BY CHRIS RAMBO
The PGA Tour kicked off its 2012 campaign last weekend out in Hawaii with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. The event, which is comprised solely of tournament winners from the previous season, annually provides snowbound golf fans such as myself with solid commercial-break material during the NFL playoffs as well as the chance to vicariously soak in some sunshine and 80 degree temperatures.
The Golf Channel, which has covered the 1st and 2nd rounds of every tour stop since 2007, provided full tournament coverage because CBS and NBC were still doing football. This year the network introduced a brand new wrinkle to their telecast. In December, it was announced that Johnny Miller, the opinionated color analyst for NBC, would share the booth for the opener with Nick Faldo, the top color man at CBS. The move caused a decent amount of buzz in the golf media. Miller, a two-time major champion and one of the foremost challengers to Jack Nicklaus during the 1970s, has been with NBC since 1990. He is best known for his blunt, plain-spoken analysis, which has upset a few players over the years, but nonetheless has made NBC’s coverage entertaining and informative.
Faldo has six major championships to his credit and was one of the best players in the world from the late 1980s through the mid-1990s. He started his broadcasting career at ABC in 2004 and drew rave reviews for his subtle, British sense of humor as well as for interesting and insightful anecdotes from his playing days. Faldo joined CBS in 2007 and has also worked for the Golf Channel since that time. Because of their contrasting styles, the straight-ahead Miller and the sly, witty Faldo were expected to be quite the pair. Instead, the duo proved to be nothing special.
During Friday’s opening round coverage, it took only a few minutes for anchor Dan Hicks to try and engage them in a little banter. The initial attempt fell flat as Faldo and Miller each seemed to be trying way too hard to say something funny. From there, they spent the next few minutes stumbling over one another as if each were racing to get the first word in after the shot was hit. Following the first commercial break, things calmed down a little bit, however Miller provided most of the analysis with Faldo contributing little in the way of substance. There were still zero funny or insightful exchanges between the two.
After about 50 minutes, the network made what I thought to be a curious decision when they pulled Miller from the booth and left Faldo with back-up anchor Terry Gannon—who relieved Hicks. For those who watch golf consistently, such a move is not all that unusual, as networks frequently rotate on-air talent to keep everyone fresh during the 5-6 hour broadcast. However, I thought Golf Channel might try and leave Faldo and Miller together for a longer stretch of time in an effort to develop some sorely-lacking chemistry. Miller returned to the booth after an hour, but the spark viewers had been promised was still missing. The only attempt at any sort of byplay was made by Faldo when he awkwardly poked fun at Miller for the stack of notes he had in front of him (It should be noted Faldo came to the booth armed with little more than a coffee cup). After about 10 minutes together, Miller left the booth again, and would not return for yet another hour. For hour three, they were back together again—this time with Hicks—for the rest of the broadcast. Again, Hicks tried often to set them up, but again, nothing much came out of his effort.
Overall, the tandem of Faldo and Miller fell far short of the expectation level the Golf Channel created for its viewers. While there was no detectable animosity between the two, they just did not have anything resembling a spark. Their back-and-forth exchanges felt stiff and forced, which disrupted the flow of the broadcast. Both were at their best when they operated as they would for a normal broadcast—allowing their individual styles to flourish uninhibited. Fortunately for the Golf Channel, most fans were probably watching the NFL playoffs anyway. They will have a few more tournaments to tinker with the format.