Joe Buck, Greg Norman and how Fox can make it all work

When Fox announced that they had acquired the rights to all USGA events for twelve years beginning in 2015, the biggest talking point was who was going to replace NBC’s Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller as the broadcast team for the U.S. Open. It appears that we now have our answer, as Fox superstar Joe Buck has been tabbed as the lead play-by-play man according to the Sports Business Daily and he will be joined as previously rumoured by two-time Open Championship winner Greg Norman, who will serve as the lead colour commentator.

I thought it was possible a few months ago that Buck would be considered for the job, and to be honest, it was probably the best move for Fox. Here’s why it makes sense, what we should expect to see and how Fox can really make all of it work.

Joe Buck loves golf

I know that Buck isn’t exactly the most loved announcer in the world, but most of that is probably because he’s so visible with his gigs for both Major League Baseball and the NFL, and it’s even more difficult these days with social media where everyone gets ripped regardless of how good they are. The fact is that Buck, with his style and attitude, is a perfect fit for golf. He’s also always been praised for how he prepares for a broadcast, so even though he doesn’t have any experience with doing live golf, there’s no doubt that he’s going to be ready to go and now that he knows for sure that he’s going to be at Chambers Bay in 2015, he’s got more than enough time to prepare.

The last thing about Buck is that he’s actually an avid golfer who plays to a 3.6 handicap. Someone who’s that committed to the game, and has spoken to how much he enjoys it, is going to bring something positive to the table.

The Greg Norman effect

While Buck is the definition of an experienced broadcaster, Norman is the absolute opposite, having never done live TV aside from interviews after he finishes a round. I’m assuming that Fox is hoping that Buck will help Norman along with all of the aspects of a live TV broadcast, with Norman providing context to what Buck is saying with his wealth of experience from being one of the game’s best players for the better part of two decades.

The one thing that Norman has in his favour is that he’s never been one to shy away from the camera or the media, so he should be a natural and has come off that way in the interviews he’s done. The other thing that Norman does is bring a non-American viewpoint to the U.S. Open broadcasts. Whether it’s fair or not, the NBC crew has been seen as having a very pro-American slant, something which has been criticized by many, especially overseas. His lack of experience is a bit of a concern, but having Buck beside him should settle him down and help him through.

The rest of the broadcast crew

Since we know who’s going to to be in the booth, the next question is who will be out on the course to do reporting. Currently, NBC uses Roger Maltbie, Gary Koch and Peter Jacobsen in these roles and they do get a significant amount of air time, so these are going to need to be filled. Fox made a very savvy move a few months ago when they snagged former ABC producer Mark Loomis from the MLB Network to be their lead producer.

Loomis won an Emmy back in 2005 for his work on the Open Championship, and he brings a lot of credibility to the broadcast that may help lure some quality names to help out with the production, but considering that Fox is only doing USGA events, it’s difficult to believe that current names from Golf Channel, NBC or CBS would be willing to jump for only a few events each year.

Assuming that they knew the game inside and out, this could be a good opportunity to reach out to some fresh faces, but golf isn’t exactly the easiest sport to just jump in and call from the course. What makes this even more difficult in 2015 is the venue.

Chambers Bay

The 2015 U.S. Open is going to be played at Chambers Bay, a Scottish links style course in University Place, Washington. The course hosted the 2010 U.S. Amateur after being built just three years prior, but it’s really a brand new course for both the players and the general public. Part of what usually makes the Masters broadcast so seamless is that we’ve all seen the course dozens of times, and in actuality, this really does go for the other courses that we see in the U.S. Open, Open Championship and PGA Championship rotations. We’ve seen the shots and we know how the holes play, but this is going to be completely different for everyone involved, and the combination of a play-by-play man who’s never done golf before with a rookie colour man on a new course has the potential for disaster.

More so than probably ever before, Fox needs to have course specific experts on the broadcast, as just going to the venue the week of the event won’t allow for the same quality of coverage that fans are used to seeing. Admittedly, I have no idea how they go about doing this outside of having Robert Trent Jones Jr. on the broadcast with them, but it’s not going to be the easiest of productions, especially in their first attempt.

Embracing digital

The most important thing that Fox can do is embrace digital for their broadcasts. The Masters does a pretty good job of this every year, offering featured groups pretty early on during the day as well as stretches of holes, but this can still be improved. It’s something that I’ve talked about before, but the idea that in 2014 we can’t watch Tiger Woods or whoever else whenever we want is a bit of a joke, especially when compared to the offerings of the other big sports leagues. If Fox can figure something out where we can have access to most of the tournament action, they’ll be way ahead of what we see most weeks on the PGA Tour. Oh, and the pro tracer needs to be present on every hole.

For the amount of money that they paid the USGA, I’d like to think that Fox is going to take this whole thing seriously. So far with Buck, Norman and Loomis, they’re off to a good start.

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