For the first time in more than 20 years, Johnny Miller won’t be analyzing the U.S. Open on television.
It will be up to Fox to make sure that viewers don’t miss him.
Miller’s candid comments added to the lure of the U.S. Open, but after televising the event the past two decades, NBC lost the broadcast rights. Fox paid the USGA a reported $1.2 billion to carry the U.S. Open, the U.S. Women’s Open, the U.S. Senior Open and 10 USGA amateur events for the next 12 years. That averages out to $100 million a year, twice what NBC had been paying.
Greg Norman will replace Miller as lead analyst and work alongside Joe Buck, who has called Super Bowls and World Series, but not golf, for Fox. Comparisons with Miller will be unavoidable during Norman’s Fox debut, but CBS golf analyst Nick Faldo has proven that you don’t have to copy Miller’s style to be successful. Norman said he’ll tell it like it is.
“It can’t be sugar-coated,” he said during a conference call with the media. “It irks me when I watch TV, and every player hits the perfect shot, and every player is the greatest short game player in the world, and every player is just so good. When you look at it in totality, these players are the best in the world, but when they do do something wrong, it’s got to be pointed out.”
But Norman won’t spend the entire broadcasts ripping the players for poor shots.
“I’m not going to go out there to be critical just to be critical,” he insisted. “I’m going to be constructive so the viewing audience will be able to understand.”
Norman is 60, so you have to wonder if he will remain the lead golf analyst throughout Fox’s 12-year U.S. Open run, which begins today at noon on Fox Sports 1.
As football and baseball fans well know, Fox likes to create new technology to enhance its broadcasts. The U.S. Open broadcast will be no different.
“We are going to try and do a lot of things,” Fox coordinating producer Mark Loomis said, “there to make the viewer feel like they are playing the golf course right in front of them. We’re trying to get some dimensions to the greens, increase the audio from the course, and give you a better look of what the shot looks like to the golfer from the golfer’s view. The technology is part of the experience. It’s not the experience.”
Of course, most golf fans don’t like change, but that won’t stop Fox.
“What a boring world it would be,” Buck said, “if changing things up was so frowned upon that they were scared to do it. In 1994, everyone freaked out about Fox putting the score in the corner of the screen. If we are going to go into this event worrying what the traditional golf fan thinks, we’re dead. Fresh eyes, a fresh perspective, a little energy and looking at the same format from a different angle are good things.”
Fox especially plans to show different angles of Chambers Bay, the scenic golf course in northern Washington state that is unfamiliar to most golf fans.
“We have had people up there,” Loomis said, “shooting with drones, helicopters and on the ground. We will have every angle of that area and that golf course covered.”
Nevertheless, Loomis stressed that the tournament is far more important than the venue.
As was the case in 2008, 2010 and 2012 when the event was held in California, the U.S. Open will be televised in prime time. Fox plans 38½ hours of live coverage. Fox Sports 1 will broadcast from noon-8 p.m. today and Friday, and Fox will pick up coverage from 8-11 p.m. today and Friday. On Saturday, Fox will broadcast 2-10 p.m., and from 2-10:30 p.m. Sunday. If a playoff is necessary, Fox will televise it live beginning at 2:30 p.m. Monday.
Other Fox analysts will include: Brad Faxon, Corey Pavin, Tom Weiskopf, Steve Flesch, Juli Inkster, Scott McCarron, Jay Delsing and course design expert Gil Hanse. Charles Davis and Holly Sonders will be the on-course reporters, Curt Menefee and Shane O’Donoghue will host the broadcasts, and David Fay will be the rules expert.
After losing the U.S. Open, NBC last week signed a 12-year deal to televise the British Open beginning in 2017 at Royal Birkdale at an average of $50 million a year, twice what ESPN currently pays. Miller has plenty of time to compile all his stories from winning the British Open at Royal Birkdale in 1973.
Contact Bill Doyle at william.doyle@telegram.com. Follow him on Twitter @BillDoyle15