TV View: Ex-pros embrace the woke during Sky’s endless Open coverage

Commentators try to trumpet a Rory McIlroy renaissance before the wheels come off

A view of the 16th hole at Royal St George’s. Photograph: Chris Trotman/Getty

A view of the 16th hole at Royal St George’s. Photograph: Chris Trotman/Getty

 

There is a symbiotic relationship between pictures and words to Sky Sports coverage of this year’s Open Championship at Royal St George’s golf club.

The visuals of a picturesque Kent seaside links swathed in brilliant sunshine and framed on one side by a glistening sea are accompanied by a warm supportive soundtrack, the words of the commentators a gently homily lapping at the feet of the players.

There is almost a parental concern in tone to the outpourings from the commentary box to a point where former professional golfers are talking to players’ golf balls; ‘get down, stay there, etc . . .’ A rule of thumb when playing with a professional golfer is to never pass a remark, no matter how supportive, of their golf ball in flight. That ban applies to caddies too in some cases depending on their player.

It’s remarkable then when former professionals eagerly embrace a ‘woke culture’ once they get a microphone in their hands. The supportive instincts and tone supersede all others. Any criticism is couched by inclination, especially when it comes to the favoured sons.

This was arguably best illustrated during the course of Rory McIlroy’s topsy-turvy round on the Saturday as the commentators teed up one superlative after another to describe his golf as he accelerated to the turn in four under par, not so much tempting fate as completely ignoring it.

In an eagerness to trumpet a renaissance there was a blithe disregard of the facts; the Northern Ireland golfer is still working through swing changes, was playing on a course where capricious bounces were commonplace and in chasing pins to make inroads on a sizeable gap to the leaders had to take chances with the recklessness of a dog chasing cars.

McIlroy succumbed, run over on the journey home to a point on the 14th when he temporarily lost grip of his composure and a club for a split second. It barely registered on the ‘piquancy’ scale. The cameras are all seeing though.

That truism provided an amusing moment when golf’s mister marmite, Bryson deChambeau was playing the par five, seventh hole during his third round. His drive flew into thigh high fescue grass.

The American found not only his ball but also a drain cover that affected his stance thereby entitling relief. Having initially had a sand wedge in his hand, he dropped, grabbed a hybrid and tried to re-launch his ball but instead hoiked it straight left.

DeChambeau has taken some flak for a reluctance in the past to be seen to shout ‘fore’ following an errant shot; he screamed it repeatedly with the zeal of a penitent preacher.

Sky Sports commitment to broadcasting 14 hours of coverage on the Thursday and Friday, from 6.30am to 8.30pm, was a monumental undertaking and there was plenty to admire in the diverse coverage, interspersed with offbeat features and commentary that relied on an extended cast of contributors.

A key was to dip in and out and hear without really listening to what was being said. Otherwise the information was a tad repetitive. Did you know that Louis Oosthuizen is the best putter on the PGA Tour, that Shane Lowry has great hands, that Australian Cameron Smith is another great putter or that Collin Morikawa is the best iron player in the world for example? Well 20-times during a day’s play they, amongst other factoids, would be trotted out. An overexposure gave me a pain in ‘my hole location,’ the American expression another irritant.

The peerage to footage - a new statistical marker to measure a player’s accumulated length of putts in a round - ratio on Sky was divisible by two, Dame Laura Davies and Sir Nick Faldo, both of whom added to the narrative although the this column is not sure that Davies assertion that “you’re immediately thinking bogey when you get out of position on this course,” is exactly what she meant as it’s a brittle mindset for someone making a living in the sport.

Without wishing to be parochial, Paul McGinley’s observations generally provided context and content while Nick Dougherty has turned into a very polished and eminently listenable broadcaster. Humour is an important component and that is lavishly provided by Wayne ‘Radar’ Riley and Rich Beem, an antidote to occasionally saccharin deference.

But as a package there are few who would quibble with what Sky Sports have produced; there has been something there to satisfy most preferences in terms of style and substance behind the microphone.

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