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Voices

Uncertainty with NBC’s golf broadcast team raises question: Who’ll be the lead analyst at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst?

April 26, 2024
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Dom Furore

Sometime in early March, Sam Flood, the executive producer and president of production at NBC Sports, told a few colleagues he needed to shake up the network’s golf coverage. Undoubtedly, eyes must have been rolling. Because the last thing NBC’s golf production needed was for Flood to shake things up further.

The duration of an earthquake can range from a few seconds to several minutes, but the tremors and aftershocks that have been rattling Peacock golf have lasted a few years now. And the foundation is weakening to the point where the network, gearing up for the Olympic Games this summer, does not appear ready for one of its premier golf events, the 124th U.S. Open in June at Pinehurst.

Cost-cutting moves in sports production aren’t always noticeable. One fewer graphic here or the loss of a speed camera or editing machine there aren’t necessarily going to diminish coverage appreciably in the eyes of most home viewers. The production team knows the difference, however, and many of them at NBC and Golf Channel (which operate jointly under the Comcast banner) can’t believe what little has been left at the disposal of the brilliant long-time golf producer Tommy Roy. Every week during NBC’s recent run of events in Florida and Texas something else was being hacked as golf ratings flagged. The penny pinching shouldn't be surprising when the outlet opted to produce coverage of the 44th Ryder Cup in Rome—only one of the two most popular golf events in the world aside from the Masters—from Stamford, Conn.

One staffer joked that “pretty soon, we’re going to just do artist’s renditions of coverage as opposed to showing actual shots with a camera.”

Now, do you know what viewers do notice? Besides, that is, too many commercials. Faces and voices. The talent lineup. And this is where the shifting has been seismic. And mystifying.

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Curt Byrum and Kevin Kisner shared the booth with Dan Hicks at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January.

Lead analyst Paul Azinger was cut loose last November when the former PGA champion, through his agent, countered on an underwhelming one-year extension not knowing it was a take-it-or-leave-it offer. But Azinger, who along with Johnny Miller are the only men to sit in the analyst chair since 1990, was only the latest scalp.

The year before that, veterans Roger Maltbie and Gary Koch learned their contracts would not be renewed. Maltbie actually had one foot out the door before that, but Jim “Bones” Mackay returned to the caddie ranks with Justin Thomas in late 2021, leaving NBC short an on-course reporter. The bench got even thinner when major winners David Duval and Justin Leonard resumed their playing careers on the PGA Tour Champions and Notah Begay III cut back his TV commitment to also accommodate senior golf. Meanwhile, Peter Jacobsen, a semi-regular contributor, rarely gets called upon anymore.

And then there was the departure of popular quipster David Feherty, who walked out of the NBC compound at St. Andrews following the 2022 Open Championship and promptly jumped onto the LIV Golf League broadcast team. “David was the canary in the coal mine,” said one former colleague. “He left in the middle of his contract. Heck, it was in the middle of the year! And NBC didn’t lift a finger to keep him. It was just another number they could move off the ledger.”

It's worth noting that Feherty, Azinger, Maltbie and Koch were the four highest-paid announcers.

Repeated requests to interview Flood were denied. Via text, Roy took a pass on personnel questions.

All of this wouldn’t necessarily indicate disarray were it not for Flood’s throw-it-against-the-wall approach to finding Azinger’s replacement. In house, Begay, Brandel Chamblee, Paul McGinley and Smylie Kaufman have taken turns in the hot seat, while Kevin Kisner and Luke Donald have been given tryouts. Mackay, still on the hook contractually for a few events this year, had to slide in at the Vidanta Mexican Open when Kisner and Geoff Ogilvy weren’t available. With Brad Faxon becoming a staple in the 18th hole tower, the network has transitioned to a four-man setup. There is little elbow room, let alone a sense of continuity, though host Dan Hicks, in the last year of his contract, Terry Gannon and Steve Sands hold things together. True pros.

In a reflection of growing desperation, Flood managed to lure Maltbie and Koch back for the opening two days of coverage of the Players. The rest of the NBC team seemed buoyed by their presence, but, oddly, neither was asked to stay the weekend.

Having gone through all the trial and error—and don’t even ask how those PGA Tour events felt about their involuntary involvement in the experiments—sources at the network say NBC is no closer to finding a successor to Azinger. The clock is ticking. The U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 that begins on June 13 fast approaches. A USGA spokesperson said an announcement on coverage plans—specifically who will be sitting in the lead analyst chair—will be made in a few weeks at U.S. Open media day. Which might be another way of saying NBC has yet to be forthcoming with answers.

Imagine CBS Sports officials telling Masters chairman Fred Ridley seven weeks out that they’ll get back to him on their broadcast lineup.

What are NBC’s options? Well, Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open champion, apparently is out; he recently declined an offer, though perhaps in the interim NBC can talk him into it. Kisner probably isn’t an option after his history of criticism of the USGA. Donald at least brings decent credentials as a former World No. 1. Chamblee and McGinley are Golf Channel heavyweights on the “Live From” set. No point in weakening that program.

That leaves Faxon as perhaps the best viable alternative. Plus, he’s already on board. Zero additional overhead. Meanwhile, Maltbie and Koch reportedly will make an encore appearance at Pinehurst, supposedly for all four days this time. Is Mackay, once again out of the caddie ranks, also returning? He could not be reached for comment, but sources say he has been asked to further buttress the ground game, where the reliable Curt Byrum also can help out if he’s not calling holes.

The USGA transferred its broadcast rights from Fox to NBC/Golf Channel at the height of the pandemic in 2020 after Fox submitted a stunning $1.1 billion bid that began in 2015. That deal ended a partnership dating back to 1994, when NBC was able to pry the USGA rights from ABC, thanks largely to Roy being at the controls, then-president Dick Ebersol committing the resources, and former U.S. Open winner Miller, brutally honest and a passionate champion of the USGA, serving as the voice of the telecasts.

The current deal, on which Fox still pays 30 percent, expires in 2026. The exclusive negotiating period between the USGA and Comcast begins later this year and then is thrown open in ’25 if the sides can’t come to an agreement. Golf viewers would be right to ask how much Flood even cares.

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Editor's Note

Subsequent to the publication of this story, NBC Sports officials reached out to Golf Digest asking to respond to various points detailed in the piece. They said that the commitment of Sam Flood, executive producer and president, production, at NBC Sports, and the network to golf and its golf telecasts has not changed and remains a priority. An NBC Sports spokesperson acknowledged that budgets for the broadcasts of various PGA Tour events that aired earlier in 2024 were adjusted based off anticipated viewership, with any reductions in resources made only to early week telecasts. But NBC officials say they have added assets and technology to weekend coverage at every PGA Tour tournament the network has televised that it also aired last year, and that at its biggest events, such as the Players Championship, they have made significant enhancements to the broadcasts.

As for conversations between NBC and the USGA regarding the broadcast of next month’s U.S. Open, NBC officials say they have been in regular discussions throughout 2024 with key stakeholders at the USGA, including CEO Mike Whan, about their plans for coverage from Pinehurst. Jon Podany, USGA chief commercial officer, confirmed that Flood and lead golf producer Tommy Roy presented to the governing body the broadcast team it intended to use for the U.S. Open during an April 9 meeting.

On May 6 at U.S. Open Media Day, NBC and the USGA publicly revealed the commentary team at Pinehurst will include Dan Hicks and Brandel Chamblee working as play-by-play and analyst on even-numbered holes and Mike Tirico and Brad Faxon together for odd-number holes. Roger Maltbie and Gary Koch will be back for all four rounds of coverage, Maltbie as an on-course reporter and Koch as a hole commentator.