Columnist Reviews

CBS’ coverage of the 2021 Masters had new wrinkles; Voices were solid; Production was ho-hum

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Mason

So many times on Masters Sundays, we are treated to moments that are etched in our minds forever.

Who can forget the unforgettable highs of the Golden Bear’s magical run in ’86, Tiger’s in ’97, Phil jumping as high as Phil could in’04 or Tiger’s magical chip in ’05? Equally ingrained in our minds are Sunday meltdowns. Rory in 2012 squandering a 4 shot lead on the back 9 or Jordan Spieth dumping two balls in Rae’s Creek in 2016. All highly memorable moments on a golf course that even most casual fans know intimately well.

As CBS’ broadcast turned to its last one and a half hours of coverage yesterday, there seemed to be a near certainty that the moment belonged firmly to Hideki Matsuyama and the country of Japan. Matsuyama was  the focus through much of the final round, a 29 year old of world renown, chasing his first major victory.

Matsuyama was a man playing for the honor of a golf crazed nation and was in complete control on Sunday…….or was he? Would CBS once again have the theatrics that The Masters is known for on Sundays? Or would the late Augusta afternoon give way to a very ho-hum early evening, a sense we felt from about the 2nd hole on? 

A costly mistake by Matsuyama, a bogey on 15, certainly had viewers attention, particularly when contender Xander Schauffele’s birdie trimmed the lead to one. Game on, right?  Uhhhhh, no. Schauffele coughed up any chance on the very birdiable 16th by rinsing his tee ball, leading to a triple bogey. The lead was again an insurmountable three. Over the course of the next half hour, Japan finally had its first men’s major golf champion, Hideki Matsuyama. It was already Monday morning in Japan and the country was likely in an uproarious celebration.

So…. how did network coverage shape up this week?  Yes, ESPN sends Scott Van Pelt and Andy North to Augusta to anchor Thursday and Friday coverage but really this whole affair is a CBS production. It was led by new coordinating producer of golf, Sellers Shy, who took over from Emmy Award winning producer Lance Barrow. A tough act to follow!

Instead of grades, these are my observations:

  • The effect of the on-going Covid protocols was evident in Augusta all weekend. Due to the limited number of patrons allowed on the grounds, the atmosphere felt somewhat muted. More so than any other golf event, the excitement at the Masters is fueled by thunderous cheers. True, fans were visible but even the announcers sounded somewhat restrained.
  • Most viewers of The Masters know where the lead groups are and can intuitively interpret what nearby roars signify. Crowd reactions speak loudly on the telecasts too.   
  • ESPN treated us to one of the really fabulous rounds in Masters’ history on Thursday  when Justin Rose was really hot. Over a 10-hole stretch, he was nine under and finished his opening round carding a 65. With the course playing exceptionally firm and fast, Rose had a round he won’t soon forget as the closest competitors could only manage a 3 under. It was covered very well and the graphics that ESPN posted gave fans the sense of just how well Rose was playing. But while the coverage was good, it wasn’t riveting. Andy North made an early observation that the course was playing more like a demanding US Open layout, giving the viewer an excellent feel for just how difficult Augusta National was playing. He pointed out that the color of the greens was an indication just how firm and fast they were.
  • CBS’ coverage for me was a bit mundane. Something was lacking. Every year I look forward to the sappy Masters’ theme music, segueing in and out of breaks. It heralds for millions across the country a transition in the calendar. For some reason, that was significantly cut back this year and it left me disappointed. What we got was more typical CBS golf instrumental segues in and out of breaks.  What happened there? Where was my music? This is The Masters, Sellers! Make it special. It’s not the Colonial.
  • Some cool drone flyovers in certain positions gave viewers some visuals they’re not used to, especially from Amen Corner, looking back from a side angle on the Par 3, 12th and toward Rae’s Creek and the Hogan Bridge. Spectacular visual.
  • Good work with the Tiger tribute. With Woods missing because of his automobile accident in California, there was a thoughtful piece featuring pros’ memories of their favorite Tiger moments at Augusta.
  • After an hour plus weather delay hit CBS’s telecast on Saturday, it was Matsuyama who got hot and surpassed Justin Rose. CBS’s golf team kicked in to high gear at that point. Nick Faldo and Dottie Pepper really shined. Faldo as always saves his best work for The Masters and you could see he was very much in tune with the work of Matsuyama and Masters’ rookie Will Zalatoris. For example, when Matsuyama flew the 18th green on Saturday, Faldo expertly broke down the chip he faced, suggesting to viewers that he’d have to bounce the ball upwards of six times before the green to get it close. Spot on, it’s exactly what happened!
  • Dottie Pepper continues to excel as an on-course analyst. Absolutely love, love, what she said concerning the Shauffele’s miscue at 16 on Sunday suggesting that he didn’t lose his mental focus, he simply hit a bad shot. Shauffele himself basically confirmed that during a post-round interview suggesting that the wind fooled him as he “absolutely flushed the shot.”  Golf speak for ‘I hit the shot exactly as I intended.’ Just got hurt by a bad wind.
  • Golfers – A Question of Form – The T. Carlos BlogJim Nantz, as always, did a wonderful job as the lead play by play in the 18th tower and in Butler Cabin, framing just how big a win this was for worldwide golf and in particular Japan. His comments were reinforced by partner Faldo. Jim reminded viewers how Matsuyama’s win followed a crowning achievement just the week before as Japan’s Tsubasa Kajitani won the prestigious Augusta National Women’s Amateur. 
  • Several times, CBS tapped into the Tokyo Broadcasting Companies’ feed to describe shots. You didn’t have to understand Japanese to gauge the excitement and appreciate the passion the Japanese announcers were feeling as their fellow countryman was about to accomplish a remarkable feat.
  • Amanda Balionis once again deserves a mention. She had the assignment of interviewing a disappointed Schauffle post round and she got to the heart of what was on viewers minds. What happened at the 16th as he inched to within one?  Excellent job of asking the right question and not dancing around it.
  • Good to hear Verne Lundquist over the weekend. Uncle Verne no longer does football or basketball. Working the 16th as he has for years, Lundquist presided over the bad and the good, Schauffle triple bogey on Sunday and Tommy Fleetwood’s hole-in-one on Thursday.

Other broadcast notes:

  • Once again, SiriusXM did it right. A veteran team added a former player of note this week. The Shark, Greg Norman, joined as lead analyst and was much improved from his Fox golf assignment. He seemed much more prepared and gave the listener keen insight as to what he was witnessing on the practice range from a body language standpoint. He was spot on with Rose as he felt he was “tight” on the range prior to his final round. Norman felt that Will Zalatoris was loose and that Matsuyama looked very focused. Their whole radio team was excellent but special mention to on-course reporter Fred Albers. This guy just knows how to paint a visual on radio that very few can. He can really put the listeners right on the course, painting an impassioned word picture of body language, tailored for a radio description. Golf fans felt the emotion. 
  • The Golf Channel’s roundtable Show,” Live From”, was very enjoyable each night during the week.  Brandel Chamblee and Justin Leonard form a very thoughtful duo with Rich Lerner leading them along expertly. Leonard has raised his game the past couple years. He’s trending in a very solid direction as someone who will be in the broadcast chair for years to come. I do wonder what his plans will be as he approaches 50 and potential opportunities to play PGA Tour Champions.

 

 

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Dan Mason

Dan Mason has been in sports broadcasting since the 1980s, doing play by play, color and covering the ACC. He previously hosted programming for ESPN Radio in Raleigh. He can be reached at danmason206@gmail.com twitter: @mason87dan

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Michael Green
5 months ago

Gee, Lance Barrow “retired” (Did he or was the decision made for him?) and the production … didn’t improve. Just as I saw no improvement when CBS forced out Frank Chirkinian–and no question he was forced out–to be succeeded by Barrow, who learned it all from Chirkinian.