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Rating the Commentators, 2009 Edition, Part One

Oct. 7, 2009     By     Comments (0)

Ian Baker-Finch and Jimmy Roberts are bringing up the rear, but how do the rest of the talking heads from NBC, CBS and the Golf Channel (or disembodied voices, as the case may be) fare?

Thrash TalkThe latest Nielsen Ratings came out for golf coverage, and they reveal a few interesting tidbits.

First is that CBS and NBC performed about the same as one another this year. Yawn.

Another yawner: more (often many more) viewers tune into to golf coverage when Tiger Woods is playing. More still watch when he's in contention on the weekend.

Third: Though I rarely ever hear anyone saying anything positive about Golf Channel or its commentators, and though I rarely read any positive reviews of their coverage, I was surprised to see that their viewership has grown over the past few years.

Perhaps golf fans tune in to see and hear their favorite announcers and not because a significant tournament is being covered, or Tiger Woods is playing. I don't think this is the case. I am sure the majority of readers don't either.

Some of the announcers I am rating here are downright awful. Further, the general consensus is that they are aren't very good. Yet, year after year, they keep their jobs. Can networks succeed with subpar commentary teams and lackluster coverage? Apparently. As such, Ian Baker-Finch and CBS aren't likely to be too concerned about the "D" the aforementioned announcer is receiving in my 2009 Rating of Golf Commentators.

Networks live in fear of anything which would cause a decline in sponsor investment, or anything which would offend the core nucleus of devoted viewers. I understand this. I realize it is in the best interest of the networks that bucolic stuffed shirts occupy the studios and stooges roam the course.

Infusing the telecasts with "personalities" hasn't gone very well either. Consider the tired routine of Feherety and McCord. Uncompromisingly bland is, and ought to be, the name of the game, until more intelligent, insightful and dynamic announcers and production crews come along.

Given all of this, watching golf for me is like eating comfort food. I never tune in expecting an interplay of bold flavors or subtle brilliance. This year though, Mom's meatloaf was particularly dry and tasteless.


Jim Nantz: C
Jim Nantz is the essence of the modern golf commentator. He is mild and soothing. He deals in clichés and comical sentimentality. Whether he is relaying his own barnstorming of the announcing world, plugging his puff-piece of a book, or coming up with another premeditated gemstone of stupidity ("Y.E. S! Y.E. Yang has won," was this year's worst) he's sure to be flashing his signature patronizing smile and bringing little if any real value to the telecast.

There is a word for what Mr. Nantz is and is asked to be: filler. He occupies airtime and segues between one supposed expert and another. I have never heard or seen any evidence that Nantz does any preparation for the multitude of events he announces every year. He certainly brings no sport-specific knowledge beyond his friendship with Freddie Couples. At his best, he is background noise.

Ian Baker-Finch: D
Weak-minded Finchy, with his skeletal visage and token accent, is always talking out of turn on any CBS telecast. Finch is a man whom I have an overwhelming and completely irrational desire to punch in the face for no good reason. Because of this, I have upgraded Mr. Finch from an "F" to a "D," as I am unable to do anything resembling an objective analysis of his commentary.

Finch is as famous for issuing his nonsensical perspectives as he is for shooting 92 in the opening round of The Open Championship. I was truly upset when he shot 68-78 to miss the cut at Colonial this year. I had hoped that he would return to competitive play, thus leaving the broadcast team.

Bobby Clampett: C
Clampett seems like that arrogant junior member at your club who can play, but not that well. His near-orgasmic reaction to any player who takes a divot with a 3-wood are perhaps the only good thing about his announcing.

David Feherty: B-
As I mentioned earlier, Feherety's quirky commentary has become annoying. Tired. Old. Trite. I actually prefer his writing to his endless interjections during CBS telecasts. He both tries too hard and is overexposed. Less Feherty would certainly be better. It would be better, also, if he didn't feel the need to say something witty every time he opens his mouth. Sometimes "174 yards to the hole, wind a little off the left" is sufficient.

Peter Kostis: C+
The best thing that Peter Kostis does is analyze SwingVision footage. He is a competent teacher, as he instructs Zach Johnson and Paul Casey, amongst others. Given this, he has an excellent understanding of the golf swing. It seems both he and CBS are concerned about getting too esoteric in any swing analysis. I wish this weren't the case.

Kostis as a conductor of interviews and general commentator is significantly more bland in flavor. More SwingVision, less general commentary.

Gary McCord: D
McCord was never a great announcer. He now appears to be taking a turn for the worse, becoming senile as he pushes sixty. In the past, he made his living with odd and sometimes insightful commentary. Now he giggles and babbles his way through a telecast.

A great character? To be sure. From the waxed mustache to the weird biographical anecdotes, McCord is one of a kind. I respect this. Although he often rubs me the wrong way, I believe we need more individuals like him in the game of golf and fewer "aw, shucks" status-quo fondlers.

Next Week…

Come back next week for the rest of the list. Will Golf Channel and NBC's drones fare any better? Will Johnny Miller get the A+++ he surely feels he deserves (he once shot a 63 at Oakmont to win the U.S. Open, you know!)? I'll address all this and more in Part Two next week.


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