After Paul Azinger split, NBC Golf is trying out a new lead analyst

paul mcginley smiles while holding microphone from european tour event

Paul McGinley will replace Paul Azinger in the lead analyst chair at this week's Hero World Challenge.

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Paul Azinger is no longer NBC Golf’s lead analyst, but could a new Paul be on the way?

Paul McGinley, the former pro golfer and longtime voice for both Golf Channel and Sky Sports, will fill in for Azinger’s spot in the lead chair at this week’s Hero World Challenge, according to a report from the Irish Independent’s Brian Keogh. McGinley will be on the call alongside the usual NBC Golf team, a tryout in the lead slot overlapping with Tiger Woods’ return to the sport. NBC subsequently confirmed McGinley’s temporary call-up to, but cautioned the network has not yet made any permanent decisions on who will fill the lead chair.

Last week, NBC confirmed that Azinger’s contract was not renewed after five years as lead golf analyst for the network, a decision that Azinger called both “surprising and disappointing.” While Azinger was a well-liked figure by many within NBC, his departure wasn’t completely surprising. The longtime broadcaster had been a polarizing figure during his time at NBC, where his analysis was often criticized for over-generalizing or running counter to easily accessible statistics or information.

Though McGinley’s fill-in role does not come with any long-term promises, it would not be a surprise if the Hero provided some clues as to the long-term future of the NBC broadcast. At least year’s Hero, NBC officially hired Smylie Kaufman and Brad Faxon, the two names who replaced long-time broadcasters Roger Maltbie and Gary Koch, whose contracts were not renewed upon the completion of 2022.

Of course, NBC could wait to announce a full-time replacement for Azinger, but the network is not afforded the luxury of a lengthy job search. Its 2024 PGA Tour coverage begins in just a few weeks’ time at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and continues with a host of early-season tournaments that are critical to season-long viewership data. In other words, it is in everyone’s best interest to have a replacement announced sooner rather than later.

McGinley, a legendary Ryder Cupper and Dublin native, is an interesting fit as a lead analyst next to play-by-play man Dan Hicks. He is a popular figure among players and production folks in roles for Sky and NBC, and his extensive experience with both live tournament coverage and studio work would make him a safe choice from a workload standpoint. Though he has not worked as a lead analyst before, his role on Sky’s more Socratic broadcasts makes him at least fairly well-versed in the expectations of the role. At 56 years old, he would also mark a continuation of NBC Golf’s youth movement and provide the network with a fitting counterpart for CBS’s Trevor Immelman, who is fresh off a brilliant first season next to Jim Nantz.

As an analyst, McGinley is sharp and opinionated, his forthrightness and golf IQ serving as two of his biggest strengths. It should come as no surprise to learn that he remains deeply embedded with the European golf contingent, maintaining close relationships with many of the continent’s biggest players. In his U.S.-based work, he has earned plaudits for his preparation and research; his banter with Brandel Chamblee on Golf Channel’s Live From has produced some of the sport’s most compelling studio television over the past several years. (One needn’t look much further than McGinley’s skewering on TPC Sawgrass’ 17th hole for proof.)

Irrespective of whom NBC hires for the lead chair, the network finds itself in a key moment for its golf coverage, which has faced mounting criticism in recent years for falling behind its counterparts at CBS. NBC has had just two lead analysts in the past 35 years — Azinger for the last five, and Johnny Miller for the three decades preceding him. The next hire will help to shape the tone and voice of the network’s coverage as it nears the midpoint of a nine-year, multi-billion-dollar rights agreement with the PGA Tour.

While McGinley won’t unravel any of those trends at the Hero, he will have the chance to make a compelling case for his worthiness in the role. Considering that scores of golf fans are likely to tune in to see the return of Woods to tournament golf, McGinley won’t just be speaking to his bosses.

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