Mike Tirico

Mike Tirico has been broadcasting from Augusta for two decades, and he’s back again this week, anchoring Golf Channel’s Live From The Masters coverage on-site.

That includes Tuesday’s one-hour preview at 9 PM ET that Mike described as “Live From meets Real Sports meets E:60“, featuring in-depth stories on subjects like Rory McIlroy. If it’s anything like what Tirico used to do as part of ESPN’s World Cup coverage, it could end up being a must-watch staple ahead of every major for Golf Channel.

Mike was kind enough to talk to Awful Announcing about the potential for an all-time great Masters, how hard it is to televise golf well, and how Augusta’s restricted coverage isn’t necessarily a bad thing. (We don’t really agree on that last point, but there’s nothing wrong with reasonable disagreement.)

I go back and forth on whether the Open Championship or the Masters is my favorite event on the golf calendar. Do you still get a special kick out of being at Augusta every year?

I do. I’m not going to pick a favorite one for you. (laughs)

I wouldn’t ask you to!

Thank you! I’ve had the great fortune of hosting the broadcast at the Open for the last 21 years, so that has a very, very special place in my heart. I’ve also been coming here for the last 21 years, I’ve missed a few in between because of NBA stuff, but I started both assignments in 1997. I still look forward to that week in the calendar, first week in April, third week in July, every year.

Both unique, both very special events in the sport. This one, because of the location, coming back to the same place. The fact that it’s as impeccable a sporting venue as you will ever find.  And I think the time, from the last major to this major, the 7.5, nearly 8 months from the last putt of the PGA to the first tee shot of the Masters just all fills into the anticipation.

But on top of that, the best players in the world and the way they’re playing. This is right up there with the most anticipated Masters weeks of the last two decades, for sure.

For me, living in the Midwest pretty much my entire life, it’s sort of the first rite of spring in some ways too.

No doubt, no doubt. The Northeast, the Midwest, you’re just truly thinking about getting out of hibernation for the rest of the year. So it comes at the right time, and that’s also why it resonates so well with people.

You touched on it a little, but this Masters is setting up nicely, with pretty much all of the current generation of stars in good form, along with Phil Mickelson back in form as well. But is Tiger’s return and the way it’s setting up, is that the biggest story in sports right now?

I think it’s the biggest story in this sport, and I think it has the potential to be the biggest story in sports if it continues, for the calendar year. There’s no doubt. I think the TV ratings at the Valspar and the Honda really showed us that. He’s such a unique figure, and has been since he was winning U.S. Amateurs in ’94, ’95, and ’96.

Tiger has the unique ability to cross over the lines where we usually find golf fans, and has resonated with celebrities, resonated with people who don’t watch the sport otherwise. And I think a little bit of it is that there was a whole bunch of hype, and he’s delivered on all that hype. For a golf fan, for somebody like me, when Tiger’s over a shot I get the feeling that he might do something that nobody else can do or has done. That was part of the unique appeal to Tiger. There was always drama involved, and it was something that stuck out and was special.

And I think with all of that, the background of everything that’s happened and the fact that it’s two decades later and people still want to see “What’s Tiger going to do?” It’s really one of the remarkable stories in sports, and he’s one of the more remarkable individuals in sports history. So to see him with a chance to be successful this week just heightens everyone’s anticipation for Thursday morning.

I think I probably know the answer, but do you think it would be even more special for Tiger to complete this comeback at Augusta, given that’s where he sort of first entered the public consciousness?

Yeah, I do. There’s really no doubt. Someone asked me to compare it to ’97. I think in ’97, it was such a unique set of circumstances, and with how dominantly he won it really signaled the start of an era and a generation of golf that we will be talking about as long as they play the game.

I think a win here, while perhaps a good comeback as the game has ever seen, it won’t be as altering to the history of the game. If you look back, people thought Tiger’s win in 97 was going to change the game. And I think it did. Many of us thought it would bring more minorities to the game. I contend that it brought more athletes to the game. It made golf cool.

And now, if you look at the average height and size of major champions in the post-Tiger era, this generation that his success helped spawn? These are bigger athletes you could easily see playing tight end or small forward or shooting guard, or third base. You see a lot bigger, stronger, better athletes now coming to the game. And I think that what’s the Tiger era spawned; golf became cool and golf became a sport for the really good athletes to go to first. And I think that’s part of the reason why the Tiger era has really had this 20-year halo effect now as we see the guys who are out here dominating on tour.

My first credential tournament coverage was last summer at the U.S. Open and I walked out on the range and got to stand right up next to those guys and my first thought was actually how big they were. 

And the beauty of the sport is that Justin Thomas is still small, relatively speaking to the other guys, yet he can still win. That’s always been the beauty of the game.

There were good athletes in the past who were playing golf. I just think it changed the mindset of cool, it changed the mindset of workout regimens and those types of things.

Also, guys were afraid to win. You were supposed to wait your time. I remember when I first started, the average age of major champions was in the mid-30s, or 34, that was the prime of your career. Now we’re thinking Jordan Spieth’s in the prime of his career, he’s still in his early mid-20s. So it’s a changing dynamic.

People are wondering if Rickie Fowler (29) is ever going to win a major at this point already.

Yeah! And he’s got plenty of time. And that’s part of the equation. 

I wanted to ask more from the coverage perspective, do people realize how difficult it is to broadcast and cover golf?

I don’t think they do and that’s a good thing. I think anybody at home only judges that final product. They don’t care about the maintenance, the diligence, and the expertise that go into it.

CBS does the broadcast this week, I had the chance to work with them when I was hosting ESPN’s Masters coverage for eight years. Obviously, now I get to work with the NBC crew and I got to work with Tommy Roy, who’s a great golf producer, back when ESPN covered the U.S. Open, too, so I’ve worked with Tommy for a better part of 15 years on and off, and I worked with our ABC/ESPN production team for many years as well.

Golf is the most difficult sport to cover because it’s the one sport played over acres, and with multiple balls in play at the same time and a whole bunch of different people scoring. You have to have so many eyes, so many ears coordinating what is happening out on the golf course. If I’m broadcasting a football game, it’s all happening right in front of me. There’s one ball, two teams, we can keep score very easily. Golf is so different.

So you’re relying on the communication of so many people, and the producer, director, and their immediate assistants are so talented and so essential to a golf broadcast. When people can watch a golf broadcast and just kind of chill on their couch, perhaps take a nap for a little bit and get back up, I always find that so funny because the production of it is the complete opposite.

It is so frenetic, so intense, that it becomes an absolute pleasure to sit behind the scenes and watch those people perform their job. The announcers in golf, I think, have the easiest job. I think the hardest job is the folks led by the producer and director great group of people in the trucks, and the camera operators, they’re the ones who make it come to TV so seamlessly.

I’m always conscious of that, or I try to be. With anything I’m watching, if I feel a bit frustrated with how the event is being covered, I try to think of the moving parts and remember how difficult it is to do well.

And you have to add into that the factor that you have players playing all over the golf course, you have commercials you have to get into. You’d love to do a commercial-free broadcast but this is a commercial enterprise, so you need to put those in.

And then you have players playing at the same time. If you’re covering an NFL game, Carson Wentz isn’t throwing a pass at the same time Tom Brady is. But in golf, Mickelson and Woods may be playing at the same time. They have to figure out how to put those one live, one on tape, sequence the other shots. People get upset when they say “This was earlier” or was on tape, well, you can’t show everything live all at once. Guys back off putts, they read putts.

To put it simply, the number of variables that go into a golf broadcast far exceed the variables in covering any other live sport. And to see how flawlessly it’s performed on a regular basis is a credit to the people who produce the live golf events at the networks on a regular basis.

I wrote a little about it last week when they announced that they are finally putting some shot tracer on a few holes on the actual broadcast itself. I know you don’t work for CBS or ESPN and I don’t want to get you in any trouble or anything. But do you sometimes think that maybe they could be a little quicker to progress in terms of what they allow people to see? Do you wish they allowed more coverage hours?

Well, let me give you a couple different answers on this. First off, I think some people don’t realize way before digital and Internet broadcasting, the Masters was ahead of the curve on that. Very few people know this, because very few people had the access to see it, but for three or four years I worked with Curtis Strange and Paul Azinger of a 3-D telecast of the Masters on Saturday and Sunday.

We broadcast the last six holes of the Masters, I think it was, in 3-D. That still hasn’t been done almost anywhere else. Very rare, certainly not in golf. But the Masters was at the forefront of that. There are places where the Masters has been way ahead of other golf tournaments, and I think sometiems people forget that.

In terms of amount of coverage, yes, the Open is on all night and into the morning and all day. The U.S. Open is in a similar vein to that. There is an incredible anticipation for 3 o’clock, when the Masters broadcast comes on. You can’t wait. And that’s why it’s consumed in such incredible numbers. There is something to be said about quality versus quantity, and I think quality v. quantity is something that dovetails with what Augusta has always been about. So while that frustrates some viewers, it fits with who the club is and what they’re about.

I’d also say there’s plenty of stuff on, whether it’s Amen Corner coverage, or featured groups. You can get your Masters fix if you want to get it, you just have to wait for it to be delivered by the normal distribution feed you’re used to on the network broadcast.

And lastly, as the guy who’s hosting the three hours before network coverage on Golf Channel, I think it’s perfect! (laughs) I think it’s great. The PR guys could explain it better than I can, but those hours tend to be some of the highest rated non-event hours year-in, year-out on Golf Channel, because fans are looking for it. I think it’s just fine.

Remember, it’s not 156 players in the field. You get 18-hole coverage on Sunday, and you can’t wait for it. And in this world and society of excess, when we can get anything whenever we want, sometimes it’s nice to be patient and only have a certain amount. That’s why you feel like you can’t miss a second of the Masters, and there aren’t many things left in our sports television world that you can say that about.

I’ll finish with this, do you have a dream final pairing on Sunday either from a on course golf perspective or a narrative perspective or a combination of both?

Oh, absolutely: Tiger and Phil.

When you think about their greatness? Those guys have won about 120 tournaments and 19 majors. It’s nuts! Nuts, when you think about their span in the game. It’s been very rare that we’ve seen those two head-to-head, last group in a major. It would shut Twitter down. That would be awesome. Get your popcorn. It would be wonderful to see.

Here’s the good news this year. I’ll do this off the top of my head: Rory, Dustin, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Bubba, Tiger, Phil, Jon Rahm because I love watching him, Sergio, who won last year. You could take any of those guys, and apologies to the guys I left out, but any of those two in the last group and it would be awesome. Any of those names, and I don’t remember the last time the list was that long. But out of any of those permutations or possibilities, Tiger and Phil, and I would put my feet up and enjoy every second of it.

About Jay Rigdon

Jay is a writer and editor for The Comeback, and a contributor at Awful Announcing. He is not a strong swimmer.