seminar/workshops) to stand up for all golfers to express our objections to our intelligence being insulted with negative attitudes and glamorous presentations in hopes the producers of these televised events will get back to telling the viewers more about how golf works and is played instead of what product we need to buy so they can get paid.
    I speak more on this and the same issue the LPGA is having with TV and their events in my articles on my site. Great to read that others are expressing their concerns on this issue.