NBC’s Amateurish U.S. Open Telecast

Rory McIlroy, 123rd U.S. Open,(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy, 123rd U.S. Open,(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images) /

As much golf as NBC televises over the course of a season, you’d think they’d know how to present a major championship to the viewing public.

Yet this past weekend’s presentation of the U.S. Open was in several vital ways an unmitigated disaster.

We’re not talking only about Paul Azinger misdiagnosing Wyndham Clark’s recovery shot. We’re not talking about commercial interruptions, or the decision to relegate most of the first two days’ coverage to subsidiary networks.

We’re talking about major problems with basic stuff…like audio.

If you watched the dramatic conclusion of Clark’s one-stroke victory Sunday night, and notably if you watched Clark’s walk up the 18th fairway toward a two-putt with destiny, you know that it was impossible to hear what lead announcer Dan Hicks was saying.

Plainly Hicks was talking; you could make out his voice through the din of the crowd. But as to exactly what Hicks was talking about…that was anybody’s guess. The background noise literally drowned out the commentary.

The confused effect was all the more puzzling because golf crowds are notoriously deferential – that is to say quiet — once action is taking place. So where was all this background noise coming from while Rickie Fowler lined up his chip from the greenside rough, or when Clark lined up his clinching lag putt?

It was as if the network’s sound engineers had put the announce booth – or at least its microphones –  near a hot dog stand, or possibly in the room of a very large watch party. For much of the critical final five minutes of play, anything said by a person being paid to say it was largely inaudible.

Those final few moments represented the worst of NBC’s audio issues, but they were not the only bad moments. Rules interpretation questions at varying points during the day encountered the same problems.

Those were the most technical points of the coverage, the ones where clarity would be most important, yet they too were drowned out by background chatter.

Other aspects also merited criticism, not least the scheduling of Saturday’s finish.

The final group, Fowler and Clark, started well into the late afternoon in Los Angeles Saturday, which meant they finished in what could legitimately be described as gathering darkness. Make no mistake about it, that’s the network’s call; they’re paying the rights fee and they call the scheduling tune.

In this case, the point was to maximize coverage by NBC in prime time hours.

When the network can charge the largest commercial fees. By ceding that right to the network and accepting the larger rights fees that accompanied it, the USGA abetted the decision.

And it was a bad one because it probably violated the first rule of media coverage: don’t do anything affecting the outcome. Making the leaders finish in the dark may —  likely did – impact the outcome, given that Fowler missed a relatively short putt on the 18th, costing him the outright lead.

There’s obviously no guarantee that had he been able to read that same putt in more reasonable lighting conditions Fowler would have made it. But Clark, for one, thought he would have…and blasted NBC for getting in the way of the outcome.

It’s not an unreasonable claim.

The same thing could have happened Sunday, but this time NBC got lucky. The network scheduled the finish for one hour earlier, giving Clark and Fowler the opportunity to finish in playable twilight conditions.

But that was only true because the tournament concluded within the regulation 72 holes. Had there been a playoff — and remember Clark only won by one shot because he lagged a 70-footer within 18 inches — the format would have required a two-hole aggregate showdown.

And given the time it would have taken to clear the hole, sign the scorecards, and get the playoff started, we all would have been right back in the scenario of a dark finish, only this time with the championship on the line.

The network did have its moments. On both Saturday and Sunday, Aaron Oberholser delivered informative backgrounders on where to hit and where not to hit some of LACC’s trickier greens. When you could hear him, Hicks was his usual professional self.

Azinger caught social media heck for misjudging Clark’s recovery shot at the par 3 ninth Sunday.

As the ball sailed away from the hole toward a ridge, Azinger said it was hit too hard to come back, and as such represented a major gaffe by Clark. In fact, the ball did come back, stopping within about seven feet of the cup, and Clark made the putt for a par save.

It was not Azinger’s only embarrassment.

Next. Fans Roast U.S. Open and LACC. dark

When McIlroy hit his approach into a slope near a greenside bunker late Sunday, Azinger misidentified Scottie Scheffler’s ball – which was in the same bunker – as McIlroy’s.

In fact, McIlroy’s had buried in the grass above the bunker, as would have been obvious to anybody watching McIlroy and tournament officials scrambling through the grass to locate the embedded ball.

They sure weren’t looking for Easter eggs.

The bottom line was a surprisingly amateurish effort by NBC all week, and especially on Sunday.