Media Wrap: CBS And ESPN At Southern Hills
Praise, quibbles and ratings from the 2022 PGA Championship.
There is plenty to feast on after a successful week for the PGA Championship’s television rightsholders. And no media meal would satisfy without a healthy serving of quibbles. So here goes…
A strong final day of effects, camera work and announcing was accented by the Goodyear Blimp delivering key visuals for a golf course that’s not easy to capture via the drone. Down the stretch when it counted most, the CBS team made the dramatic and slightly crazy finish easy to follow for a general audience. All of the scene-setting shots and replays were terrific around the 18th green, with the FlyCam and Kaze Aerial drones making the moment feel bigger.
There was one big fail that undoubtedly pained producer Sellers Shy: Toptracer technology wasn’t ready for Mito Pereira’s 18th hole quickly-hit tee shot. But the tracer did work for Justin Thomas’s low cutter off the same tee. In a modern game where “flighting” the ball is so rare, the trace and “52 FT” apex reinforced his shotmaking prowess. Prior to teeing off, CBS had a superb close-up of Thomas where we could see supreme confidence and calm in his body language as boneheads were imploring him to hit driver.
Unlike the Masters, CBS’s PGA Championship show can feel a bit too much like a weekly PGA Tour telecast at times. That’s a compliment to how much the team pours into their week-to-week shows by using bells and whistles that used to only appear at majors.
Some of the ordinary vibe can also be pinned on the leaderboard having a Wells Fargo vibe. The generic CBS theme music does not help after Augusta where a couple of chords in we know it’s a Tradition Unlike Any Other.
Sunday’s show kicked off with a fantastic “tease” by producer Chris Burns set to James King and Anders Lewén’s Sweet Soul and Deep Blues. With Route 66 images, leaders superimposed on rural buildings and faux radio broadcast voices talking about the 3rd round leaders, it set a fun tone. This was not a dramatic Jim McKay style lead-in and that’s fine.
Maybe the best part of the CBS presentation: a noticeably lighter commercial load compared to recent PGA’s. Even the breaks seemed shorter with fewer promos. Only once or twice on Sunday did it seem like a break was keeping us from key action. New this year were occasional pop-up ads for PGA sponsors above the on-screen scoring. If that very minor intrusion helped appease sponsors to take a break or two less, fine by me. The show flow felt infinitely better due to whatever modifications were made.
Other random stuff:
The opaque on-screen scoreboard and discreet lower right CBS/PGA branding is more pleasing than NBC’s efforts that need the softer presence.
Joaquin. Getting fellow Chilean and Mito Pereira housemate Joaquin Niemann to join the show for an extended bit provided insights we otherwise would not have had. But there was one consequence…
Thomas on 13. A surging Justin Thomas had 237 into 13 from the middle of the fairway and after a lot of agonizing about the ground in front of his ball, chose to lay up. Viewers could see it all on ESPN+ Featured Group coverage but not the big show. I get CBS was all in on trying to humanize Pereira, but Thomas was the biggest name left with a shot and had just made birdie on 12. Yet we did not see him again until this third into 13 green. The moment became bigger when the playoff returned and Thomas laid up. Was he influenced by the decision earlier?
Access Announcing. Too many golf announcers are quick to spin a poor result with an inaccurate positive. It’s a strange mindset that seems to believe players scour broadcast transcripts and police how they are portrayed. (That’s what ten-percenters are for!) Sunday, Ian Baker Finch initially declared Cameron Young’s final resting place in a back bunker on the par-5 13th a good place to miss the green in two. There might be a handful of bunkers in the United States where this is the case. Sure enough, moments later IBF would be detailing how hard the shot was given the downhill lie, wind from the left and the hard green slope going away to the right. Later in the day, Justin Thomas powered his 18th hole putt through the break. It never had a chance. On-course announcer Colt Knost piped in that Thomas hit it just “a shade” too hard. The putt popped off the blade and finished was 2 feet 5 inches by the hole.
Good zoom. A camera shot stayed wide on Mito Pereira’s 17th hole birdie putt when it looked like he came up millimeters short. A graceful zoom-in showed the ball was actually a solid inch short.
Shaky, but it worked. A CBS cameraman was ideally positioned on 18 where Pereira’s ball finished in the creek. The shaky replay ended up adding to the drama of the misfire. Jim Nantz’s surprise and the replay of Pereira’s ball finishing in a watery grave helped offset the Tracer not firing at the tee.
Early into Saturday’s broadcast CBS discussed the absence of Phil Mickelson. They ran clips from Tiger and Rory wishing Mickelson was present to defend (right!), followed by a slight suggestion from Nick Faldo—straight faced—that Mickelson should reconsider and play the PGA Tour. But there are deeper issues than a simple tiff over Tour policies and felt far too careful compared to ESPN’s handling.
Awesome music choices. Tulsa-based recording artist Baron Ryan played an homage to Southern Hills’ 88 bunkers on the club piano. Superb idea and even better execution. Stellar music choices going to some breaks saved us from CBS’s generic theme in favor of spirited stuff from greater Tulsa’s finest. We heard Leon Russell’s Home Sweet Oklahoma, The Gap Band’s Outstanding and Bob Dylan selections to salute Tulsa’s new museum.
The obligatory PGA of America interview was marred by an audio issue and president Jim Richerson praising Southern Hills for “rolling up the red carpet”. Pretty sure he meant they rolled it out. Unless he knows something we don’t.
The only CBS Sports Network post show coverage I saw came via online posts. In this clip Hally Leadbetter reports Tiger Woods was on the other end of a post round call to winner Thomas shown on television. Thomas said it was his agent, Lance Young.
Slow Mo. A super slow-mo replay of Pereira’s 16th hole pitch showed us his club meeting the turf nearly an inch behind the ball. Another example of CBS’s stellar camerawork and use of the technology.
Other gizmos. We didn’t get much of CBS’s Eye-Vision 2.0 view cameras at 16 tee for swing analysis. Nor much use of promised putting analysis grids and topography shading.
Graphics galore. CBS provided tons of pertinent info via their on screen graphics, including course overheads employing PGA Tour ShotLink data. Highlights included showing the difference in player drives on select holes caused by the wind change, day-to-day course maps showing the wind differences, and another explaining how the intersection of holes 3-6-7 worked (shown on the ESPN lead-in broadcast).