June 9, 2008

The Angry Golfer

Chris Berman's shtick on ESPN is too much to bear

It's not the 93-degree heat, the 30-minute ride on the media shuttle or the five-inch rough, which makes walking the golf course a bit like doing battle with my neighbor's lawn. It's not the tiresome bogeyfest, the threat of an 18-hole Monday playoff or the USGA's heavy-handed stamp on the competitive element. All those things I can live with. All are part of the program at the U.S. Open.

But Chris Berman? He's part of the program, too. In ESPN's 18 hours of Thursday-Friday coverage, maybe half will be anchored by a rumblin', bumblin', stumblin' earsore whose knowledge of pro golf is either severely impaired or on extended vacation. The nicknames. The clichés. The thousands of words spoken without a gram of true insight.

Isn't this the same network that employs Mike Tirico, whose polish and knowledge suggest he was born with a microphone clipped to his lapel? Tirico handled the first two rounds of the Masters for ESPN. Is he doing pay-per-view from Torrey Pines? Is it less than $100 per hour? Where do I sign up?

I read that Berman views himself as sort of an everyman this week, telling the San Diego Union-Tribune, "I'm trying to be me and have a good time with it as someone who's an avid follower of the game, like most of the audience. A 16 handicap, give or take, not a 3 or a scratch." Some attempts at logic are frightening; others defy the principles of credibility that defend TV's role as society's most powerful medium.

Berman's perspective captures the worst of both worlds. It's not that a 16 handicap shouldn't do live TV at the Open. Tirico isn't much of a golfer—he's too busy grinding over a stack of notes to shoot 73. With Berman, the five layers of shtick seem to camouflage a lack of preparation, proof that some disguises are better than others.