This breakout star at U.S. Women’s Open made golf fans smarter

Mel Reid

Mel Reid breaks down the 12th hole from Lancaster Country Club for the Live From broadcast during the U.S. Women's Open.

Golf Channel

Thursday was moving day for me last week, but not the golf kind. That morning, as I transitioned from the end of one lease to the beginning of another, I was buried in boxes as my parents navigated the busy streets of Chicago, searching for parking for a pickup truck. All of which is to say, I caught little of the first round of the U.S. Women’s Open

I did peek at my phone for the occasional Nelly Korda scoring update. No tally was more important, right? But as the clutter piled up and multiple elevator trips ensued, I missed the digital earthquake that was Korda’s septuple-bogey 10 at the 12th, just the third hole of her championship. 

Between floor 5 (old apartment) and 34 (new pad), I scrolled Twitter and found one reaction more than any other: total shock. Jokes soon followed about Nelly spotting the field eight shots. After that came the sad realization that no one was going to see Korda win for a seventh time in eight starts. 

I was more bummed than I thought I’d be. We were supposed to get a weekend of Nelly Golf, and at the very least some Friday Primetime Nelly Golf. But more than anything I was just grasping for context. How did this happen? The shot tracer on the USGA’s online leaderboard showed a Ping-Pong path of red dots from where Korda had played (and dropped) strokes. Unhelpful. I’d just have to wait for more color. 

Trouble is, highlights don’t do justice to the lead up, the come down, the discussions taking place in the moment. They can’t possibly capture the it’s-happening-too-fast crumbling of a round. They’re meant to show you the good stuff and the meaningful stuff, but are more quick than revelatory. I found myself in the middle of an all-too common occurrence for a sport that plays out over 18 holes and four rounds and eight-hour telecast windows. You miss stuff. Life takes over. Moves happen. Scribes typed plenty of words about the moment, and Korda herself even offered a short explanation of what she had faced — a long delay on the tee, stuck between a 6- and 7-iron, spooked by the group in front of her hitting into the creek. 

Enter our problem-solver: Mel Reid. 

Reid would tell you she’d much rather be playing in the U.S. Women’s Open than broadcasting it, but we’re lucky as golf fans she’s willing to do the latter when the former doesn’t work out. Because this is the age of golf TV providing context. Or at least daring to try harder than it has ever done before in that pursuit. 

This is the age of “Full Swing” and mic’d-up players and Jim Nantz critiquing — ever so slightly — Robert MacIntyre’s attitude around the noise being made by CBS’s drone. Sorry, pal. But your golf needs to be on TV, and aerial views brings context to it. 

Reid, as we saw last week, is an LPGA context machine. (If you are new to the Mel Reid Experience, that’s okay. You’ve got plenty of listening to do. She’s a phenomenal talker.) Sitting alongside Brandel Chamblee on Golf Channel’s “Live From” set last week at Lancaster Country Club, Reid reminded us just how valuable insights are from high-level players. She offered stories about the newly popular Charley Hull and set the record straight on the fairness of the course setup. Her on-air presence was the epitome of why sports TV is filled with ex-player talking heads. They know the games far better than we ever will.

But it wasn’t Reid’s time on set that really caught viewers last week. Rather it’s what she did on the 12th hole about 15 hours after Korda’s flameout, well after I’d finished moving. As the maintenance team at LCC was prepping the course for Friday’s second round, Reid put on her Johnson Wagner hat, grabbed a couple balls and explained exactly what Korda had been facing after she accidentally dunked her second shot. 

You learn everything you need to know about that hole from that single, three-minute context dump. You get real-life action of a ball on the green. You get a sense of what Korda’s view actually looked like. You get a sense of the green speed as the ball rolls into the water. You get statistics and historical context, and even a view the fans on-site couldn’t get: standing on the edge of the green, looking down at a “golf ball graveyard,” to use Mel’s words. It was deeply informative in the moment, with Korda still licking her wounds, but the intel also stuck with you. When Minjee Lee’s approach into 12 hit the short-right side of the green on Sunday, anyone who had seen Reid’s spot knew what would follow — her ball rolling back into the graveyard. 

Any number of pros could step into Reid’s shoes and tell you the obvious. But could they do it without screwing up? And on live television? With Chamblee and host Kira Dixon in her ear with a list of questions? And be completely unapologetic about it? The herd of would-be analysts is quickly trimmed to a handful. 

We can thank Johnson Wagner and Golf Channel producers for this newfound genre of hours-later explainer content. It’s enlightening and has made for some fantastic social-media. But more than anything it’s vital in this sport — our sport — where there isn’t much for X’s and O’s and secondary or tertiary angles. Slow motion helps you understand the start of a golf action but rarely the result, as in other sports. Strategy in golf isn’t nearly as evident as running staggered screens for a great jump shooter. And explanations of the minutiae — particularly for the negative moments like a 10 on a par-3 — often can be left waiting for interpretation as the broadcast swings to any of the other 70 players on the course.

Producing golf for TV is difficult. I’m not envious of the folks who have to do it. But if the sport as a spectating pastime is to match the trends of the sport at large — which is to say, grow — then golf on TV needs to constantly feed those of us watching at home. Or in the elevator while we’re moving. Or while we’re helping our parents find parking. Sometimes we’re hopeful to just catch a snippet of what happened, and that’s okay. In this case, we got way more than that.

Sean Zak Editor

Sean Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine and just published his first book, which follows his travels in Scotland during the most pivotal summer in the game’s history.

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