It’s only Thursday at the PGA Championship and yet, it’s safe to declare a runaway winner.
ESPN has shot out of a cannon in its first year broadcasting the PGA, debuting an unimaginably fast-paced, high-action product that’s hardly comparable to anything else in golf television.
In the first five hours of its live coverage Thursday on the paid streaming platform ESPN+, the network has delivered (and then some) on the hopes of golf fans beleaguered by disappointing coverage from golf’s television mainstays.
ESPN’s coverage has relied upon a broadcast crew of sports television stars (Scott Van Pelt, Tom Rinaldi, Sean McDonough and others) to supplant respected analysis from the likes of David Duval, Andy North and Colt Knost. It’s introduced new, illuminating perspectives through drones, super slow-motion cameras and innovative putting angles. And — most importantly — it’s been joyously, unceasingly fast.
The worldwide leader has pinged relentlessly between players, cutting out the filler between moments and stuffing it with more action. And it’s used all that extra action well. Featured group coverage augments the top of the leaderboard as opposed to distracting from it. Replays and pre-produced pieces are short but pithy and meaningful. Putts, approaches and tee shots are each shown.
In a live block between 1:15-1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN showed a staggering 28 golf shots (excluding tap-ins). That’s an average of 1.87 shots per minute, or a shot every 32 seconds.
“What people want is the minute someone has a tee in the ground and the ball is in the air, they want to be able to see it,” Scott Van Pelt told media in a press conference leading into the PGA. “I don’t want to overstep what is going to happen in terms of being able to deliver, but I mean, if people are playing, we’re on the air somewhere. That’s what I think people want.”
Van Pelt and McDonough have been fantastic stewards, while analysts like Andy North have adjusted well to the challenge of using even less time to color between the lines.
“I think it’s important that with the guy with his iPad at home, you need to be able to give information that means something, that may have some insight that you’re not getting off of a site someplace,” North said. “So I think that’s really important for guys on the ground and guys in the booth is that you’ve got some great information.”
As they see it, through the early portion of Thursday, Van Pelt and company merely delivered on their end of a (very) simple promise.
“To be on the air from the first swing to the last putt, it creates some long hours,” Van Pelt said. “God knows over in the Open Championship the sun stays up until late at night, man, you can be hangry out there if you’re in the tower somewhere and you’ve been talking about golf for 14 straight hours, but I think that’s what people want. People just want to see the golf.”
Through less than a full day of action in the first of an 11-year deal covering the PGA Championship, ESPN’s golf coverage (particularly its wall-to-wall broadcasts on ESPN+) is a smash-hit. For two days at least, it’s safe to declare a winner at golf’s first major: us, the viewing audience.