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Troubled Times at CBS
Changes rock the premier golf network
Uneasy lies the crown on CBS, long considered the leader in televised golf, as it opens its season this week at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. The trouble began when, soon after the firing of Ben Wright, Dave Kenin, the president of CBS Sports, reportedly asked longtime executive producer Frank Chirkinian to step down. Jim Nantz, the CBS wunderkind who anchors the golf telecasts, was so upset by Kenin's mandate that he considered quitting. Nantz was pacified only after Chirkinian salvaged his job through a face-saving agreement with Kenin to work eight events this year, including the Masters and the PGA. A likely candidate to replace Chirkinian is Lance Barrow, currently a CBS producer.
Change seems to have come all at once to the network, which once had the most stable team in golf broadcasting. Pat Summer-all left to join Fox early in the 1994 season. Then Gary McCord was banned from Masters telecasts after complaints from tournament officials. Next, Ken Venturi announced that he would retire after the 1997 season. Finally, Wright was fired after he was quoted as making sexist remarks about the LPGA.
Behind the scenes, a group of aspiring producers and directors allegedly was plotting to overthrow the 69-year-old Chirkinian, who has directed CBS's golf coverage for 38 years. And all the while, the network has been looking over its shoulder at hard-charging NBC, which, with a vastly improved lineup and the rights to the U.S. Open and the Ryder Cup, is challenging CBS for supremacy.
While Kenin moonwalked away from any culpability in bringing down Chirkinian, the man they call the Ayatollah staunchly stood by his team and his network, as usual. "We are all professionals, we still have the best crew in television, and in our estimation we are still the Number 1 network in golf—and we plan to stay there," Chirkinian says. "This is a mere glitch in our lives."
Battle of the Bands
The most touted new ball in golf is the HP2 Tour by Titleist. Trouble is, under new testing procedures approved for 1997 by the USGA, the ball could be ruled illegal, and if that happens, look for fur to fly between the giant manufacturer and golf's governing body. Much like the notorious square-grooves case involving Ping irons in the late '80s, this dispute revolves around a technical point understood by few outside the industry: the "launch angle" of golf balls. Titleist takes the position that it has been blindsided by the changes endorsed by the association's Ball and Implements Committee and is talking tough.
"Who the hell and where is the Ball and Implements Committee that has taken it upon itself to decide how this $6 billion industry and its internal affairs should be conducted?" thundered Titleist president Wally Uihlein. USGA technical director Frank Thomas, who was on the receiving end of such sentiments during a meeting with Uihlein a few weeks ago, responded by saying that Titleist is overreacting.