Even a reserved Rickie Fowler proved mic’d up golf is the way of the future

Rickie Fowler

Rickie Fowler wore a microphone for the broadcast Thursday during the first round of the Charles Schwab Challenge.

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Golf fans had to be impatient Thursday afternoon, as Rickie Fowler, our patron saint of mic’d up rounds on the PGA Tour, was quiet as can be. Two holes into this broadcasting experiment, his un-mic’d playing partners Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth were more audible than he was.

But all of a sudden, fresh off a commercial break, you were right there in the middle of a convo between Fowler and his caddie Joe Skovron. “Yeah, I’d rather be on the long side of that,” Fowler said, clear as day. What he was referring to, we’ll never know. Then he made his swing. 

Pretty BORING, right? Maybe, but it led us to the reason why golfers being mic’d up should become a mandatory feature of pro golf broadcasts. Fowler’s approach flew 35 feet long of the hole, on the green. Plenty good and fine. “Very good shot,” said Craig Perks, a remote broadcaster calling the action from Florida. Whether Perks was right or wrong, Fowler’s shot was worse than average for him from that distance.

“I didn’t see it flying that much,” Fowler said. “That flew the full number.”

“Yep. [It’s] Hot,” Skovron added. “Ball’s goin’.” It is hot in Fort Worth. Golf balls fly further when they’re warm.

“Yeah, I’m not gonna trust that without seeing it first,” Fowler said.

“Yeah, no, I knew that,” Skovron said. “That’s why I was fine with it. I thought you could get 9 [iron] there but you had to know you could get 9 there.”

It’s all right there in those 15 seconds. Context. What makes a sports broadcast great? The action, first and foremost, but after that it’s the context. What can this TV show add to what you’re seeing and help tell the story better? Little truisms, here and there. They could be the future of golf broadcasts.

Fowler is very popular with fans and a great marketer for brands, but he is by no means flashy on a broadcast. For the most entertaining ‘cast, you’d have chosen dozens of other pros before mellow Rickie. He lived up to that billing, too, rarely reacting when his ball was in the air or after it landed. But all throughout he provided little details on how both he (and the course) was playing. His par on that 244-yard 4th? “[I’d] take three there everyday,” he admitted. Okay, we can think to ourselves. If three is good, then Gary Woodland’s two was damn good.

From 204 yards on the 5th, we learned that Rickie and Joe were both thinking “stock 6″ iron. And when the approach flared right, you could hear Fowler’s exasperation. He reminded himself “stay on top of it.” It might seem like golf Morse Code, but that’s where the real broadcasters come into play. Robert Damron, a Tour-pro-turned-broadcaster, took plenty of Fowler-Skovron expressions and deduced them into common sense for the viewer.

When Fowler missed the fairway on 7, we learned he’d rather play the lengthy par-4 from a fairway bunker than from the rough. Hmmmm. Would a different player feel differently on a different course? Perhaps, but that insight right here and right now sure is interesting. Clarifying the non-intuitive is what lands executive producers million-dollar contracts. It’s broadcast brilliance.

It was ironic to watch Fowler play knowing the other players in his group. Spieth is one of the most vocal players on Tour, constantly talking with his caddie, even while his ball is in the air. He’d be perfect for a mic’d up round. The other was Thomas, who vehemently said Tuesday he would refuse wearing a mic during a Tour event. That’s right, folks, the man who shined on The Match II broadcast doesn’t want you hearing what he says to his own caddie during a round.

The assumption for many — players, fans, Tour executives, etc. — is that on mic’d up broadcasts, we’ll hear everything a player says. Whether it’s analyzing the wind, cussing out a caddie or reciting a dirty joke, we’re going to finally get the goods. Brooks Koepka reminded us all that golf can become a lot of fun when we hear what players are thinking and saying, even if it’s under their breath. Producers might yank their hair out over that, but we can continue settling those moments with the FCC, a dump button and PGA Tour fines, if necessary.

The truth is, golf fans don’t even need all of that. We just want to better understand why the things we’re seeing are the way that they are. It’s fine hearing Jim Nantz discuss how the balls in Fort Worth are flying far, with the humidity down and the temperatures up. But it’s way better hearing Skovron tell Fowler that those conditions are similar to Rickie’s practice conditions in Jupiter, and now they won’t have to play the game-within-a-game of altering the distances they measure. For those who weren’t watching, Rickie agreed.

Forgive the loose analogy, but it’s damn entertaining on Planet Earth when David Attenborough describes how a jaguar hunts its prey. For once, we’re getting to hear the jaguar’s thoughts in real-time. Mic’d up golf is more informed golf. It’s smarter golf. Better golf. That might seem obvious, but it’s missing in most broadcasts right now.

Thankfully, Graeme McDowell is rumored to be next on the mic. He’ll be even better.

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Sean Zak

Golf.com Editor

Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine, currently working on a book about the summer he spent in St. Andrews. You can read about those travels here and catch his latest thoughts on the Drop Zone Podcast:

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