Why Fox Sports has become the best TV broadcast in golf

June 18, 2019

Sadly, it’s over. We now have to wait another 11 1/2 months for Fox to broadcast its next U.S. Open.

Between now and the Women’s Open in 2020, we’ll get the Senior Open, the amateur events, the Walker Cup, etc., but this is the event that matters most. Charleston Country Club and Pebble Beach were phenomenal hosts, and Fox captured them both masterfully and spoiled us as viewers. It’s not even a debate — Fox has become the best broadcast in golf.

In its five years as the USGA rights-holder, Fox has added something new every year, which, for a sport whose visuals seem to never change, is refreshing and important. One year it was the mic’d up holes, even shadows on the greens to display slopes. Some of it sticks from year to year, some of it doesn’t, but Fox is trying new things and adding new context.

This year the novelty was epic, highlighted by delicious drone shots along the coast. Blimp shots are great and were more relevant this week than most, but the drones that floated up over Carmel Bay, gliding along with the players, providing the perfect scale of the property — those were new and beautiful. A good broadcast shows viewers everything they must see to better understand a course, but also makes them a bit jealous of everyone there on the grounds.

Joe Buck, as the lead broadcaster, is not enough for some people, and that’s a shame. He isn’t Jim Nantz, nor will he ever even try to be Johnny Miller. But just because he calls your Dallas Cowboys game on Sundays in the fall doesn’t mean he isn’t great at calling out birdies at Pebble in the summer. Buck brings something to the golf world it doesn’t have — a figurehead willing to have a little fun on the telecast. He is not hushed and corporate and catering to sponsorships. When the USGA put Dustin Johnson through the mental wringer at Oakmont in 2016, Buck called it like it was: confusing as hell!

Perhaps even better than that transparency, Buck enjoys tapping in to what’s happening off-site, in the cloud, on social media. On Sunday afternoon, he made light of Brooks Koepka kissing his girlfriend before his round, a mock of what happened between them at Bethpage Black last month. Was this necessary fodder? No, but people who couldn’t fathom such a quip happening on their broadcast either want golf to remain its stodgy self forever, or they ought to practice using that mute button. Buck isn’t afraid to discuss what is really on the minds of many of Fox’s viewers.

Buck is joined by many talented people on the broadcast, but most notably by Paul Azinger and Curtis Strange, two of the best analysts the game has to offer. Azinger is not a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, while Strange is. Azinger’s one PGA Championship and 12 Tour wins have proven not enough, but 20 years from now his enhanced resume will/should have earned him a bust in the Hall. His on-air talents are that good. Azinger is in a suit in the booth while Strange is out there hoofing it, sweating through his golf attire and using his endless knowledge to tell you just how that golf club will react with a hook lie from the rough.

This is all to say nothing of the cinematic feel of each round, each break-to-commercial, each promo (even the ones that don’t feature Koepka).

Clint Eastwood is a great get, too. So was Samuel L. Jackson, describing the aura of The Lone Cypress. Never been to Monterey and want to learn about the vibe of Pebble Beach? They’ve got Joe Montana narrating life in the Tap Room, a place where golf is always the center of conversation, especially after Gary Woodland wins the Open.

Lastly, we present Ken Brown, and we shouldn’t even need to. You ought to already know his name, and if not that, definitely his face. The course-strategy analyst makes this game as relatable as possible. He is a once-a-day caddie for all of us watching. Those basketball-rolling, follow-me-for-a-fun-tale antics offer an engaging and understandable story. As viewers, expert or otherwise, we cannot ask for much more. It’s a shame we don’t get it more often.