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Sports media rumblings: Fox missed cut at U.S. Open

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
MSU's Holly Sonders was one of the few bright spots for Fox at the U.S. Open.

Fans and golfers alike seemed irate last week over the U.S. Open course conditions at brown-and-bumpy Chambers Bay, and they weren't shy about letting the United States Golf Association know about it.

Spare me.

The course was just fine, a super-tough test of golf that certainly identified the best players in the world. Just check out the top 10 of the leaderboard.

The only apology the USGA owes golf fans is selling its soul by moving from uber-capable NBC to ill-prepared Fox.

In August 2013, the USGA and Fox announced it had reached a 12-year deal, starting in 2015, believed to be worth $100 million annually to broadcast the U.S. Open, U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Women's Open, plus amateur events.

That $100 million is believed to be more than double what NBC paid since its contract began in 1995.

Money matters, obviously, even to a not-for-profit like the USGA.

But this deal is off to an utter disaster.

Greg Norman, the lead analyst replacing NBC's sharp-tongued Johnny Miller, promised us all groundbreaking golf coverage -- and I guess that's what we got, since I don't ever remember watching a big golf tournament and routinely not knowing where tee shots landed.

Fox's camera work at the U.S. Open would've lost a 747 if it landed in the 18th fairway.

At least once, Fox admitted its leaderboard was on the fritz.

Joe Buck referred to 15-year-old Cole Hammer as Cole Hamel (as in, Phillies ace Cole Hamels), and laughed it off by promising he'd do it several more times.

Multiple times, on-course announcers told us a shot was bad off the club face, and it ended up being good -- and vice-versa.

Norman was dull, particularly in comparison to Miller, who, for better or worse, never is afraid to tell it as he sees it. With Tiger Woods duffing shots all around Chambers Bay, all Norman could say was he couldn't find the words to say anything.

And I could go on and on, but that's what Twitter is for.

Don't get me wrong, Fox does sports coverage well, especially baseball and football. But it is painfully amateur as can be with golf. Maybe it gets better in the years ahead; in fact, I have no doubt that it will.

However, it used the U.S. Open -- arguably, the biggest golf tournament in the world, and this one in particular drew huge ratings for a Fox network that desperately needed some good numbers -- as its practice shot, and that was embarrassing.

Joe Buck, left, and Fox need to work on their golf games.

Somehow, the USGA and Fox should've found a way to work in a significant test run -- perhaps by buying out NBC for the 2014 U.S. Amateur, another USGA showcase event but one with a much smaller audience, and working the kinks out there.

Or it could've bought CBS out of one of its underwhelming 2014 stops.

Or it could've flipped this year's U.S. Senior Open, scheduled for this week, and the U.S. Open.

It did none of that, instead opting to do just a few small golf events (Shark Shootout, etc.) leading up to the U.S. Open, and so millions of golf fans got to see Fox Sports 1 and Fox make double bogey after double bogey for four days -- right down to Buck's final call, which put the emphasis on Jordan Spieth winning, when the story obviously was Dustin Johnson choking away another major championship in epic fashion on the 18th green.

It's too bad, since the golf, itself, was wildly riveting.

There were some positives for Fox, if I'm being fair.

On-course announcers Corey Pavin and Juli Inkster were pretty darn good, and post-round interviewer Holly Sonders, an MSU alum, was entertaining, even if the giant videoboard behind her was distracting.

Also, the microphones covering every inch of Chambers Bay -- mics are a specialty for Fox; they even put them in the cups -- were a great touch, and delivered us some great, spontaneous commentary, from players and caddies.

I didn't miss the awkward passive-aggressiveness between NBC's Miller and Roger Maltby.

But the shanks far outweighed the birdies for Fox's coverage, just as anyone could've predicted -- and Miller did, back when the USGA-to-Fox announcement was made two years ago.

Now, it won't be lousy forever, to be sure. You can bet your $5 nassau Fox and USGA officials had a frank, heart-to-heart Monday morning.

And if they didn't, they should've.

Fox Sports was bragging all last week about its fantastic U.S. Open ratings, but those, obviously, had zip to do with anything but the efforts on the course.

The efforts on the air were an absolute, unmistakable disgrace.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tonypaul1984