Live sports are back, and golf is leading the way. But it wasn’t business as usual during Round 1 of The Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. The Tour issued safety guidelines for players and volunteers. The grandstands were empty. And we began to see how different a golf telecast will look for the coming weeks, courtesy of NBC’s Golf Channel coverage.
First, the tournament: Englishman Justin Rose and Ohioan Harold Varner III share the lead after bogey-free rounds of 63. Rust? There was little wind, bright sun and 77 out of 146 players broke par. Apparently quarantine isn't bad for the golf game. It felt a little like we were watching these guys during a leisurely round in South Florida.
Speaking of Florida, Golf Channel pulled off quite a production. They had Jim Nantz stationed onsite, but his normal partner in crime, Nick Faldo, chimed in live from Orlando. (They joked about being “6 million feet apart from each other.”) NBC also had production crews in Stamford, Conn., and Burbank, Calif., plus another satellite unit in Houston. You could say they had every angle covered.
It was actually an enjoyable broadcast. With no fans, the camera crew received more than they bargained for on a few occasions -- for example, Brooks Koepka's compliment on Jon Rahm’s chip-in may have ruffled feathers with the FCC. Other highlights: Sung Kang dropped an ace on the par-3 13th hole, and Rickie Fowler wore a microphone throughout his round. Fowler was rustier than his counterparts (73, T128), but boy did he offer some interesting context during various exchanges with caddie Joe Skovron. As much as Fowler is boastful in his outfits, he’s as mellow in his on-course demeanor. And even in his reserved nature, there were moments like on hole 7 where he hit it into the rough and mentioned to Skovron that he’d rather be in the fairway bunker. Most amateurs can’t relate to that feeling, which made it fascinating.
As the PGA Tour continues in this new normal, I hope the telecasts continue to have fun in the booths and use more on-course microphones. This is golf’s chance to be bold, even while the bleachers are quiet. Let’s hope they make the most of it.