Jon Wertheim is happy with today's roster of tennis broadcasters.
Chris Lewis reveals his All-Star team of golf announcers.
Best of the Rest
Richard Deitsch fills us in on the top announcers from a variety of sports.
Wanna see pens turn venomous? Just ask a golf writer to scribble down what he thinks of golf broadcasters. Never could you underestimate the weekly press-room hours that are spent ripping those hairdos to shreds. Ever see Tina Fey tear into actresses, celebutantes and playmates on Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update? You get the idea.
Why the rage? At bottom, of course, it's envy. More recognition, better pay, better hours, and the biggest plus of all: when you point a camera at him, Vijay never walks right by you, or tells you to go call his agent!
Seriously, most of us, given a moment to reflect, would hold our tongues. It's hard not to appreciate the talent it takes to be a golf announcer -- above all, the ability to think on your feet, and quickly fire off what needs to be said in a coherent fashion, or, inject a little humor into often dull proceedings. Rest assured, most golf writers hold our broadcast brethren in the highest esteem.
The All-Star Team
Unlike other sports, golf doesn't have 20 or 30 play-by-play/color man duos. We only have three, one for each major network. But supporting each pair is a gaggle of hole announcers and on-course reporters. That division of labor necessitates breaking up our all-star team into four categories.
Play-by-play man: Mike Tirico. NBC's Dan Hicks has never seemed like a golf guy. He probably suffers from being paired with Johnny Miller, the biggest figure in the business, but I can't remember Hicks ever contributing anything to a broadcast beside yardages and club selections. CBS's Jim Nantz and Tirico, for the most part, run a dead heat. Both are able fact-providers, work in a good deal of easy humor, and are up to the task at important moments. Nantz has shone primarily because of the way he's held up his colorless color guys, Ken Venturi and Lanny Wadkins. But Tirico seems much quicker on his feet, and less prone to cliché. And steering a rudderless crew like ABC's is no easy feat.
Color commentator: Johnny Miller. This one's about as close as a race between a Lambourghini and two tricycles. CBS's Lanny Wadkins is -- well, he's there, but that's about all. And who knows how many English teachers he's brought to tears with the way he murders the language. Because of Curtis Strange's departure, ABC has an empty seat. But after Nick Faldo's performance at the British Open, they should hire the man immediately.
Still, no one compares to Miller. TV folks aren't supposed to be critical of anything (notice how the Tour calls the networks "broadcast partners"), but Miller, thank heavens, never got the memo. No one else would ever think about saying that Craig Parry has a swing "that would make Ben Hogan puke." Because he never holds back, I love Miller even when he's dead wrong (if Adam Scott has "the best swing in golf right now," as Miller said at this year's Players Championship, Scott doesn't yank it left into the lake on the 72nd hole). And when Miller's right, he's almost sublime. Nobody would have had the insight or guts to say that Jean Van de Velde was "the only man in history ever to have a grandstand cost him a major championship," as Miller did during the 1999 Ryder Cup matches, a couple of months after the Frenchman's British Open swoon.
On-course announcer: CBS's David Feherty, hands down. I can't provide examples here, because there are too many to retain -- each week produces three or four emerald-coated pearls. My second man on the ground would be NBC's Roger Maltbie, if only because of his rapport with Miller, A close third would be Judy Rankin, the most even-tempered, honest, and unfailingly correct announcer in golf.
Hole announcers: Here CBS has a monopoly on quality, with Gary McCord, Peter Oosterhuis and Bobby Clampett. Granted, McCord is a bit of a yahoo, but no one's better at livening up Joel Edwards with a three-shot lead. A lot of people dislike Clampett because of his aw-shucks folksiness, but it's never bothered me. Oosterhuis is the great golf exemplar of the completely un-flashy broadcaster who also happens to be the sport's best-informed and most insightful. I won't go into ABC's and NBC's people because, frankly, the way CBS dominates the field, I can't remember who they are.
Best Roving Wit and Impending On-Air Catastrophe: ABC's Peter Allis: Allis is one of the most interesting people on all of television, because he's really two people: Good Peter Allis and Bad Peter Allis. Good Peter Allis is terrifically funny, in that innuendo-laden British way, like Eddie Izzard without the makeup and heels. But Allis doesn't just skirt the line -- sometimes he jumps about 23 feet across it, and that's what makes him Ben Wright Waiting to Happen. One fears it's only a matter of time before he says something too controversial, and gets heaved into the dustbin of golf broadcasting history.
Top 5 Calls/Trademark Lines
Sadly, what might be regarded as golf's best-ever calls get rebroadcast over and over on highlight shows and network promos, eventually rendering what was once remarkable unbearably dull. Think, for example, of Verne Lundquist's "Yes sir!" over Nicklaus' 20 on 16 at Augusta in 1986; or Nantz's "a win for the ages" after Tiger's 1997 Masters triumph (or, his "Vijay is for Victory" at Sahalee in 1998); or Strange's signature "He's got two chances, slim and none, and slim just left town."
That being the case, I'll review a couple of unforgettable (and un-rebroadcast-able) faux pas, and supplement them with a couple of lesser-remembered bon mots.
No. 1 and 2 of course, are McCord's infamous quips at the 1995 Masters. At one point McCord said the greens were so slick it seemed like they'd been "bikini-waxed," and topped that by saying the 17th green was playing so tough that there had to be "body bags" buried nearby in the trees. McCord was subsequently banned from Augusta for life.
No. 3 is a two-for-one: CBS's Wright's remarks that (a) "Lesbians in the sport hurt women's golf"; and (b) that "Women [golfers] are handicapped by having boobs."
No. 4 and 5, are from The Golf Channel. Brian Hewitt, during the weekend of the 2002 Ryder Cup, said that jokey and mustachioed but statesmanlike European captain Sam Torrance was like "a cross between Groucho Marx and Winston Churchill." The other requires some setting up. You'll recall Peter Kessler's old Bobby Jones panegyrics, and how he used to insist that Jones's U.S. and British Amateur wins should be considered major championship victories. Sometime in 2000, Tim Rosaforte, sitting on a panel with Kessler, tried to bring him back to earth. "Let's face it," Rosaforte said. "All Jones had to do to win the British Amateur was beat two sheep and a guy named Nigel."
Five Guys We'd Love to See in the Booth
In other sports, the retirement age is 40, at which point every ex-jock with a sense of humor tries on the headset. Golf's not like that, which is why any wish list of players we'd like to see as broadcasters is a dicey undertaking.
Take John Maginnes. The thirtysomething Carolinian journeyman is the funniest guy in golf, and has spent an event or two doing television, and splitting sides like no one else in the business. He's the only pro golfer I'd encourage to give the game up, only because I'd love to see him on TV.
Of other current players, shoot-from-the-hip guys like Chris DiMarco or Jerry Kelly would be great on TV. But they're far too young. Closer to being tempted would be Nick Price and Davis Love. Love would be a perfect fit for the ever-so-polite (except for Feherty and McCord) CBS crew.
The real reason to give this category some thought is ABC's current situation. Since Strange's departure, Corey Pavin and Paul Azinger have been given tryouts as lead color men. While each did a respectable job, neither locked it down. Faldo, in contrast, was gloriously glib at the British, and talked like he didn't need the job, which is what announcers should do.