The 96th U.S. Open brought it all to our TV screens: rustling
leaves, flying divots and at least one exploding animal per day.
One by one the golfing menagerie, from Tiger Woods to the Golden
Bear to the Great White Shark, blew sky-high on Oakland Hills'
famous fairways as NBC commentator Dave Marr clucked
We can certainly say this: Viewers didn't miss much. Between NBC
and ESPN the Open was on from morning to night, with several
hours of replays in the evening. The annual pageant has become
golf's version of the O.J. trial. There may be stretches of
tedium, but you have to keep watching or you might miss a
On Friday, for example, Greg Norman lit into a photographer who
had clicked his shutter while Norman was teeing off. For a
moment it looked as if the Shark might go over and adjust the
fellow's aperture. Brought to the NBC booth after his round,
Norman was surprised to learn that the whole world had been
watching. "Boy, it's lucky I didn't swear," he said. "I didn't
know you guys were on the air."
They're always on the air, Greg. It's the Open.
June 23, 1996
NBC crowed that it was the first network to televise the Open
during the first two days, but moving the Thursday-Friday
coverage from and then back to ESPN seemed more confusing than
anything else. Over at the Diablo Creek Golf Course in Concord,
Calif., we visorheads got into a spirited argument with the
waitress, who insisted that the coverage was over when ESPN left
the course. "NBC," we said. "It's on NBC."
"Uh-oh," she said ominously. Turned out that although the snack
shack featured 17 televisions and three satellite dishes, the
one unavailable option was good old regular, noncable TV.
Welcome to the '90s. The waitress finally got a fuzzy image on a
small set in the corner, which we huddled around like a
campfire, straining to hear the commentary. I think it was the
third time I suggested that we turn down the soccer game a bit
when the waitress hit her personal red line. "Don't you have a
TV at home?" she asked.
Technically, NBC had a whole task force of announcers patrolling
the rough, but there were only four real players. The voices in
the booth ranged from the well-modulated Dick Enberg to the
squeaky Marr. And big, booming Bob Trumpy was ready to roar, in
case someone scored a touchdown. The star of the show, again,
was Johnny Mumbles, the unlikeliest hit in the broadcast booth
since John Madden. There are times when Johnny Miller doesn't
even finish his sentences, but his muttered asides are the true
voice of golf.
Miller is the most unprofessional commentator on TV, and I can't
think of a better compliment. He may look uneasy and
self-conscious when they dolly the camera in on him in the
booth, but in the shocked silence after Norman missed a gimme at
17 on Saturday, it was Miller who yelped, "Holy mackerel! He had
Some of Miller's stuff is so inside that it's only for those
working on a postgraduate degree, but you have to admit it has
the unmistakable ring of authenticity. Looking at a Corey Pavin
predicament, Miller opined that "it's a slice wind and a draw
shot, so he'll probably end up right." I'm not sure I understood
all of that, but when the ball stopped rolling, there it was,
right of the pin.
Whoever plunked Miller in the big booth deserves applause
because without his edge the NBC broadcast would be a stale
puffed pastry. They gush about Enberg as host, but he's more
like the maitre d'--"Right this way, folks." A golfing novice,
Enberg has said more than once that his job is to stay out of
the way of the analysts, and to his credit he does--mostly. He
can't resist popping in with a few of his trademark factoids.
When Enberg told us, "[Frank] Nobilo is between Nicklaus and
Norman--not a bad spot--in the media guide," you had to wish
Dick would stick a sock in it. Of course, Enberg was just
killing time until the final hour. His specialty in every sport
is calling the finish, stringing together the raves as the event
winds down, until you swear you can hear the pen of history
scratching in the book of the ages.
Meanwhile, Marr, clearly a nice fellow, comes up with some
phrases--"Don't you know....Man alive"--we haven't heard on TV
since The Andy Griffith Show. He natters along, desperately
attempting to put a positive spin on even the most horrible
shot. I used to think Marr was an apologist for the players but
now believe he empathizes with them so strongly that he can't
help but try to make it all better.
Poor Trumpy starts with a tough lie in deep rough. Although
Enberg has fitted himself neatly into the broadcast, ol' Trump
still sounds too loud, too big, too football, for golf. He's
always waiting for a chance to cue up the trumpets and
kettledrums. When Paul Azinger, back on the Tour after a bout
with cancer, flitted into contention in the first round, Marr,
who battled the disease himself, seemed unable to say the
C-word, but Trumpy gleefully launched into the story. Azinger,
he told us, "weighed 150 pounds and couldn't take the top off an
orange juice bottle" a year ago. And now over to 17....
The best visual moments were the vignettes that came up in the
normal course of play. NBC caught Ernie Els peeking at the
scoreboard at the exact moment he took the lead on Saturday, and
there was a cute scene later that day when Tom Lehman and his
caddie, Andy Martinez, were obviously disagreeing about what
club to hit into 18.
Most of the prerecorded bits looked stiff and staged. A Ben
Hogan retrospective was nicely handled, especially with the rare
footage provided by the Hogan family. But Kevin Costner's tepid
introduction on Saturday rang like a tin cup, which, you will be
surprised to hear, happens to be the name of his major motion
picture opening in August at a theater near you. NBC and the
USGA were positively shocked at suggestions Costner was pitching
his movie, but when he said he was studying golf "in preparing
for my latest role" and that was followed within the hour by a
commercial for Tin Cup, it looked like an unplayable lie to me.
(And, Kevin, another penalty stroke for tucking your sweater
vest into your pants.)
It is virtually impossible to foul up the Open, especially when
you've got a land rush of contenders thundering down the
stretch. NBC didn't bogey a hole, catching all the action, but
it didn't dazzle us with any birdies either. This year's
broadcast deserves a nice, solid par, which, as we heard all
week, is a very good score for the Open.