U.S. Open 2019: Fox Sports deserves credit for its improvement and quieting (for the most part) its critics
The sound of silence was welcome, notwithstanding the Simon and Garfunkel song of that name that seemingly played on a loop via the recurring Volkswagen commercial that aired on Fox Sports’ telecast of the U.S. Open last week.
The sound of silence to which we’re referring here is the lack of substantive noise about Fox Sports, save for those on Twitter predisposed to disliking Fox doing golf (or possibly anything else), or those with an unfounded aversion to its anchor Joe Buck.
From its regrettable, albeit somewhat understandable, debut as the network of the USGA in its U.S. Open telecast in 2015, Fox has buffed and polished its product to a sheen and it's perceived deficiencies are no longer an issue.
Of course, some would suggest there was only one way it could go. “Fox Makes Its Debut at the Open, and at Times It Seems Like an Amateur,” the New York Times’ headline on Richard Sandomir’s analysis of its coverage from Chambers Bay said.
Growing pains were expected. “It was always going to be a matter of time,” Fox’s producer Mark Loomis told New York’s Newsday a year ago, on the eve of the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. “I said when we started that we’d be better in 2016 than we were in 2015 and we’d be better in 2017. I think every year we’ll just continue to get better and now people are familiar with Joe Buck and Paul Azinger, Curtis Strange, and all of our people, and it starts to become more familiar.”
Loomis was right. In 2015, it was readily apparent that Greg Norman was miscast as an analyst, Holly Sonders as an interviewer and Curt Menefee as a golf studio host. None are part of the Fox Sports golf team any longer.
Azinger, who replaced Norman, is the best tournament analyst, hence his two jobs now. He also is NBC’s analyst, having replaced Johnny Miller, who retired.
Fox has two quality sets of anchor/analyst — Buck and Azinger and Shane Bacon and Brad Faxon. Bacon has been a pleasant surprise in his growing role on Fox broadcasts of its various USGA events. He is knowledgable and refreshingly understated, and he has a great rapport with Faxon, whom Sandomir in that 2015 analysis said has “significant potential as a commentator.”
For the record, Faxon already had established his commentator bonafides, in a previous stint with NBC.
Meanwhile, Fox’s graphics, its shot tracer and arrows showing where the pin is, are the standard. Its use of golf course architect Gil Hanse has been informative and entertaining, and its on-course reporters — Strange, Steve Flesch, Brett Quigley and Ken Browne — are competent and unobtrusive.
And on Sunday, with Brooks Koepka on the 16th green and Gary Woodland on the 15th hole, the drama having intensified, a bonus: Fox went commercial free the rest of the way, courtesy of Rolex.
Then there was this, from Azinger, on Woodland’s fortitude: “That’s just a great mind, honestly. He focused on what he wanted to have happen, not what he was afraid would happen. That’a product of having a strong mind. When we zoomed into his fingers on 16 they were completely still. There was no quiver. These players in this generation, they don’t choke with their hands or they’d never get to this place. They choke with their head. There was none of that with Gary Woodland today.”
Is there another analyst that would have come up with something remotely similar?
If there was one disappointment it was that Azinger did not attempt to pronounce Louis Oosthuizen’s last name. At the 2010 British Open, while working for ESPN, Azinger tripped over the name several times and on that Sunday called him pronounced it “Oosten-hazen.”
On this Sunday, with Oosthuizen on the leader board, he took the safe route. He called him “Oostie.”