The insanity of the USGA's decisions compounded what would have been a challenge for themselves and whatever network carried the tournament. Awarding the tournament to Chambers Bay, an untested, visually challenged course that was not in major championship condition hamstrung the competitors and Fox. I was critical of the USGA when they awarded the TV rights to their championships to Fox and I remain skeptical that the money they received is worth the risk of having the premier contest in American golf handled by an outfit that is still trying to figure out how to do something three or four times a year that CBS, NBC, The Golf Channel and ESPN have been working on for at least two decades and in CBS' case, well over half a century. It will take Buck years to get the experience in golf that he gets in a single season of football games. Unfortunately for us and fortunately for Fox, they'll have a long time to get it right, as the contract runs for another nine years.
That being said, Fox catches a big break this year, as the US Open returns to one of the most storied venues in the history of American golf. Although the USGA doesn't have a formal course rotation for the US Open like the Royal & Ancient has for The Open Championship, Oakmont Country Club would be on it if they did. Once every decade, the tournament returns to the lush, sandtrap infested track outside Pittsburgh. Whether it's the shots of the Pennsylvania Turnpike dissecting the course, or of the best players in the world attempting to extricate themselves from the church pew bunker, Oakmont provides a familiar and stunning visual backdrop about which to comment. The addition of what was basically the old ABC/ESPN crew will also help the network's quality of coverage. Paul Azinger and Curtis Strange, experienced, frank and outspoken analysts will bring much needed credibility to the team.
But the piece of the puzzle that's much more difficult to put together is the actual production of the broadcast. Unlike football and baseball, the two sports where Fox cut its teeth form the outset of the network, gimmicks and flashy graphics don't cut it. Frank Chirkanian, the late and former CBS producer of its golf broadcast, took years to learn and implement the tricky transition from hole to hole, shot to shot. It's literally like eighteen baseball games taking place at once. Mickelson's putting for birdie on four, Spieth is in the bunker at six, McIlroy is between clubs on a crucial approach at seventeen. Which one do you show live? Which one can you afford to show on replay? What do you do or say when that giant roar can be heard three holes away?
This year I won't be watching on television, I'll be covering the event on site at Oakmont. But I sincerely hope that the changes Fox has made in conjunction with the inherent advantages provided by the course will result in a much improved viewing experience. But from my perspective, you generally get better with practice or by repetition, and unfortunately for Fox, they don't have but a handful of times a year to do that. Still skeptical? Absolutely. Hopeful for improvement? Ditto.