FOX has improved their golf coverage by a shocking amount over the past three years. After a rocky debut at the 2015 U.S Open, they’ve demonstrated a commitment to trying new things, a spirit unusual in the world of golf coverage. (At the very least, their constant use of shot tracer technology has forced CBS and NBC to utilize it more as well.)
For June’s U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, FOX is trying something else, splitting their lead commentary booths into two teams in an effort to avoid the occasional logjam caused by a three-man booth, which had been Joe Buck with analysts Paul Azinger and Brad Faxon.
In 2018, Fox Sports is splitting into two booths: Azinger with Buck, and Faxon alongside rising star Shane Bacon.
The Forecaddie recently caught up with Mark Loomis, Fox Sports’ coordinating producer for golf, who says he began thinking about bifurcating the booth at last year’s U.S. Women’s Open, when Juli Inkster joined an already crowded anchor desk.
“Nobody had enough time to talk,” Loomis said. “It became clear to me there were different times to do different things.”
So what will this look like in practice? The differences might not be as noticeable over Thursday and Friday coverage, where Buck and Azinger will trade off duties with Bacon and Faxon. But on the weekend, things will be divvied up by hole:
On the weekend, there will be times where Joe and Paul will get two holes, Nos. 1 and 2, and Brad and Shane will get two holes, Nos. 3 and 4. It adds up to 10 holes for Joe and Paul, eight for Brad and Shane. Because people don’t see us all year, it allowed us to be a little simpler in figuring out who’s talking for the viewer.”
This is a fascinating move, as golf has traditionally seen one lead voice (Jim Nantz at CBS, Dan Hicks at NBC) and one lead analyst (Nick Faldo, Johnny Miller) in the 18th tower, but covering the action across the course, with assists from on-course reporters and other tower commentators. It’s adding to the mix, but in an effort to simplify the broadcast, which isn’t without risk.
But the three-person booth is hardly ever the answer, and this in theory will allow for more defined moments. (Although despite the insistence from Loomis, it is sort of a de facto demotion for Faxon, even if he ends up with more talk time overall.) It’ll be interesting to see it play out, and because it’s FOX, viewers can take comfort in knowing that if it doesn’t work or can be improved, they’ll try something different next year.
If only we could say that for all the networks that cover golf.