TV on track: Announcers, technology make golf telecasts worth your time

I hope we all realize how good we’ve had it … and still have it … and WILL have it.

Television broadcasts of pro golf tournaments have improved dramatically over the years, and I consider the overall roster of announcers the best of any sport. I don’t think that will change with the retirement of Johnny Miller, whose final telecast for NBC was last weekend at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Miller wasn’t for everyone. His criticism could be sharp, and his critics suggested that he sometimes went too far.

He agrees with them. When he did a conference call recently, he was remarkably – and typically – self-effacing but shrugged it off by saying he was just being himself, adding:

“There has been quite a few of them that probably I shouldn’t have said. Unfortunately, people love it. I don’t say it to make people love it.”

But like him or not, you’ve got to admit that Miller made you want to listen – if nothing else than to hear what he might say next.

He’ll be replaced in the NBC booth by Paul Azinger, whom I consider very competent, interesting and funny.

That’s the thing. The telecasts across the networks have a lot of people like that. Their banter back and forth is as entertaining as the golf itself.

When I had time to take in the entire final-round CBS telecast of the Farmers Insurance Open  at Torrey Pines, I was struck by how fast the time went and how pleasant it was to bring all these people – mostly former pros – into my living room.

Golf’s king of the one-liner is Gary McCord, who is downright hilarious. I like announcers who are bright, perpetually “up” and find the good in whatever event they are covering without being a shill, and McCord certainly fits that description even though he tends to be awestruck about the ball-striking ability of today’s players. (Aren’t we all?)

Changes in recent years have made the telecasts even better. The shot-tracking technology has improved dramatically, and the CBS decision to hire Amanda Balionis as the post-round interviewer and statistics analyzer has worked out so well, the network is including the rising star in Sunday’s telecast of the Super Bowl.

Up and down the course at Torrey Pines, from the announcers in the towers to the ones trudging along the fairways, I felt informed, entertained and inspired. To me, it was an entertaining way to spend the afternoon.

I know that some people – even some golfers – will disagree. I’ll listen to their criticisms, but I have no time on that front for people who don’t play our great game. They’re not going to like golf on TV no matter how it’s presented because they can’t understand what it’s like to be out there.

That’s what Miller gave us. He wasn’t afraid to say someone choked. He didn’t hesitate to criticize someone’s swing or shot selection or demeanor.

As much as I enjoy McCord and announcers like him, it has been great to have the counterbalance in Miller. I hope Azinger will bring the same sense of “this is how it really is” to the NBC booth.

But one thing’s for sure: There are only two things better than watching golf on television: going to a big-time pro tournament and playing the game yourself.

There are still two California stops remaining on the West Coast Tour, at Pebble Beach and Los Angeles. Have the best of both worlds – go watch the pros and then see if you can apply what you learned by teeing it up as soon as possible afterward.

Or just keep watching them on TV. It’s a nice way to spend an afternoon.

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