Jaime DiazJanuary 18, 2016

Fox Sports' best options for replacing Greg Norman? Here are five choices

With Greg Norman out at Fox, there’s a rare and intriguing opening for one of the most coveted, influential, and personally connected-to-golfers jobs in the game: lead analyst on major championship golf telecasts. And in this election season, I’d like to propose a list of candidates.

Let’s start with a basic question. What do we want in a lead analyst/commentator? I’d say five things:

  • Golf knowledge, the deeper the better.

  • First hand experience, preferably including having won the major championship being covered, ideally multiple times. Along with a corresponding willingness and ability to pull generously from career-wide experiences to recount the kind of anecdotes that bring a deeper understanding to big moments.

  • Candor, for which the simplest litmus test would be describing a badly pulled miss from six feet not as a safe, protect-the-player-misread, but as a nervous stroke.

  • Original thinking, facilitated by intuition and spontaneity, and demonstrates the confidence and courage to posit something fresh.

  • A pleasing delivery, with humor as the ultimate bonus, but which is ultimately measured by concision, a conversational style that includes the ability to converse, and a genuine empathy for the difficulty of competitive golf.

In the booth, Peter Alliss has always been the classic five-tool commentator. The fact that he remains so good at age 84 proves the immense storehouse of talent he’s had to draw from.

According to the above criteria, here are candidates I’d like to see considered for the Fox job.

1. Paul Azinger

Knows the game, knows the players, knows the audience, and most importantly, knows his own mind. By nature an endlessly curious student, his inclination to “go deep” is balanced by an innate gift for making a complicated thing understandable. His youthful ease with locker room jargon lets the audience feel they are being brought inside the ropes, but being de facto retired from competition gives him a crucial detachment. He’s done the job well, particularly in bringing out the best in Nick Faldo during their tag-team time at ABC. The reason he was a great Ryder Cup captain was his energy, infectious sense of fun and battle-tested wisdom. All that works wonderfully in the tower.

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2. Brandel Chamblee

Always elevates the conversation. Loves to access history, his own experience as a player, and his desire to surprise with a new insight or premise own ego to shape the latest narrative. On Golf Channel, he swings for home runs, which can cause some strikeouts that a wonky audience tolerates, but could undermine credibility on a bigger stage. The big question, would his style – which can feature well-researched and-constructed but occasionally pedantic rants that don’t encourage discourse - wear well?

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3. Jack Nicklaus

Ultimate credibility. In the tradition of Bobby Jones, his willingness to open his unmatched competitive mind and position as GOAT makes him the game’s most compelling explainer. He’s always enjoyed give and take interview sessions with the media, and that much more as he grown older. The question is, at age 76, has his energy and most crucially, his interest, waned to the point that the job would be a chore. But if he were called in only for the U.S. Open broadcast, Nicklaus would do what he always does in big moments – come through.

4. Tiger Woods

Has always been at his most comfortable and very best when talking about golf, which until further notice, remains his lifeblood. We got a strong indication of that last month during his perceptive stint in the booth at the Hero Challenge, which occurred in the midst of an injury-induced transitional public moment when he showed a willingness to slip into elder statesman mode. A Woods freed from his self-imposed competitive straightjacket commands the same authority and attention as Nicklaus. It’s highly doubtful he is ready for such a move yet, but Woods has been full of surprises lately.

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5. Hale Irwin

Surely a surprise choice, but he’s one of the smartest, most insightful figures ever to play the game, and among the most articulate. His image as a taciturn grinder who doesn’t endear himself to those he is paired with has left him with a hard man image, but the two different arenas – course and 18th hole tower - are apples and oranges. Irwin the ferociously competitive ex-defensive back knew what worked best for him as a player, but (perhaps after a cooling-off period) he wasn’t that person in an interview. That he was always a lone wolf who accepted a lack of closeness to his peers as the price of winning actually works for him, because Irwin would not succumb to the brotherhood of the locker room that waters down the work of other analysts. And for Fox and the USGA, those three U.S. Open and two U.S. Senior Open titles make a nice match.

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Let the selection process begin.