There is a symbiotic relationship between images and words in Sky Sports’ coverage of this year’s Open Championship at Royal St George’s Golf Club.
The visuals of a picturesque Kent coast, enveloped in brilliant sunshine and framed on one side by a sparkling sea, are accompanied by a warm, supportive soundtrack, the words of the commentators gently lapping at the feet of the players.
There’s almost a parental concern in the tone of the effusions from the comment box to the point where former professional golfers talk to players’ golf balls; ‘Get down, stay there, etc. . . ‘ A rule of thumb when playing with a professional golfer is to never make a comment about your golf ball in flight, no matter how supportive. This ban also applies to caddies in some cases, depending on their player.
It is remarkable when former professionals eagerly adopt a “waking culture” as soon as they get their hands on a microphone. The supportive instincts and tone of voice displace all others. Any criticism is based on inclination, especially when it comes to the favored sons.
This was arguably best illustrated during Rory McIlroy’s upside-down lap on Saturday, when commentators tried superlative after superlative to describe his golf as he accelerated into the corner at four under par, not so tempting but fate completely ignore it.
In the eagerness to trumpet a renaissance there was an unconcerned disregard for the facts; the Northern Irish golfer is still working on swing changes, playing on a course where capricious jumps are the order of the day, and when hunting pins to get a considerable distance from the front runners he has had to deal with the ruthlessness of a dog chasing cars , To take risks.
McIlroy succumbed, overran on the way home to a point on the 14th when he intermittently lost his temper and lost a bat for a split second. It was barely registered on the ‘savory’ scale. But the cameras see everyone.
This truism made for an amusing moment when golf gentleman Bryson deChambeau played the par 5 seventh hole during his third round. His journey led into thigh-high fescue grass, an outback that would allow the pygmy tribe to move out of the Congo Basin while remaining hidden from prying eyes.
The American found not only his ball, but also a drain cover that affected his posture and thus led to relief. After initially holding a wedge of sand in hand, he dropped, grabbed a hybrid, and tried to restart his ball, but instead hooked it straight to the left.
DeChambeau has taken some flickering in the past because he has been seen hesitant to yell “up front” after a bad shot; he shouted it repeatedly with the zeal of a repentant preacher.
Sky Sports’ commitment to air 14 hours of coverage Thursday and Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. was a monumental undertaking and there was much to admire in the diverse coverage, punctuated by offbeat features and commentary pointing to an expanded cast of contributors.
One key was to dive in and out and listen without actually listening to what was being said. Otherwise the information was a bit repetitive. Did you know, for example, that Louis Oosthuizen is the best putter on the PGA Tour, that Shane Lowry has great hands, that Australian Cameron Smith is another great putter, or that Collin Morikawa is the best iron player in the world? They were trampled out a good 20 times during a game day, along with other factoids. Overexposure caused me pain in “my hole”, the American expression, another stimulus.
The peerage-to-footage ratio – a new statistical marker to measure the accumulated length of a player’s putts in a round – was divisible by two on Sky, Dame Laura Davies and Sir Nick Faldo, both of whom contributed to the narrative, though That is not the case in this column, sure that Davies’ assertion that “The instant you think of bogey if you get lost on this course” meant just that, as it is a brittle mindset for someone into the sport lives.
Without wanting to be narrow-minded, Paul McGinley’s observations generally provided context and content, while Nick Dougherty has become a very polished and excellently listenable station. Humor is an important component and is generously donated by Wayne ‘Radar’ Riley and Rich Beem, an antidote to the occasional sugary sweet deference.
But as a package there are few who would argue with what Sky Sports has produced; There was something behind the mic that suits most style and substance preferences.