Live on-course interviews are a penalty waiting to happen

Rory McIlroy, 2023 Masters,Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Network
Rory McIlroy, 2023 Masters,Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Network /

ESPN’s telecast of Thursday’s play at the Masters included a pair of innovative on-course interviews with players while they were engaged in competition.

The ESPN broadcast team interviewed Rory McIlroy while he was playing the par four 9th hole, and later interviewed Max Homa as he worked his way through the back nine.

It is similar in concept to recent steps taken by ESPN and other networks in other sports, interviewing competitors (or managers) in the heat of play. As usually rationalized by its advocates, the idea is to allow viewer-fans greater and real-time access to the thinking of the interviewed competitors.

Whatever one thinks of ESPN’s use of the technique – and whatever one thinks of the players’ willingness to make themselves available – in golf the innovation has one serious potential drawback for the network, and especially for the player.

It could lead to a round-crippling penalty.

Although such interviews seem harmless enough – indeed, they generally focus on such vapid topics as “how did it feel to…” – the rules of golf are strict on this point. A player may only receive advice from his caddie. Violation of the rule can carry a two-stroke penalty in medal play tournaments such as the Masters.

And of course, the rules are also strict on what constitutes advice. An interviewer’s comment along this line – “You’re hitting a nine? That’s interesting because other players have hit an eight” – would generally be interpreted as “advice.”

So would “Are you changing your strategy since there’s rain on the radar?”

Fortunately for the player, the advice rule is not so draconian that it would immediately punish the player for a commentator’s remark.

The rule does require the player, however, to affirmatively caution the interviewer against giving him what could be interpreted as advice, and failure to do that – probably by immediately terminating the interview – would bring down the two-stroke penalty.

It would also embarrass ESPN by making it part of the story. Something reputable journalists are trained not to allow happen.

During Thursday’s interviews with McIlroy and Homa;

The ESPN team – which included veteran players familiar with the game’s rules – managed to stop short of saying anything that could have been interpreted as giving advice to a player.

Particularly if you’re a player, however, it’s worth keeping in mind that stuff tends to happen when a hot mic is present, and that stuff is not always well planned.

Next. Thursday’s play was a clear win for the PGA against LIV. dark

It will be interesting to see whether ESPN announcer teams continue to pursue live on-course interviews with players. If so, it will be even more interesting to see how long it takes before somebody runs afoul of the “receiving advice” rule.