Masterful pandering required to cover this golf tournament

Media Watch

April 09, 1999|By Milton Kent

The television listings will say that CBS is carrying a golf tournament this weekend, but make no mistake: This year's Masters, just like every year's, looks more like a gymnastics meet.

That's thanks to all the contortions and bends, verbal and otherwise, that CBS officials and announcers have to do to stay on the good side of the courtly Southern gentlemen who run the Augusta National golf course as if it were the '90s.

The 1790s, that is.

Consider, for instance, the vaults over reality that CBS anchor Jim Nantz and golf coordinating producer Lance Barrow did the other day during the annual pre-Masters conference call.

Nantz took exception when it was suggested by a writer that the network's coverage was inhibited because it doesn't show all 18 holes, as is the case with two of the other three majors, the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship.

In fact, Nantz went on to say that CBS, with its 7 1/2 hours of Saturday and Sunday telecasts, carried roughly 14-hole coverage, and would have 18-hole coverage if there was a rain delay.

"How many people are out there losing sleep over whether we're showing holes 1-4? It's more a matter of the window [of coverage time] than the holes," said Nantz, who may be asked to recall this statement in August when the network is pushing the PGA telecast with 18-hole coverage on the final days.

Barrow neatly rolled around the continued absence of analyst Gary McCord, who actually makes golf interesting for the uninterested. McCord, like so many Soviet dissidents in the Cold War era, remains a "non-person" at the Masters, banished a few years back for daring to suggest the greens at Augusta played fast, as if they had been given a "bikini wax."

Look, the issue here isn't so much with Barrow and Nantz, who are fine broadcasters and decent men, placed in a difficult position. It is that officials at a golf course, who only relatively recently acknowledged the existence of an entire race of people and still don't recognize a whole gender of people for membership, have no moral standing to tell a network that pays them a good chunk of change how to cover their silly little tournament.

And CBS ought to show some more spine, but in this day and age, they can't, because they know that the second they stand up to Augusta National, the old fogeys take their tournament to ABC, NBC or Fox, all of whom would be only too willing to take the 10.2/28 rating for last year's final round, and the attractive demographics that come with it, and keep their mouths shut. As for this year's coverage, Nantz and lead analyst Ken Venturi, in his 45th year at the Masters between playing and commentating, will anchor the proceedings from the 18th tower, with Bill Macatee at the stately Butler Cabin conducting interviews.

One welcome addition to the announcer lineup is the return of Verne Lundquist, who will work the 14th hole, with Peter Kostis at 10, Bobby Clampett manning 11 and 12, Venturi at 13, David Feherty at 15, Sean McDonough on 16 and Peter Oosterhuis at 17. CBS (Channel 13) signs on tomorrow at 3: 30 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m., with a highlights show tonight at 11: 35. USA airs afternoon coverage today at 4 p.m., with a re-air at 9 p.m.

Cyber Josh

Our old, well, not so old, buddy Josh Lewin has an interesting new gig with Fox, penning a daily baseball column for the company's sports Web site.

Lewin, who does play-by-play on Detroit Tiger games, as well as on Fox Sports Net and FX and on the network's Saturday afternoon broadcast package, has brought a light, but humorous touch to his early work, the kind of things Baltimoreans remember from his time here at WBAL (1090 AM).

Lewin and his readers have adopted F.P. Santangelo as their "Anonymous Player of the Year" and are charting his progress through the season. Santangelo is playing along with the gag, and has promised to write a few columns for Lewin throughout the season. The address is http: //www.foxsports.com.

Around the dial

Perhaps in anticipation of the Masters' juggernaut, the networks are mostly taking it easy this weekend, but there are some nuggets to be unearthed, if you look hard enough.

For instance, as the Triple Crown approaches, ABC (Channel 2) picks up its pre-Kentucky Derby pace with a doubleheader tomorrow at 5 p.m., with the Blue Grass Stakes from Lexington, Ky. and the Wood Memorial from Ozone Park, N.Y. NBC's Sunday NBA doubleheader will wrap up with the Lakers hosting Seattle around 5: 30 p.m. The lead-in will either pit the Knicks against the Nets or Houston against Utah, at 3 p.m. after "NBA Showtime" on Channel 11.

ESPN will take the wraps off its revamped and souped-up "Bat Track" during coverage of the Sunday night game between Anaheim and Texas at 8 p.m. Like last year, "Bat Track" will measure the hitter's bat speed and the swing path, but this year, ESPN producers will display the information much faster than last, because, well, you demand it.

Locally, Channel 2 continues its men's lacrosse coverage with tomorrow's Syracuse-Loyola game, followed by Sunday's Ohio State-Johns Hopkins showdown. Both games face off at 1 p.m. Finally, Orioles manager Ray Miller sits down with Tom Davis for this week's "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" on Sunday at 11: 30 a.m. on Channel 54.

Milton Kent can be reached via e-mail at mediawtchr@aol.com

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