Golf’s first major of the year was mesmerizing and scintillating in so many ways.
You had two-time defending PGA champion Brooks Koepka in the mix heading into the final round, and chasing history. You had uber talented Dustin Johnson pursuing his second major. Jason Day was seeking a career renaissance.
Looking down the barrel of their first majors were the likes of Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau. Both have earned more than their fair share of commentary and attention over the weeks since the tour restarted play, and rightly so. But ultimately, CBS had a young Californian by the name of Collin Morikawa prevail in the 102nd version of the PGA Championship. Collin showed why he has been golf’s brightest star since the PGA returned to action during this most unusual of sporting years.
As we like to do with every major is to look back to see how the broadcast networks upheld their ends of the bargain and determine who on air made the grade and who didn’t. This year ESPN got into the mix with rounds #1 and #2 coverage along with early round play on Saturday and Sunday. CBS picked up the presentation late in the weekend window until the conclusion of play both days, around 9 and 10 pm ET respectively. The production for both networks was under the aegis of CBS and the heralded veteran Lance Barrow. The ratings should be big because coverage extended into primetime. So let’s get right to the grades:
Scott Van Pelt, Host B+
Van Pelt knows his golf and it shows. What’s so unique about Van Pelt is that he can talk to casual fans and make them feel comfortable with any sport he’s describing (Watch any late night SportsCenter). He’s refreshing and has such an insightful knack of when to interject history into the game. So why not an A? Van Pelt at times is just a little too casual and could use some more inflection in his voice. I think Van Pelt is the type of broadcaster who thrives on the fan. Not bad, not great.
Sean McDonough, Host A+
So good to see Sean back again doing major championship golf. Candid and insightful, there were plenty of times McDonough really stood out. Many times, he just said what the viewer was thinking, which at times a play-by-player would not have the guts to pull off. McDonough is not afraid to call out anyone after a poor shot and to me he’s as refreshing as Johnny Miller once was.
David Duval, Lead Analyst, 18th hole tower B-
Could be different two years from now but Duval in the booth is a bit of a stretch for me. He needs to take a more focused posture of the action at hand and really form his thoughts. I like the fact he’s ready to jump in with a quick quip, but it happens a bit too much. Too many times, I heard him talking over his host. While he’s spot on with his analysis, reflecting his knowledge of the game, he also has an opinion after every shot! Relax, David. If I was a producer for a day, I’d tell him to think deep, concentrate and deliver; but pick your spots more deliberately.
Andy North, On-Course Analyst– B+
Part of me believes North would be better served in the booth with Duval in the field. Why? Duval occasionally plays and understands the modern game more and you see that as the leaders who are in good form and are jockeying for position. North usually is a big picture guy so to have him in-tower just makes too much sense.
Jim Nantz, CBS A-
The silky-smooth ‘Voice of American golf ‘had a fabulous week. Having the tournament staged in his home state must be a home course advantage for Nantz. He reminded the viewers of the site (Harding Park) and its history. Nantz’s former late golfing partner in the 18th hole tower, Ken Venturi, grew up on this course along with many of golf’s other greats and even non-greats like football icon John Madden who shagged balls on the range as a youngster. Nantz just has a feel for the venue and that is a testament to his preparation and clear understanding of Harding Park which hosted a major for the first time.
Jim was Grade A material for bringing Phil Mickelson into the 18th hole tower on Saturday and evoking not only Phil’s quick wit but frankly a ton of material as to how the course was playing. The minus is simple. Jim just needs to bring out more from his lead analyst Nick Faldo. He might never again have a call like Tiger’s Masters’ win “Return to Glory” but Sunday’s with Morikawa was muted. Let’s blame that on the lack of crowd energy surrounding 18.
Nick Faldo, Lead Analyst C-
I just didn’t get much from Faldo this weekend. He had so many opportunities to go deep on 2nd round leader Haotong Li but the six-time major winner said very little, deferring instead to Mickelson. When Dustin Johnson moved into the lead on Saturday, Faldo didn’t offer much as to why the week was very important to him. When Sunday came around, I heard nary a word on why Morikawa became the person in control and not any of the veterans. There was little to offer on Kopeka’s struggles on Sunday when it seemed he was the man to beat. Finally, it’s understandable to an extent that Mickelson is going to move the needle somewhat when he comes into the booth as he did on Saturday but Faldo at times was invisible during the extensive time Mickelson was providing on-course and on player commentary.
Dottie Pepper, On Course Analyst, A-
Her first A from me. She’s been so much better since golf returned. She’ll even tell you that the reps she’s gotten with some of the last groups out have been invaluable. Her rapport with Nantz and Faldo has also been excellent. Dottie did a solid job getting key information to the viewer. She’s starting to string several events together at an excellent level.
Mark Immleman, Frank Nobilo & Ian Baker-Finch, On Course Analysts
This quartet was steady all weekend. Props to Baker Finch who to me stood out
Amanda Balionis , Interviewer
You can tell the tour players respect her and her knowledge of the game. I’ve said so for a while. It’ll be interesting to see how her career arc progresses. I believe she has a future in golf beyond an interviewer.
CBS and ESPN Production, A
Lance Barrow will be sorely missed at CBS when he retires at the end of the season. The drone shots, 4D camera work and blimp shots were extraordinary at Harding Park, a venue with which many American casual golfing fans are not familiar.
The Golf Channel Post Round Coverage, B+
Rich Lerner and Brandel Chamblee are very good at what they do. Chamblee had an excellent take on the differences between Koepka and Johnson after round 3. “Kopeka has a loop of Valvano’s speech and Johnson is AM Radio in his head.” He really made the viewer think, something that Chamblee is very good at doing. This said, Justin Leonard, the former tour pro, has a way to go. His instinct is not to be critical but simply safe.
Did you Catch it Department? – Long time Former CBS Analyst Gary McCord was back at it chiming in with some commentary on PGA Championship Radio Sirius XM. Welcome back Gary!