Luke DeCock

USGA US Open golf gambles produced mixed results

Jordan Spieth poses with the trophy after winning the U.S. Open on June 21, 2015.
Jordan Spieth poses with the trophy after winning the U.S. Open on June 21, 2015. AP

The USGA gambled twice this weekend, on its choice of U.S. Open location and its choice of broadcaster, and it was on the verge of losing both.

The late drama on Sunday redeemed Chambers Bay somewhat, since the tournament will now be remembered for Dustin Johnson’s three-putt that handed Jordan Spieth the victory as much as the course’s wonky greens and goofy-golf contours. That same late drama underlined just how poorly Fox performed in its first year of a 12-year contract with the USGA.

Chambers Bay was an experiment, a noble one at that, to take the U.S. Open to the Pacific Northwest for the first time, not to mention another course that’s easily playable by the public, like Pinehurst and Bethpage. It’s entirely commendable to take the national championship away from the traditional, tree-lined plutocrat sanctuaries like Oakmont (next year’s venue) and its ilk once in a while.

It’s that same willingness to tinker with the Open that brought it back to Merion in 2013 despite the significant logistical issues and, most notably, led to the back-to-back Opens at Pinehurst last summer.

Sometimes it works out, as it did at Pinehurst with spectacular results. Sometimes it doesn’t, and it’s exceedingly unlikely the Open will return to Chambers Bay in the future – nor should it, based on last week’s experience. It might not have been the “tragedy” Gary Player called it, but it wasn’t a success, either.

There’s also the very valid question of whether a links-style course like Chambers Bay represents the best and truest test of American golf, a question with no easy answer that will be posed again in 2017 when the Open travels to Wisconsin’s Erin Hills for the first time.

Unfortunately, while Chambers Bay can be dismissed as a one-off experiment that didn’t produce a fantastic tournament, even if it produced a fantastic finish, the same can’t be said about Fox.

Fox is clearly invested in this foray into golf and there’s nothing wrong in principle with shaking up the typically staid nature of golf telecasts, but none of that mattered because Fox failed at the very fundamentals of a golf telecast.

Some of Fox’s innovations were welcome, especially the superimposed graphics labeling critical yardages, but it botched the basics over and over again.

Shots were shown with no graphics or audio identifying the golfer, hole or situation; host Joe Buck repeatedly announced the result of a taped shot before it was shown; with the exception of Brad Faxon, announcers offered very little context or information about the situations golfers faced; and while Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen tore up the course on Sunday, playing their way into contention, Fox almost entirely ignored them while obsessing over whether vertigo-plagued Jason Day would collapse on camera.

Holly Sonders’ vapid postround interview with Spieth went straight into the Interview Hall of Shame while lead analyst Greg Norman spewed cliches when he wasn’t raving about how great everything was going. (Including, at one point, immediately after USGA president Tom O’Toole acknowledged the challenges the layout posed to fans trying to follow play.)

Norman’s biggest failure came at the finish. As one of only a handful of humans on Earth who could identify what Johnson was going through as he putted away the Open, Norman stayed almost completely silent. Surely, Norman of all people could offer some insight as to what that peculiar, tortuous, agonizing experience is like.

Instead, blathering about the drama, Norman choked – and not for the first time on a Sunday at a major.

As much as it tries to be a trendsetter, Fox may want to take a few more cues on the basics from CBS and NBC. Fox doesn’t have to produce a subdued telecast to be good, but it does have to get better at the fundamentals. It has 11 more years to figure it out.

It’ll be easier next year at Oakmont, where there will be no surprises with the course. Fox should be a bit more comfortable on familiar ground, as will everyone else.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947

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