Let’s face it, it’s less than 100 days to football season and we are in the summer sports doldrums right now. There isn’t a whole lot going on of any significance for the months of June and July so for this week’s post, I thought I would just post some random thoughts or as I call it, a few things I think, I think.
The best of the Major Golf Championships, the U.S. Open begins this Thursday at Oakmont Country Club just outside of Pittsburgh. I do not keep up with golf that much. It just doesn’t appeal to me anymore, but I do watch the majors, the Players Championship and perhaps bits and pieces of other tournaments just to pass the time during the summer months.
They’ve been playing the U.S. Open a long time so how the course is set up and who the favorites are is less important to me than whether the entity actually broadcasting the tournament into my home will get it right this year. After 20 years on NBC (and as I’ve said before, they do the best job with golf broadcasts, minus that nauseating sap Jimmy Roberts), the United States Golf Association dumped the peacock network and took Fox’s money in a 12-year 100 million dollar deal to broadcast the U.S. Open and other USGA Championships. They must have been second guessing that decision after last year’s broadcast which was frankly a disaster.
Fox had never really broadcast golf before and like a lot of things you just don’t get it right the first time. Understand that fans of niche sports and make no mistake golf is a niche sport because no one sets their calendar around watching the St. Jude Classic are extremely picky about how their “sport” is broadcast. No fans are as bad as “soccer heads.” Don’t dare call it a field or use the word “nothing” to describe the score or they’ll have your ass. Golf is just about as bad. Back in the 90s ABC went with Brent Musburger as their lead golf voice. You’d have thought someone had crapped on Sam Snead’s grave. I don’t know how many times I heard, Brent Musburger doesn’t know golf. Well, who the hell cares? He knows how to prepare and broadcast an event and that should be enough. It’s TV people and no one is going to die.
So understand that when Fox decided to go with its “signature voice” Joe Buck as its lead golf announcer, I had no issue with it. Buck has his share of critics. Some perceive him as arrogant and a bit of a smart ass (that’s probably true), and some just think he’s entitled being the son of legendary broadcaster Jack Buck. But, like Musburger, the guy is a pro and knows how to prepare and broadcast an event. He wasn’t the problem. The problem was his analyst, Greg Norman. I don’t know Greg Norman, but I’ve talked to people who have interacted with him and by all reports, he’s a first class tool. He’s not personable and he clearly didn’t do any prep work last year because he had no clue about any of the players, outside of Jason Day who like Norman is from Australia. Fox wasted no time in dumping him as their lead analyst replacing him with Paul Azinger who last worked with ABC/ESPN. Azinger, a cancer survivor, not only “knows golf”, he won’t be unprepared and so Fox has increased its analyst chair by at least 500% and they haven’t hit the air yet. Lest you think Azinger is stupid, remember that the last time the United States won the Ryder Cup he was the captain and to prepare for that he read a book from a military commander on how to get the most out of people under your command. He paired golfers together in the Ryder Cup’s team matches who offset each others weaknesses. In other words, if one player was really emotional over a bad shot or a bad hole, he paired him with a player who wasn’t. The result was a U.S. victory which hasn’t happened since.
Fox is also reportedly making some other changes although with a total of 26 broadcasters, its my opinion that they are going with too many voices. Curtis Strange is coming over from ABC/ESPN to work as an on-course commentator. I can’t stand the guy because he seems like a complete a-hole, but he knows his stuff. Thankfully, Fox has ditched Curt Menefee as their studio host. He’s Fox’s NFL Studio host and is great in that role. He looked lost last year and so he’s out replaced by Holly Sonders. Last year, Sonders was in charge of interviewing players as they came of the course in front a stupid touchscreen. She’s also a significant upgrade over Menefee in the looks department, and I’m sure that factored into the decision. Hopefully Fox has killed the touchscreen also, but we will see. The Network will also use Pro-Tracer on 13 of the 18 holes. This is greatest invention in golf, where it shows you the flight of the ball. And, some of Fox’s problems last year wasn’t all their fault. Their first U.S. Open was at that hideous Chambers Bay Golf Course which had no trees and was all brown like one of those dopey British Open Courses. Oakmont is green and has lots of trees so the scenery will be better and we can only hope that Fox is better because they will be broadcasting 36 1/2 hours of coverage over Fox and Fox Sports 1 over four days. If they are not, then I’m sure there’s something that gives the USGA an out in the contract and they may just go back to the devil they know and knew for 20 years.
As I said we are less than 100 days away from college football season beginning. Athlon Sports has hit the shelf with its pre-season magazine. The magazine lists it’s top 4 as (1) Alabama, (2) Florida State, (3) Ohio State and (4) Clemson. Presumably that’s the magazine’s college football playoff. I have no idea how two (2) teams from the ACC Atlantic Division are going to make the playoff when only one (1) will even make the conference championship game. Of the four, I only agree on one of these teams making the playoff and that’s Florida State. There is of course time to talk about all of this as we get closer to the season.
Speaking of College Football, a couple of weeks ago came word that after this season CBS’s Verne Lundquist will be hanging it up as the network’s SEC voice. I can’t say that I’m surprised and while I don’t think it was entirely his decision, I also don’t think he’s going to lose any sleep over it. He’s 74 years old, and if you’ve seen him, he appears to be in terrible physical condition. He also lives in Steamboat Springs, Colorado which isn’t in the Southeast and it’s a pain in the butt to get to each SEC School when you live in the Southeast. There are no direct flights to anywhere and I’ve once heard it described as the “regional jet tour of the Southeast.” Travel wears on younger persons, much less someone in their 70s. To be sure, the SEC will miss his folksy style and his broadcasting acumen, but in his place in 2017 will step Brad Nessler, who was part of ESPN’s purging of talent this off-season. Nessler does live in the Southeast making his home in Atlanta, and in my opinion formed the best broadcasting pairing at ESPN with Todd Blackledge, who also previously worked at CBS. Nessler will be reunited with his old ESPN partner Gary Danielson on SEC games beginning next year and will do some spot duty on games this year when CBS has doubleheaders. I’m not sure what else he’s going to do, but I doubt seriously he would have signed with CBS – even though he was unemployed – if he wasn’t (1) going to get the SEC gig sooner rather than later, and (2) wasn’t going to have a role on the NCAA Tournament. I assume he’ll be in the rotation for NFL games some this season but we will see. Regardless, if you are a fan of college football make sure you take some time this fall to breathe in the last season of Lundquist. A gifted story teller he’s always got a story in his back pocket and that’s a lost art among today’s younger broadcasters.
Finally, you want to know the greatest invention of the 21st century. It’s SiriusXM Satellite Radio. I got it about 10 years ago because living in Tennessee, I could not stomach the constant year-round gab about Tennessee football. I don’t care who they are recruiting, and I damn sure don’t care about the third team linebacker. So, SiriusXM is like an oasis in the desert. If you have it, one of the best things about it is the baseball radio broadcasts where you can hear some of the great voices in all of sports on any given day or night. Everyone knows about L.A. Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully who does the first three innings on radio for each home game. Scully is retiring after this year and is in his 80s, but he can still bring it. But there are other voices out there as well that are worth a listen and a couple that are not. San Francisco’s radio duo of Jon Miller and Dave Flemming is among the best. Give a listen to Washington’s Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler. They not only broadcast the game, but are clearly having fun. Milwaukee’s Bob Uecker is entertaining as is St. Louis’s broadcaster Mike Shannon. Shannon only does home games now that he’s in his 70s, and I swear sounds like he’s had a few “Budweisers” prior to the game, but he is entertaining and has a million stories. Not many broadcasters have had the staying power of Cincinnati’s Marty Brenaman, a one-time voice of the Virginia Tech Hokies. But, his partner Jeff Brantley is a clown. An ex-player I always said that if you wanted to blow a late game lead on a two-run homerun, bring in Brantley to pitch. He had a knack for that. What’s not worth a listen? The New York Yankess duo of John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman are the absolute worst. There are plenty of reasons to hate the Yankees, and these two are right at the top.