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Friday, March 24, 2023

A Dearth of Extra Programming is Failing Golf Fans and the Game – Sports Illustrated

In the first event of the PGA Tour's marquee FedEx Cup last Sunday, Will Zalatoris won a wild playoff. But there was no post-game show to analyze the crazy final round.
David Yeazell/USA Today
Maybe the game isn’t as high and mighty as we’d all like to think it is. If professional golf was such a picture of health, why has the presence of a new kid in town—full of bluster, blasphemy and other brands of unconventional behavior during its brief existence— already created such a ruckus? If the PGA Tour is so untouchable, how did the emergence of this frail rival turn into one of the year’s biggest sports stories?
We can blame the media for all the handwringing caused by LIV Golf. It’s a common reaction in a misguided age, but it’s not quite that simple, either. The NFL generates and endures more negative news than any athletic industry on earth, yet it reigns without pretense as America’s premier sporting institution, owner of the largest fan base and fattest profit margins. All those domestic-violence incidents and sundry trips to the police blotter? They’re just flies on the horse’s backside. Nothing encroaches on the NFL’s popularity. The game is all that matters.
Golf does not enjoy the luxury of such public perception. It is, in a sense, confined to its own constituency: 7 to 10 million ardent followers in the United States, although the total number of recreational golfers is considerably higher. Other than for a handful of weeks each year, the world’s best players operate outside the mainstream radar. The same might be said of Major League Baseball or the NHL, but those sports benefit from the immense civic interest and support of their respective markets. They have a built-in audience. Our game has no such thing.
Without those territorial perks, pro golf misses out on a bunch of growth-related commodities. It has almost no value as a topic of discussion on sports-talk radio shows. It obviously gets nothing more than a drive-by on the local news—maybe 15 or 20 seconds of mention at the end of the four-minute sports segment on Sunday night.
On a national level, the difference between golf and college/pro football in terms of auxiliary airtime is staggering. We can start with “College GameDay,” the iconic ESPN franchise that has been running for three hours every Saturday morning in the fall since 1987. Its success spawned a deluge of pregame and postgame derivatives that would shape the Worldwide Leader’s identity—fun and games delivered at a meteoric pace in an appeal to younger viewers.
Although Fox Sports wasted no time replicating the formula, it was ESPN that launched the era in which sports networks would commit to another six to eight hours of before-and-after coverage: an endless feed of highlights, analysis and irreverence. Appetizers of an hour or longer have become standard fare on all three major networks televising the NFL. Even most local platforms now feature elaborate knockoffs in expanded packages focused solely on the hometown team.
Pro golf doesn’t come close to matching that depth. CBS and NBC leapt into the streaming business with both feet, availing themselves to a vast frontier of empty space and the opportunity to produce original niche programming. Neither has done so much as to create a 30-minute additive to its standard PGA Tour telecasts. Why not? Studio productions are cheap and reliable—no weather issues, no travel costs, no reason to flip out in the corner office on the 37th floor. Shows are scripted. Cameras don’t move.
Find a couple of people who speak in complete sentences and you’ve got a product with promise.
Perhaps by force of habit, TV executives at major networks tend to think about all the wrong things. They steal each other’s ideas on a regular basis and travel into time as a four-cattle herd. With that in mind, how come our game offers just one legitimate option to the highly successful template developed decades ago by ESPN? Golf Channel’s “Live From,” the on-site, postgame wrap that airs during the four majors, Players Championship and Ryder/Presidents Cups, is a full cut above anything you’ll find on the daytime menu. While there is no shortage of desk analysis offered by NBC’s little brother, “Live From” is a true gem, albeit something of a delicacy in that it airs only from the game’s most important events.
Too bad, because the show never has been better. The addition of 2021 Europe Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley five months ago has resolved the one issue that dogged “Live From” for years—the lack of a suitably carnivorous counterpart to the brilliant and highly opinionated Brandel Chamblee. McGinley is still a bit raw in the technical department, especially when sitting next to a polished Texan who puts in perhaps three hours of research time for every 30 minutes he’s on TV, but that’s a very pardonable misdemeanor in this instance.
The Irishman speaks his mind, takes some shots and knows his stuff. “Both Paul and Brandel understand that the show is better when they’re not always in agreement,” says “Live From” host Rich Lerner, “but it’s not forced or contrived.” Whereas David Duval and Frank Nobilo seemed reluctant to tangle with Chamblee, owing to their non-confrontational nature more than the lead voice’s star status, McGinley quickly displayed a knack for picking his spots and packing a punch.
“Paul’s a worker, a great team guy,” Lerner adds. “It’s easy to imagine him on the pitch playing Gaelic football.”
As a threesome, Lerner, Chamblee and McGinley represent a rarity within a sport where quality talk is scarce and a lot of the commentary heard during a tournament telecast isn’t worth pondering. Our game deserves better. And more. As a veritable shrine to strong demographics, pro golf’s lack of vocal largesse in a babble-filled world not only doesn’t make sense, it does the industry absolutely no favors.
A traveling pregame circus turned Lee Corso into a cult hero. All those breakfast-time beatdowns transformed Stephen A. Smith into one of America’s most beloved monsters. It’s not so much about what you say or how you say it, but whether you get the opportunity to open your mouth. For reasons beyond comprehension, pro golf still hasn’t.
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A worldview optimist trapped inside a curmudgeon’s cocoon, John Hawkins began his journalism career with the Baltimore News American in 1983. In 2007, the Hawk began a seven-year relationship with Golf Channel, where he co-starred on the “Grey Goose 19th Hole” and became a regular contributor to the network’s website. Hawkins also has worked for ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest and Golf.com at various stages of his career.


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