‘I was quite shocked’: This Rory McIlroy Masters decision left Nick Faldo incredulous
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Among the almost universally praised additions to network-television golf coverage in 2023 has been mid-round interviews with players, conducted via AirPods in the players’ ears.
CBS debuted the concept at the Farmers Insurance Open in January, with Max Homa offering insights from Torrey Pines. Keith Mitchell and Tom Kim also have participated, and during NBC’s coverage of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play last month, Rory McIlroy joined the fun.
This week, as part of CBS’s Masters coverage, three more players agreed to be mic’d up: two who’d done it before (McIlroy and Homa) and one who had not (Justin Thomas), representing the first time players have joined a major-championship telecast — at uber-traditional Augusta National no less — in the midst of competition.
“If Augusta National wants to do something for the Masters,” Homa said. “I think [you say yes].”
When asked if he was distracted by having to engage with the broadcasters, Homa said, “It’s like being on a phone call for 10 minutes. It’s not the end of the world. It might be a shade distracting, but I think if it’s 5 percent distracting and it’s 95 percent something positive for golf, I can get past that.”
McIlroy’s moment came in the first round on the par-4 9th where his middling approach shot came to rest about 40 feet short of the hole. As McIlroy was pacing up to the green, CBS analyst Trevor Immelman asked McIlroy from the booth, “What do you think? What’s your impression?”
“I think just in the back of my mind — obviously you don’t want to go long on this pin,” McIlroy said. “I just eased off of it. Probably pitched it five or six yards shorter than I wanted to. So I at least got that putt up the hill, hopefully have a decent look at it. If I don’t hole it, then get it around the hole, you know start the back nine afresh.”
After his round, McIlroy — who shot an even-par 72 on a day ripe for scoring — was asked about his decision to do the interview.
“It definitely feels a little less intrusive with the earpiece rather than someone right up next to you with the microphone like they’ve been doing it in Europe for a couple of years,” he said, adding, “I was wondering what they were going to ask me more so that what I was going to say.”
In the second round, McIlroy’s game was even further out of sorts. He carded a five-over 77 to miss the cut by two.
No one is suggesting that spending a couple of mid-round minutes chatting with Immelman somehow derailed McIlroy’s run at a long-sought-after green jacket, but at least one three-time Masters winner does think McIlroy would have been better off fully cocooning himself between the ropes: Nick Faldo.
On Friday, Faldo, who for 16 years sat in a chair next to Jim Nantz calling golf for CBS, shared his take in a video he posted to Twitter.
“I was quite shocked that Rory and Max put those AirPod things in and did a running commentary,” Faldo said. “This is the Masters and we’ve been talking so much about how Rory said he was physically and technically in the right place — all it was was mental. I bet [McIlroy’s sports psychologist] Bob Rotella didn’t say ‘Oh, tell the world what you’re doing.
“I don’t honestly get that. This golf course, this tournament, is the most wonderful one because it’s just you and your caddie inside the ropes — there’s no still photographers allowed in — so you just do your own thing. And I would have thought for Rory to get off to a better start than he did just do your own thing, get in your own little world and don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Keep it a secret.”
On Thursday, McIlroy was asked if there is any player who he would like to see participate in a walk-and-talk who hasn’t yet.
“Tiger,” McIlroy said. “There’s only one answer there.”
When asked what are the chance of that happening, McIlroy laughed.
“Zero,” he said.