Tuesday, April 10, 2007; 10:36 AM
There's a new chairman at Augusta National, Billy Payne, a former Georgia football player who once headed the Atlanta Olympic committee as well as the club's media committee. Unlike so many of his chairman predecessors, Payne actually seems to enjoy the give and take with print and broadcast reporters and appears so far to have a genuine interest and a true appreciation about what we working stiffs actually do.
Last Wednesday, the Masters paid tribute to a dozen veteran journalists and broadcasters -- including former Washington Post columnist Dave Kindred -- who have covered at least 40 Masters golf tournaments. Each was given a plaque made from cured wood carved out of a fallen tree on the course's second hole, with a much larger permanent plaque also placed in the Augusta National media center to include future 40-plussers. It was a touching ceremony, and long overdue, and all Billy Payne's idea.
Now here's another.
It's time for the Lords of the Masters to allow CBS and the USA Network to expand the hours of coverage they're allowed to air from Thursday to Sunday.
Because USA did not come on the air Thursday until 4 p.m., golf fans around the country never had a chance to see defending champion Phil Mickelson play his first round. The following day, it was four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods playing in the morning, and his round had ended long before USA went on the air later in the afternoon.
The weekend coverage also should be expanded, the better to watch the progress of golfers back in the field trying to rally back into contention.
On Saturday, Retief Goosen posted one of the greatest rounds in Masters history considering the brutal conditions of wind and cold, a 2-under par 70 that was the lowest score of the day. But none of it made the live telecast.
Goosen was in one of the first groups off the tee Saturday because he had just made the cut of 8 over right on the number following opening rounds of 76-76. His stirring Saturday round pushed him from ten shots off the lead after 36 holes to within four of the lead going into the final 18, and he eventually finished tied for second. But viewers Saturday only saw his name and his score, and a few taped highlights. It was not enough.
The Masters prides itself on having only three minutes of commercial interruptions on its weekend telecasts, and that's a wonderful thing.
Compare that to the commercial overload from a Super Bowl or the NCAA basketball tournament, when every stoppage in play seemed to be accompanied by five, 30-second advertising spots and a few network promos, to boot.
So maybe they can extend the Saturday-Sunday coverage by adding a few more sponsors and selling time on earlier broadcasts, expanding the three minutes of commercials to five minutes -- still way under the 10 to 12 minutes or more we get in most sports broadcasts -- until the leaders start playing after 3 p.m.
CBS did its usual fawning, pretty in pink gushing all over the Masters, with broadcasters constantly referring to golf fans as "patrons," at the insistence of the green jackets and describing the nubby little rough the course has grown in recent years as "the second cut," even if everyone but the Augusta National membership knows it¿s the first cut everywhere else.
Nick Faldo made his Masters debut pairing with Jim Nantz and actually was moved to tears when Nantz welcomed him to Butler Cabin at the start of Saturday's broadcast. Some of my British colleagues in the media center stuck their fingers in their throats in the universal "please gag me" sign, if only because so many of them still remember old Nasty Nick thanking them from "the heart of my bottom" when he won a British Open at Troon during his hey-day.
But Faldo and Nantz meshed quite nicely during the broadcast, and the New Nicer Nick is an affable presence on the air with a delicious sense of humor. Too bad it rarely came out during his playing days, but clearly he's parlayed the classic sports writing line -- "he's learned how to say hello when it's time to say goodbye" -- into a swell second career.
My biggest problem with CBS once again involves the network's journalistic integrity. Mickelson could very well have been disqualified for a rules violation during Friday's round and was the subject of a serious inquiry by tournament rules officials Saturday morning. But the story was mentioned only in passing during the Saturday broadcast, and when Bill Macatee interviewed Mickelson late in the day following his round, he never even asked the player about the incident.
Nor did CBS bring on Fred Ridley, the chairman of the Masters competition committee and a member of the club, to question him about the committee's decision not to disqualify Mickelson. And on Saturday, when scores kept soaring higher and higher and players privately and publicly began questioning the set-up of the course, why wasn't Ridley asked to make an on-air appearance Saturday or Sunday to explain the carnage that led to the winner, Zach Johnson, tying the record for all-time high 72-hole score?
Perhaps CBS did ask to interview Ridley, a former USGA president, and the Lords of the Masters simply said no. No matter what, viewers were not well served, either way. The bottom line: CBS wants to keep the contract for the most watched golf tournament on television and despite constant denials to the contrary, does its very best to please the green jackets at virtually any cost, including slipshod journalism.
And while we're piling on, how is that CBS continues to get away with having no women on its on-air golf broadcast team?
Judy Rankin worked the CBS telecast of the final round of the Kraft Nabisco major the week before on the LPGA, but Rankin remains under contract to work for ESPN/ABC, mostly on women's events, though she'll be on the course for ABC's British Open coverage in July.
I'm told CBS did make a run at Rankin about joining their golf team when ABC lost its PGA Tour package last year, and she turned them down. Rankin spent much of last year dealing with breast cancer that now seems to be responding to treatment, and her husband Yippy also has been battling cancer in recent years. She told CBS she was happy working a limited schedule for ESPN/ABC and thanks, but no thanks. The Golf Channel, now doing Thursday and Friday coverage for the entire PGA Tour schedule, reportedly also made a run at her, and got the same answer.
But surely there are other qualified women out there. The Golf Channel has Kelly Tilghman handling play-by-play and Dottie Pepper has done extremely well working as an analyst for The Golf Channel and NBC Sports.
I'm thinking Nancy Lopez, or veteran LPGA players on the downside of their playing careers -- Meg Mallon, Beth Daniel, and Rosie Jones -- ought to be considered by the CBS all-boys, all-the-time golf division.
And while we're at it, how is it that in the era of Tiger Woods, there's not a single person of color on the air for CBS, NBC or The Golf Channel doing play-by-play or analysis in men's or women's golf? Just asking.