Fox bought the rights to the U.S. Open for the next 12 years. So there is at least one bright spot here: they have to get better at broadcasting golf, because they paid a large amount of money for it, between this and several other PGA events. When it comes to sports, Fox buys things, doesn’t read the manual, and then figures out the whole operation while the vehicle is in motion. Sometimes they hit a few parked cars as they get going, and the 2015 U.S. Open will just have to go as another entry on the accident report.
They do have some cool stuff they can legitimately say worked, like the ball tracker, which helps the 97 percent of the population who cannot spot a white ball in flight against a light blue sky. Greg Norman was pretty good, even if he struggled to say the word “otolith,” and even if half that pretty-goodness is his accent. Americans cannot resist sports commentary with an accent, particularly if they’re convinced that accent instantly conveys some set of superior character attributes.*
*Australian accent hints: tougher, more chill than Americans, and possibly capable of effortlessly surviving months in a desert climate at the drop of a hat.
The rest is and was bad. Even the casual sports omnivore dropping in on a slow weekend could tell that this was bad TV made badly and at great expense. Fox missed big shots, or was late to them. They showed a shockingly low number of actual live golf shots relative to their peers. They ran an information-poor broadcast that often missed player ID and score, and at one point lost their leaderboard graphics package entirely. Cameras had difficulty tracking the ball, announcers ran together and over each other, and interviews ranged from the mundane to the bizarre. Somehow, on a seaside course with adjacent mountain scenery, the 2015 U.S. Open felt like watching golf through a spyglass.
It was fundamentally bad TV for the following reasons.
One: Televised golf is one of the hardest sporting events to pull off with anything resembling competence. It takes place in staggered series across 18 holes with at least one camera on each hole, and multiple cameras on most. For the TV production geek looking up at 70 monitors of green grass, it doesn’t mean just paying attention to two teams. It means knitting all that together into a live narrative as it’s happening, and doing it all from the production truck with at least eight different people in your ear and 18 different stories going on at once.
The phrase “shuttle launch” is used a lot, and with reason. If you do it right, everything ends up floating along nicely and with a deceptive lack of effort. Do it wrong, though, and everything blows up on the launchpad.
Two: A lack of chemistry and flight hours together in the booth and production truck. It’s not like Mark Loomis, the producer of Fox’s U.S. Open coverage, hasn’t done this before. Loomis worked with ABC/ESPN on three of the four majors prior to coming to Fox, and was hired especially for this. But unlike those ABC/ESPN crews or CBS’ Masters team, which have been working together in some variation for 15 or 20 years, Fox’s team doesn’t have this familiarity. They don’t know the quirks of each other’s timing, and haven’t developed the kind of rhythm that veteran crews have. That kind of inexperience might not be totally noticeable on something like a football broadcast. In something as intricate as televised golf, though, a couple of hitches in the rope make big knots with a quickness.