In theory, Greg Norman should be a terrific golf analyst. One of the most popular and charismatic players of his era, he was an extraordinarily accomplished player — ranked No. 1 in the world for more than 300 weeks, counting two majors among his 85 tournament victories — but he also endured moments on the course of extraordinary anguish.
Those two major wins could have — should have — been many more. How’s this for a torturous kind of grand slam? He is just one of two golfers to have lost each of the four majors in a playoff.
Norman’s lack of a finishing touch (to put it gently) that often reared up in big moments not only made him a sympathetic figure, but a relatable one. Plus, he has that cool Australian accent and a memorable, made-for-endorsements nickname, the Shark.
In theory, Norman should have been the ideal analyst for what occurred during the final twists of the final round of the US Open last Sunday on Fox. When Dustin Johnson three-putted on the 72d hole, allowing Jordan Spieth to win his second major in as many tries this year, Norman, who arguably suffered more heartbreak than any other golfer, should have been able to articulate exactly what Johnson was thinking and feeling.
Fox, broadcasting its first golf tournament in the first year of a 12-year contract with the US Golf Association, must have thought it hit the jackpot. Who better to explain what happened to Johnson than someone who endured similar cruel twists and crushing final-day outcomes so many times?
But Norman did not deliver. He was strangely tongue-tied, that old familiar on-course charisma and candor jarringly absent when he was called upon to discuss another golfer’s meltdown rather than his own.
It’s unclear whether Norman faltered on his own or was not utilized properly by the production team. Certainly a director might have demanded more insight from him, and perhaps play-by-play voice Joe Buck could have made a greater effort to draw out Norman amid all the chaos of the moment.
A request to Fox Sports asking to discuss the in-house view of its tournament coverage with prominent members of the production team had not been granted as of press time.
But it’s fair to acknowledge that the failure to provide worthwhile analysis on the final hole was not Norman’s only significant misstep. He had access to countryman Jason Day, who collapsed on the final hole Friday, and got a genuine scoop when he revealed that Day, who suffered from vertigo on the uncompromising Chambers Day course, would play Saturday. But Norman delivered the news offhandedly, as if he didn’t recognize the value of the information.
Some might suggest that Norman — and Fox Sports, too — deserves a mulligan. After all, it was their first foray. But there are no mulligans in majors. Norman should have been ready for this, and it is entirely fair to compare how he navigated the role of lead analyst to the way Nick Faldo (CBS) or Johnny Miller (NBC) might have handled it.
Suffice to say it is not a favorable comparison in either regard, and Miller in particular not only would have shared the Day news with appropriate gravitas, but likely would have referenced an analogous event, such as Ken Venturi battling heatstroke during his victory in the 1964 US Open.
If you don’t mind the neon-’n’-noise approach to the way Fox covers just about everything (NFL, NASCAR, and a slightly mellower approach on baseball), there were some appealing new technological elements about the first golf foray.
The additional microphones — there were 22 situated around the course, including in the cups — enhanced the you’re-right-there-with-’em approach. Fox wanted viewers to have a visual and aural experience similar to what a player sees and hears, and it did a decent job with that, particularly since the Chambers Bay course was not particularly conducive to the televised golf experience. But it was difficult to follow the ball at times, and Fox constantly missed landing areas after a drive.
To say that Fox struggled with its post-match coverage is akin to saying that Tiger Woods struggled the first two days; it was a mess. Curt Menefee, so capable as the NFL studio host, seemed lost. Tom Weiskopf was patronizing. Brad Faxon is a superb analyst, funny and blunt, but his limited name recognition outside of New England may prevent him from receiving the enhanced role he deserves.
I suspect, based on past correspondence, that I’m in the minority here, but I like Buck on pretty much everything he does. He’s in on the joke more than you think. But he should have done more to draw insight out of Norman, presuming, we must suppose now, that there is actually any to draw.