Which tour player would make a great modern-day announcer?
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Golf is not so much our profession as it is our passion at Golf Digest, and often that passion translates to philosophical, analytical, ideological and, occasionally, idiotic workplace discussions about the game. During this time of pause in our sport (and in the world at large), we decided to take these office conversations online in hopes of providing a welcome distraction.
In our latest installment of the “Great Golf Debates,” our Daniel Rapaport and Stephen Hennessey tackle the question: Which modern players would make the best announcers?
Rapaport: Before we start hand-picking the guys to succeed Nick Faldo and Paul Azinger, let’s first agree on some criteria: What makes a good golf analyst? These are the intangibles:
Credibility. With all due respect—and remember I’m saying with all due respect, which means I can now say whatever I want (shoutout Ricky Bobby)—no one cares what you have to say unless you’ve had significant success in your career. Johnny Miller could talk trash about players because Johnny Miller was one of the best players in the world, as was Nick Faldo. You don’t have to have won a major to know about golf, but you have to have won a major for the general population to give a crap about what you know about golf.
Well-spoken. The ums, uhs, you knows, those need to be few and far between. And you have to provide that next-level insight, going deeper than just “that’s a good shot to that pin.” Tell us why that’s a good shot to that pin, tell us what your thought process was like when playing to pins like those, tell us that he’s been practicing that little draw to access those pins.
The cajones to be honest. SO many golf broadcasters try to be as inoffensive as possible. What results is boring, vanilla television where all the guy does is talk about how good these guys are. We loved Johnny so much because he wasn’t afraid to rip into guys.
Not necessarily a pre-requisite, but a soothing voice/accent is a major plus. Faldo’s British, so that obviously helps a ton. Azinger has a smooth southern drawl. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the South African (Trevor Immelman) and Australian (Ian Baker-Finch) accents. Give me the option to listen to an American say something and a non-American, and nine times out of 10 I’m going with the non-American.
Hennessey: You left out a couple other things:
Quick wit. You need to think fast but cleverly. It’s one thing to be smart and articulate, but you need to not only arrive at your opinion but deliver it to a viewer quickly and succinctly. We want entertainment and insight. Delivered within seconds. Old golf writers like Henry Longhurst and Dan Jenkins were great at this. It’s a lot easier to craft a tweet, taking minutes to do so. You’re live on a broadcast: Can you deliver?
And probably most importantly, how about some things to avoid:
Repeating yourself. There’s nothing worse than verbal ramblings on air. You know it when you hear it: The same point uttered over and over. It’s a sign of not having anything interesting to say. Announcers needs to be observant and able to contextualize things, but perhaps most importantly, they should cognizant of when not to talk … or not to talk too much.
Talking over a great moment. The best announcers say they want to let moments have air. Think about Verne Lundquist’s ‘Yes, sir!’ call of Jack Nicklaus’ putt on 17 at the ’86 Masters. Or his call of Tiger’s chip-in at the ’05 Masters. He made his call, then the viewer soaks in the moment with the crowds as Lundquist stayed silent. Dan Hicks is great at this as well. And notice how Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo let the moment live as Tiger walked off the 18th green after his Masters victory last year. Any new announcer needs to be confident enough not to feel the need to fill the air with commentary when a significant moment presents itself.
OK, let’s get off our soap box. So who can we see from today’s players being good golf announcers:
The first I’d propose is Zach Johnson. His interviews are usually very interesting. He’s a very introspective, intelligent person. He also understands the analytical part of the game. ZJ was one of the first tour pros to embrace the statistical and data revolution in golf. The Iowan doesn’t waste words, either. He’ll make his points, then he’s onto his next one. Like I said, we can’t stand folks who repeat themselves. He’s also got a sneaky sense of humor. I know, you might not think of him as a funny guy. But he can laugh at himself and is self-effacing, which typically makes someone likable.
And like you said, Danny, the credentials. Well, we’re talking about a two-time major champ at St. Andrews and Augusta. And someone who’s made more than $45 million in on-course earnings alone in his career. We know he doesn’t need the money, but if he wants to stay active when he retires, we’ll hope he considers the broadcast booth. He’d be rather good.
One more name who’s in a lot of ways very different: Pat Perez. Double P will always tell it like it is. He might need a bit of a censor if he’s on network TV. But his stories and his insights are entertaining and pointed. He’d be a riot broadcasting golf. If there’s ever an uncensored, digital broadcast of live golf, we can think of nobody better than Pat Perez. He’d shine when he could drop a cuss word here and there. And fine, he’d still be worth a look if he needs to trim out the choice language. He has been good on Turner Sports – he did the Match with Tiger and Phil in November and was one of the lone highlights. And his SiriusXM shows are hilarious. I had a chance to interview Double P a few years back, and told him I wouldn’t take more than 15 minutes of his time. He and I ended up shooting the breeze for about 45 minutes. What a guy.
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Rapaport: Yes, Patty P (is that a thing?) certainly came to mind, but I’m afraid he doesn’t have the playing resume to be a serious contender to end up being the main guy for one of the main networks. Which, I suppose, is what we’re trying to find in this hypothetical think-piece. Another couple guys who would be great, but need a bunch more wins and a major before they’re in the discussion: Eddie Pepperell and Max Homa. Pepperell’s simply one of the funniest, most outlandish athletes in the world right now, though I’m not sure he could be trusted with a microphone, seeing as he pressed send on a certain tweet involving Jack Nicklaus and a sock. Homa is fun to listen to—he has a podcast with Fox Sports’ Shane Bacon—and the master at roasting people’s swings, so you have to think he’d have some fun with the Konica Minolta Bizhub Swing Vision camera, which is certainly not a thing anymore.
Now, from the More Accomplished File: How about Jordan Spieth? Obviously, long, long way to go before he’d be willing to consider such a thing, but he’s already basically giving us play-by-play with his constant self-talk and banter with his caddie, Michael Greller. Spieth is cerebral, he’s honest and he already has a unique perspective, having been crowned the next Tiger Woods before falling into a curious, concerning lull.
Another guy who I think could be fantastic is Adam Scott. He has the accent, and he has the looks. That much is for certain. He’s also one of the smarter players on Tour and one of the best quotes out there. My only concern is he’s rather serious, often teetering toward humorless, which is a non-starter for a broadcaster.
Hennessey: Spieth’s a great call. Cerebral and dead honest, even with himself and his recent struggles. Likable qualities, and I can see that translating to the booth. Like you said, we’re both confident his transition to broadcasting is decades away.
Pepperell could join Perez in the booth on some global, digital-first operation where they tell it like it is. That’d be laughs. Perez is much closer to calling it quits than Eddie P, so that’s a pipe dream.
Adam Scott would be cool. He’s as thoughtful as any tour pro I’ve heard speak. Geoff Ogilvy is in that same category, if not to an even stronger degree. He’s astute and enlightening on all aspects of golf. Plus he has the accent like his countryman Scotty. Ogilvy's done a little broadcasting for our sister company, GolfTV, but seeing him get more opportunities as he winds down playing would be a home-run call.
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Let's cap it off with one more possibility: Phil Mickelson. Phil fancies himself as the smartest guy in any room he’s in. He’s well-spoken, smart, and can be honest. He might need a bit of a filter, but he’s one of the most well-liked players of his generation. He’d be a hit in the booth. I’m not sure his retirement plans include announcing, but at the right price, maybe he could be convinced. Maybe we’d have a Bones and Phil reunion … how cool?
Rapaport: Yeah, of course Tiger and Phil were the first to come to mind. Watching Tiger dissect his final round of the Masters on that CBS re-run a couple weeks back was a fascinating peak into his incredible golf mind, though you do get the sense he wouldn't care enough about anyone else's play to stick around in a booth. That's just the kind of guy he is. Phil, on the other hand, he likes to talk and talk and talk, and likes it even more when people are listening. But if we're being honest, neither of those guys would ever take on the job. They certainly don't need the money, and they certainly won't want to be on the road 15-odd weeks a year well into their 50s and 60s. But yeah, definitely looking forward to having Tiger in the booth for a few holes during the 2046 Genesis Invitational.