Golf on network television has come a long way since that August day in 1953 when the Dumont Network carried pictures coast to coast of Washingtonian Lew Worsham beating Chandler Harper in Chicago's Tam O'Shanter World Championship.
It was the first nationally televised golf event, and Jay Randolph, then a fine amateur player, was watching at the Bethesda Country Club. Worsham, trailing Harper by a stroke, was about to hit his approach to the 18th green.
"So Lew hits the shot, and it bounces a couple of times and goes in" for the victory, Randolph recalled years later in an interview with The Washington Post. "At which point [sportscaster Jimmy] Demaret says into the mike, 'I'll be a son of a bitch.' That was on live TV."
ABC's coverage of the British Open this week from St. Andrews in Scotland likely won't include such language, barring a microphone's picking up an epithet from a player. And unlike the early days of golf on TV, when large studio cameras were positioned at only a few key holes, every nook, cranny and pot bunker on the Old Course will be covered.
Technology "allows us to be anywhere we want to be, anytime we want to be there," said Mark Loomis, who will produce this week's coverage on TNT and ABC.
Networks have departed from the traditionally subdued approach employed well into the early 1990s, when announcers often spoke in hushed tones and were reluctant to criticize. Johnny Miller at NBC is the most outspoken of the new breed of announcers, often using the dreaded C-word -- as in choke. Even the usually restrained Lanny Wadkins on CBS has started to speak his mind.
"Ken Venturi used to criticize players, but in a little nicer way," said Lance Barrow, the lead producer of golf and NFL football for CBS. "But Lanny was a competitor as a player, and he's a competitor as an announcer. He wants to see players play a certain way, and if they don't, he has been critical."
The three major networks have similar coverage philosophies: Show as many players and good golf shots as possible in the early rounds, then home in on the leaders and big names such as Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson or Vijay Singh, even if they're not in the hunt. CBS puts many of its announcers in towers around the course with several analysts walking with the leading groups; NBC and ABC give their main voices in the booth at the 18th hole more air time, though they also have announcers walking the course.
ABC overhauled its golf coverage two years ago, adding two prominent former players, major championship winners Paul Azinger and Nick Faldo, as analysts working with play-by-play man Mike Tirico. They'll all be in the booth for ABC this week, supplemented occasionally by Ian Baker-Finch and Peter Alliss, on loan from the BBC. Azinger and Faldo, once rivals during Ryder Cup competitions, have a crackling on-air chemistry, and neither has been hesitant to express his opinion, a rarity from broadcasters who still compete.
ABC has the only female analyst doing men's golf on a regular basis, former LPGA player Judy Rankin, who is as adept in talking about distance to the pin and club selection as she is in handling interviews off the 18th green.
The networks try to get in as much live action as possible, which is not always easy because so many players are scattered over so many acres.
"I came from the Frank Chirkinian school of golf broadcasting," said Barrow, referring to the now-retired longtime golf producer for CBS. "His philosophy -- and it's mine, too -- was always never to let anything get in the way of the competition. You show live golf as much as possible. On the weekend, you try to tell the story, the drama of the event. I don't think that's ever changed.
"One of the things I think too many critics miss is the fact that there are times we do have to go to tape and say, 'Moments ago, so-and-so had this putt for birdie,' and then show it on tape. Unlike football, where there's only one ball and you go to commercial and they stop playing the game, in golf, you can't cover everything. People have said we're trying to trick the viewer, but it's silly to make such a big deal out of it. That's just golf."
Thursday through Saturday on TNT; Saturday on ABC.