Letter from EuropeFebruary 14, 2010

Tuned Out

Television coverage of the PGA Tour in the U.S. leaves much to be desired

J.B. Holmes' pre-shot routine can be difficult to watch.

J.B. Holmes' pre-shot routine can be difficult to watch.

Back in the late 1980s and early 90s, when I was resident in the United States, I would never watch golf live on television. Instead, I taped the telecasts and viewed them later, so that I could zap through the interminable advertisements that seemed to pop up every few seconds and after every second shot.

I was reminded of those far-off days on Sunday evening when, like every other golf fan in the UK, I settled down to take in the final round of what I still call "the Crosby" on Sky Television. For those of you who have never spent time on this side of the pond, the satellite channel shows the CBS pictures and takes the CBS commentary but has its own host and analysts in a London studio. The role of said team is to fill in the gaps when the poor unfortunate US audience is either being sold a product they likely don't want or is being informed as to the content of the upcoming "60 Minutes."

Which brings me to my point. Host David Livingston, former European Tour pro Mark Roe and coach Denis Pugh certainly earned their cash on Sunday night. Indeed, it seemed like they were never off the screen, such was the volume of commercial activity on CBS. At one point, Livingston was moved to comment: "They're (CBS) back at last! If the last half hour has been torture for you, you have no idea what is has been like for us!"

Not surprisingly, the Sky switchboard was lit up like the Christmas lights on London's Oxford Street with seemingly hundreds of soon-to-be former viewers complaining that the show was basically unwatchable. What made it worse apparently, was the sizeable gap between the end of the Golf Channel telecast and the beginning of the forever-tedious introductions of the terribly self-important CBS commentary team. During that lengthy hiatus, Livingston, Pugh and Roe were left to babble endlessly about subjects with ever more tenuous links to the event we were supposed to be watching. They did a pretty good job on that front, but that is hardly the point.

For those of you stateside who are wondering why any of this matters, the explanation is simple: these days everything matters. In this economic climate and at a time when even the almighty PGA Tour is looking outside the US for places to play and money to play for, alienating potential fans/customers from any part of the globe is nothing short of lunacy.

That is especially true when the solution is so simple. One of the shots we Brits missed seeing live on Sunday night was eventual champion Dustin Johnson's brilliant approach to the par-5 sixth green. But we were able to watch it later, on tape. Even though CBS wasn't actually on air, clearly its people were still working. So why not let those of us who can't watch the incredibly important basketball game between two obscure "academic" institutions see the golf as it happens? From this distance, that would seem to be a no-brainer surely?

The biggest shame of all, of course, was that the tournament itself was eminently watchable and interesting and provided more than a few talking points. There was the continuing rise of Johnson, who may be the second-best 25-year old golfer in the world at the moment (a clue: the man ahead of him is a German). There was a fascinating debate to be had over the obviously questionable set-up of the par-5 14th green, scene of two quadruple bogeys in the space of 15 minutes. And, sadly, there was further evidence that JB Holmes is the owner of the most irritating and interminable pre-shot routine in the history of professional golf.

On the subject of that 14th green, the so-called commentary from a distinguished CBS team that includes the undoubted expertise of a six-time major champion, a former Open champion and a plethora of former tour players, it was remarkable to note that not one of them felt that the combination of a sloping, bumpy and speedy putting surface, the dodgy pin position and the ill-conceived and overly large run-off area to the left was, well, stupid.

Call me cynical, but it is hard to believe that at least one of those experts did not hold to the perfectly legitimate point of view that something was amiss. But, of course, we'll never know. Surely constrained by the usual sugar coated PGA-Tour demanded mantra that even informed and constructive criticism is a complete no-no, they were, to a man, left to flounder in an effort to explain why two very accomplished golfers were unable to chip balls onto a green that lay only a few yards away. The obvious question: "why is this not at least a little bit silly?" went unanswered.

Then there was the far from elementary Holmes. If only the commercial breaks could be timed to coincide with his shots. Then we might be able to watch and listen to the golf in relative serenity, minus the shouting in disgust at the screen. Wherever we are in the world.