SportsCenter fans have probably noticed: golf has been getting plenty of airtime on ESPN’s nightly highlights show. This matters because -- like it or not -- SportsCenter sets the agenda for (American) sports water cooler chatter.
Insiders say the change is a result of golf fan Rob King taking over as SportsCenter’s managing editor, supported by no shortage of golf lovers on the team. Or, all of golf’s exciting new blood.
“It’s really simply a reaction to people’s interest,” says Scott Van Pelt, who kicks off a new nightly one-man-band SportsCenter Sept. 7. “The people out there winning -- Jason Day and Jordan Spieth -- are filling the Tiger vacuum quite nicely.”
Hired away from Golf Channel in 2001 as a “golf reporter,” Van Pelt has blossomed into arguably the worldwide leader’s most popular figure, especially now that Bill Simmons, Colin Cowherd and Keith Olbermann have all moved on. The combination of his genuine style, earnest take on serious issues and unforced sense of humor excelled on the syndicated radio SVP & Russillo radio show. While Van Pelt’s radio duties recently ended, many of the radio-show features will be part of the new SportsCenter. But with a midnight start time, a promised infusion of music from the likes of Trombone Shorty and a set meant to exude a cool vibe, will golf have a place in such a late night show?
“Just because I might like music and want it part of the show, it won’t impact what we cover,” says Van Pelt, who hosts SportsCenter from the Masters and was a hole announcer on ESPN’s Open Championship coverage. “Nothing about my sensibility and golf are opposed to each other. Golf fans should be happy to have a guy in the seat who has been to Quad Cities. I’ve been to Sugarloaf. I know the game, care about game and the people who play it, so it shouldn’t be a concern. In fact, quite the contrary. Hell, I’m friends with Jay Don Blake. That should tell you all need to know about the game’s place in my life.”
Van Pelt kindly took part in a rapid fire Q&A for GolfDigest.com.
Last round of you golf played? “Caves Valley a week ago”
Best golf course you’ve ever played? “Augusta National. I’d almost say Pine Valley but it was emasculating how hard it was.”
Best golf course you’d really like to play? “Cypress Point”
Is golf cool? “It can be. Cool is entirely dependent on a person that is involved. A trombone in my hands is useless. In Trombone Shorty’s hands, it’s cool. Visors and Sansabelts are not cool, but Jason Day and Jordan Spieth strutting their stuff? Cool.”
One thing you’d change about golf on television? “That we would be able to see all of it, all the time. We took so much grief at the Open Championship this year, you wouldn’t believe it. The day we came on 6 a.m. Eastern time, I looked at Twitter and the comments were incredible, suggesting it was a disgrace we weren’t on the air earlier, even though we were on 16 hours the day before. No one has done more coverage than what we did at the Open, but people still were pissed. I wanted to say, ‘Look, I’m sorry you weren’t able to see Ollie Schniederjans on the outward nine, I get it.’ ”
Golf in the Olympics? “I don’t like it. Golf has entirely too many of these events where, if you don’t participate, it’s a slight to your nation. The USA has to do it every year, and if you don’t or express some resistance, you’re seen as a traitor.”
Best SportsCenter anchor golfer? “John Buccigross. He’s very capable, a guy you expect to shoot in 70s when he tees it up.”
Worst SportsCenter anchor golfer? “Oh, I don’t know. I love my dear and late friend Stuart Scott. He dressed the part every time. But I told him you want to claim a 12, I’ll play you for every dollar. I always told him, you look like a scratch golfer and then you have to start playing.”
Favorite Open Championship venue: “St. Andrews. One of the coolest towns on earth. We went for the last time this year, and knowing that, we went out and ate dinner in town every night but one just so we could walk home, hear seagulls screeching and take in the town.”
Also This Week…
— Presidents Cup Captain’s picks! Believe it or not, these just got interesting, especially if Bill Haas doesn’t make his dad’s team on points and Nick Price wants to make a statement about South Korea’s insistence on military service for Sang-Moon Bae. Live Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET on Golf Channel.
— Arnold Palmer’s birthday celebration, a day early. The King turns 86 Thursday but due to tournament coverage, Golf Channel will celebrate on Wednesday with some gems, highlighted by a one-hour show at noon ET devoted to the 1960 Masters highlights. From there it’ll be Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf and a replay of the “Arnie” documentary, plus the “Arnie & Me” follow-up film.
— Inbee Park goes for the career Grand Slam now that the Evian Championship has been designated a major. She’s a former winner at the Evian when it wasn’t a major. Therefore the LPGA Tour calls this her quest for a Super Grand Slam. Whatever. If she wins, she’s no longer a legend-in-the-making. Golf Channel coverage begins Thursday from 5-8 a.m. ET, continues 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. The weekend features a 6:30 a.m. ET start while Sunday includes windows on Golf Channel and NBC.
— The Web.com Tour Finals start with the Hotel Fitness Championship from 3-6 pm ET Thursday to Sunday at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Sycamore Hills. You can take a quick tour here courtesy of Stracka.
-- The Walker Cup starts Saturday, Sept. 12 from Royal Lytham & St. Annes. ESPN will be sharing the BBC’s coverage on ESPN3, 9 a.m, ET to 1:30 pm ET Saturday. Sunday’s singles play between the United States and Great Britain & Ireland team starts at 8:30 a.m.
An ESPN2 highlights show hosted by Andy North and Dottie Pepper will air Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Royal Lytham & St. Annes is best known as the place where Seve got a drop from a car en route to winning. Thanks to YouTube, you can watch the entire exchange here:
High on the cool scale is Royal Lytham & St. Annes’ clubhouse, which will definitely be off-limits this week except to members and the two Walker Cup teams.
Thankfully, however, Cara Robinson went inside the last time the Open was played there in 2012 and you can see some of the memorabilia as well as highlights from Ernie Els’ win there.