Enberg, NBC are up to par in U.S. Open

ON THE AIR

June 19, 1995|By MILTON KENT

This weekend had the potential to be a disaster, or at least, very, very uncomfortable for Dick Enberg.

Not long after NBC Sports pried away the rights to the U.S. Open golf championships -- men's, women's and seniors -- from ABC with a three-year, $40 million contract, the division's president, Dick Ebersol, thrust Enberg into the hot seat, making him host of NBC's burgeoning golf package.

Enberg, a seven-time Emmy winner and three-time national Sportscaster of the Year, was certainly a worthy candidate, having been a part of virtually every major event NBC has had over the past 20 years, from baseball to football to basketball -- NBA and college -- to tennis and the Olympics.

But could Enberg, who had never done golf, whose fans are among the most knowledgeable and demanding, display enough savvy to satisfy them, while keeping the general audience entertained? Not even Enberg knew for sure.

"You don't really feel comfortable with an event until you can do three hours of a telecast, then walk away and not know one word you've said," said Enberg. "That comes only with years and years of experience. I'm not there yet."

Enberg hasn't quite reached the level of, say, CBS' Jim Nantz, the best of the network golf hosts, but he certainly passed his first big test this weekend, displaying enough of his usual intelligence, wit and enthusiasm to justify Ebersol's faith.

Overall, NBC's U.S. Open effort was impressive. Its 18-hole coverage moved crisply from hole to hole, spending the proper amount of time at each spot to keep all sides happy.

Besides Enberg, analysts Johnny Miller and Roger Maltbie shined this weekend, as well as NBC's production, especially its use of 3-D animation on the seventh and 11th holes, which brought their slopes into proper perspective.

The Wright verdict

Absent Ben Wright's vehement denial that he made inflammatory statements to a female reporter about women golfers and lesbians before the LPGA Championship last month and CBS Sports president David Kenin's support of Wright, there has been a deafening silence from the CBS golf crew on the subject.

However, Gary McCord, who has made Wright the butt of many of his on-air jokes, gave a passionate defense of his colleague while in an America Online chat room Thursday to talk about the U.S. Open.

"Ben got blindsided," said McCord. "He has never in 10 years mentioned anything like that which was said in the papers, even after many adult beverages. If it's her [the reporter's] word against his, I'm backin' Ben all the way."

The life of Riley

Pat Riley's decision to resign as coach of the New York Knicks on Thursday may have ramifications for NBA broadcast booths for next season.

Riley, who spent a year as studio analyst with NBC before taking the Knicks job, could be back with the Peacock boys, especially if Bill Walton gets the bigger role that he seems destined for, though that time would come at the likely expense of either Julius Erving, the current studio commentator, or backup game analyst Steve Jones.

Also, don't forget that TNT has not filled Doug Collins' game analyst slot, left open when Collins took over as Detroit Pistons coach after the playoffs. That spot could give Riley the year to keep his foot in the basketball waters while he waits for another coaching chance.

Meanwhile, current Turner analyst Chuck Daly spent the end of last week telling talk show host Charlie Rose and ESPN Radio that he had little interest in taking over the Knicks, though he added that "you should never say never." Stay tuned.

Yakety yak

Tonight's "Outside the Lines" special on ESPN (7:30) examines the effect of sports talk radio on athletes and participants alike. Given the show's usual thoughtful bent, this one should be a keeper.

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