Hitting a golf ball and putting have nothing in common. They’re two different games. You work all your life to perfect a repeating swing that will get you to the greens, and then you have to try to do something that is totally unrelated. BEN HOGAN
On this week's ShackHouse, my co-host made a profound observation about the last hole Dustin Johnson played at Oakmont: he hit one of the greatest last-hole shots by a champion, even after having to back off due to noise.
The USGA's effort to penalize him overshadowed a lot, from an epic performance by the course maintenance crew, to a heroic effort by Fox working silly hours, to so many players having breakthrough weeks.
And most of all, Dustin Johnson's win was a career defining week after many letdowns. It was hard to detect the joy and satisfaction for him, but Darren Carroll's USOpen.com post-victory slideshow is a great reminder of what the win meant to the Johnson team.
Both Martin Kaufmann at Golfweek and John Strege at Golf World focused on Fox's handling of the USGA's mishandling of the Dustin Johnson ball move, and appropriately praised the network for their coverage. (Classic Sports TV also did its usual breakdown of shots and it appears the controversy coverage ate into the number compared to last year.)
This twist in the Fox-USGA saga is glorious on many levels.
To review: the USGA wanted a partner who would expand their brand, carry their water, rub their shoulders and, in general, give them the love they so desperately thirst for the one week a year the world is watching. (There has been the sense that former partner NBC covered past boondoggles too well and could not be trusted by the loyalty-over-competency ways of the modern, coldly-corporate USGA.)
In year one, Fox complied with an excess of USGA logos on the screen, daily Mike Davis booth visits, way too much Tom O'Toole in the booth and hiring folks like former Walker Cup captain Buddy Marucci, who brings no energy (both O'Toole and Marucci were back in 2016, with O'Toole as a contributor to the digital announce squad that Marucci worked).
Yet when the USGA rules staff intervened Sunday in the proceedings, most of the nation could see what the USGA still can't see--a referee agreeing with a player that no violation occurred. Fox carefully called them out initially, and then as reality set in, allowed analysts Azinger and Faxon do what they're paid to do: give strong opinions. That initial restrained skepticism also bought them a free pass for the various and inevitable mistakes when you only do a huge production once a year and on almost no sleep due to the weather delays.
Kaufmann explores the USGA fiasco element of the telecast and adds this insight into why Buck kept steering his analysts to the weirdness of it all:
Buck, in an interview late Sunday, said he received a text from a NFL head coach during the Johnson dispute who said, “It’s like the officials telling you, ‘Hey, we can’t tell you if the two-point conversion you just tried is good until the end of the game.’ It was odd to do an event where you weren’t sure what the lead was.”
In calling them "noticeably better" Golf World's John Strege also focuses on the ruling fiasco, crediting the network for showing Tweets from top players.
So it's fascinating that Fox succeeded by setting the tone for national outrage aimed at the USGA, levels of which we've never quite seen. The willingness to expose questionable decisions by their partners gave them golf street cred but helped do incredible damage to the USGA.
Isn't it wonderful when it all works out?
Besides the right amount of honesty from analysts Azinger and Faxon when it came to the Johnson situation we saw a more restrained Buck, a more polished Holly we used to know and love being back, and a wealth of eye-catching effects made it a much improved effort.
—Flight Track, showing the player teeing off with a side graphic depicting the flight of the ball and various numbers. Easily the biggest innovation in golf viewing based on the viewer reaction on social media and in the press center.
--Protracer from the side, Protracer in general, and lots of Protracer live.
—More incorporation of blimp shots, which wasn't a hard one to improve since its use was almost non-existent last year.
--The cup mic picking up Spieth chatter on 6 green Saturday and at other times when balls hit the flagstick.
—The pivot of putting on-course reporter Curtis Strange in the main booth after it was kind of obvious that the two-time US Open winner brought gravitas. More booth time and less on-course time.
--Real time shot information. It was particularly spellbinding when Dustin Johnson was playing thanks to his incredible carry yardages.
--Incorporating social media into all days of the telecast. Maybe even incorporating them on screen? But who could have seen the day social media was potentially impacting the final nine of a golf tournament.
--Bob Ford and Gil Hanse were welcomed changes in pace, styling and insight into setup/agronomics/local knowledge, but we didn't get enough of them breaking down the holes. The potential of the on screen hole drawings is exciting.
--Azinger seemed a bit reserved the first two days, with Faxon doing much more of the talking. By the weekend Azinger was more assertive and his colleagues more deferential to his opinions, which are generally the most interesting and nuanced on the Fox team. More Azinger next year and let him go down those interesting, wonky ratholes like the discussion on Trackman, then let the others chime in as they did this week. Viewers can't get enough.
--Relying on lower right leaderboards with a handful of names was particularly annoying in early round coverage when viewers all over the land want to see names of qualifiers they are following. How about at the bottom screen, a running board so folks in 19th holes across the land can spot names?
—Too often Fox showed a great shot and didn't follow up the story. Rory drives a green, we don't see the next shot, etc...
--Not enough flyovers, especially those given the slight artistic treatment that are so hard to take your eyes off of. The straight drone shots down the fairway don't inspire much insight.
—Two course records were in play that threatened to join Johnny Miller's famous 63, yet were not treated like historic moments. Andrew Landry should have been getting non-stop coverage as he closed out round two. Perhaps because the philosophy seemed to be...
—Big name players and more big name players, meaning the network/FS1 coverage felt too often like Best Of Featured Group coverage. NBC's Tommy Roy tried to show all 156 players in the field the first two days, whereas Fox seems more about the big names. That's fine, but does undercut the USGA's message that this is the world's most democratic championship and everyone who is there has a great backstory.
—Mark Brooks has good things to say and was quite solid on last year's Featured Group coverage where he was more energetic. Worrying about being on camera may be the culprit for what seemed to be a more restrained approach, though I did enjoy his willingness to subtly indicate greens 14 on the Stimpmeter were not cool.
--Green shading and the small yellow dots were great to the trained eye but I wonder what the casual viewer thought?
—Still some struggles following shots and with sound. And what was the noise that caused Dustin Johnson to back off on 18? That could have been disastrous.
--Interviewing Rickie Fowler (+11) while Shane Lowry (-2) was on the course finishing round two bothered many. It was nice of Fowler to stick around, but since he's not a former U.S. Open winner nor was a pre-tournament favorite, make him wait a few more minutes and show Lowry.
Fascinating dynamics in this apology. USGA CEO/Executive Director Mike Davis is schedule to appear on the 6 pm ET Golf Central to elaborate.
USGA Statement Regarding Dustin Johnson Ruling
The USGA wishes to congratulate Dustin Johnson on his victory and thank him, and the other players in the field, for their professionalism and grace throughout the championship. Dustin is a wonderful champion, a talented golfer and a gentleman.
Our team at the USGA has seen and heard a great deal of discussion and debate about the ruling on Dustin’s ball moving during the final round of the 2016 U.S. Open Championship at Oakmont Country Club. In addition to the explanations we offered upon the conclusion of the final round, we add these comments.
Upon reflection, we regret the distraction caused by our decision to wait until the end of the round to decide on the ruling. It is normal for rulings based on video evidence to await the end of a round, when the matter can be discussed with the player before the score card is returned. While our focus on getting the ruling correct was appropriate, we created uncertainty about where players stood on the leader board after we informed Dustin on the 12th tee that his actions on the fifth green might lead to a penalty. This created unnecessary ambiguity for Dustin and the other players, as well as spectators on-site, and those watching and listening on television and digital channels.
Translation: this is as close to a concession that they had decided early on to award Dustin a penalty and should have just done so, since there was nothing he could say that would reverse their decision. Arguably the most troubling element to the entire episode gets more interesting with this apology.
During any competition, the priority for Rules officials is to make the correct ruling for the protection of the player(s) involved and the entire field. In applying Rule 18-2, which deals with a ball at rest that moves, officials consider all the relevant evidence – including the player’s actions, the time between those actions and the movement of the ball, the lie of the ball, and course and weather conditions. If that evidence, considered together, shows that it is more likely than not that the player’s actions caused the ball to move, the player incurs a one-stroke penalty. Officials use this “more likely than not” standard because it is not always apparent what caused the ball to move. Such situations require a review of the evidence, with Decision 18-2/0.5 providing guidance on how the evidence should be weighed.
Our officials reviewed the video of Dustin on the fifth green and determined that based on the weight of the evidence, it was more likely than not that Dustin caused his ball to move. Dustin’s putter contacted the ground at the side of the ball, and almost immediately after, the ball moved.
We accept that not everyone will agree that Dustin caused his ball to move.
Say, 99.999999% of the population.
Issues under Rule 18-2 often require a judgment where there is some uncertainty, and this was one of those instances. We also understand that some people may disagree with Rule 18-2 itself. While we respect the viewpoints of those who disagree, our Committee made a careful and collective judgment in its pursuit of a fair competition played under the Rules of Golf.
In keeping with our commitment to excellence in all aspects of our work on behalf of the game of golf, we pledge to closely examine our procedures in this matter. We will assess our procedures for handling video review, the timing of such, and our communication with players to make sure that when confronted with such a situation again, we will have a better process.
The review process is under review!
We at the USGA deeply appreciate the support of players, fans, and the entire golf community of our championships and our other work for golf – and we appreciate your feedback as well. We have established an email address (email@example.com) and phone mailbox (908-326-1857) to receive comments. We thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.
We all share an abiding love of this great game. Let us continue to work together for its good.
And we'd love to hear your thoughts on green speeds pushed to mask the lack of distance regulation we've overseen!
The overnights do not include cumulative audience numbers, which would logically seem more important than ratings given the length of Fox's 2016 U.S. Open coverage.
Nonetheless, for now we have overnights to consider from SportsMedia Watch and some analysis on Twitter from SBJ's Austin Karp.
Only Martin Kaymer's 2014 runaway was lower rated than this year's finale (3.8), and Saturday's rain-delay expanded coverage that reverted to FS1 for the last hour earned the worst third round number since ratings have been tracked (1988).
In two years on FOX, the U.S. Open has delivered two of its four lowest final round overnights. Including the record-low of 2014, the past three years join only 1988 as the lowest rated on record in the metered markets.
Saturday’s third round coverage posted a 2.5 overnight on FOX, down 27% from last year, when coverage went later into primetime (3.4), and down a tick from 2014 on NBC (2.6). The 2.5 is the lowest on record for third round coverage, falling below the previous mark set in 2014.
The second round coverage earned the third-lowest for second round coverage, ahead of only 2014 and 2011.
This from SBJ's Karp:
Fox reportedly drew 3.8 overnight rating for Sunday at US Open (11am-8:15pm). 2015 ended 1045pm; no NBA Finals; Spieth win (4.8 overnight)— Austin Karp (@AustinKarp) June 20, 2016
Fox will still likely finish ahead of 2014 US Open (3.3 overnight for Kaymer's win). Also East Coast then; had NBA Finals Game 5 competition— Austin Karp (@AustinKarp) June 20, 2016
US Open will likely end up with its second-lowest audience on record for a final round telecast— Austin Karp (@AustinKarp) June 20, 2016
Fox offered this related to Saturday's coverage:
U.S. OPEN SATURDAY RATINGS NOTES: FOX Sports enjoyed an extended broadcast window Saturday, with nine hours of continuous coverage of the 116th U.S. Open Championship on local FOX stations from 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM ET. Highlighted by perfect playing conditions and a fluid leaderboard, coverage of the second and third rounds yielded 19.8 gross ratings points over the course of the Saturday network window, a +11% increase over the 2014 U.S. Open (17.9 – nearly eight hours; most recent East Coast U.S. Open). Coverage peaked with a 3.0 rating and 4.4 million viewers from 5:30 – 6:00 PM ET.
U.S. OPEN SATURDAY RATINGS NOTES CONT': Saturday's U.S. Open coverage began with two bonus hours airing on FS1 from 7:00 AM to 9:00 AM ET, garnering an average of 819,000 viewers, the second most-watched Saturday morning telecast in FS1 history.
I'm torn on whether the ratings news is that bad given what a dark day this might have been. While Fox handled it well and no doubt upset their USGA "partner" that seeks house organ coverage, golf would not have appealed to many casual fans if DJ was cost a U.S. Open by the rules committee.
That said, I still want to see the cumulative audience to see just how bad the number is. And at year's end I'll try to get the cumulatives for the four majors and Olympic golf.
A more detailed review of the highs and lows from the telecast is coming along with links to some other takes. But the Johnson rules situation takes priority for now.
The blog has been neglected in this time of somewhat mind-boggling U.S. Open antics, but while I read what you and my colleagues are saying--I'd ask you to consider some new podcasts.
Recorded in the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center's excellent restaurant and bar (thanks to the crew for taking care of us and our weird U.S. Open hours with smiles and impressive food) Golf Digest's Ryan Herrington, Joel Beall and yours truly discuss what we saw Sunday at Oakmont. Please subscribe at your preferred podcast provider (iTunes here).
On ShackHouse Episode 11, Joe House and I try to stick to the big picture issues at this U.S. Open win: Dustin Johnson's breakthrough, the USGA's bizarro behavior, some of the big picture ramifications from the Sunday fiaz and the much-improved effort from Fox.
As always, you can subscribe on iTunes and or just refresh your device subscription page.
And the ShackHouse Stitcher page.
Special thank you to our sponsor Callaway, makers of Chrome Soft and XR driver, House's new Apex irons, and now offering a common sense Rewards program for loyalists.
Thanks to OdysseyGolf.com for White Hot face putters that have made them the #1 putter in golf and used by U.S. Open runner-up Jim Furyk along with T5 finisher Branden Grace.
Also thanks to this week's sponsors:
Harrys.com ($5 off first order w/code HOUSE for best razors and shave cream going)
New sponsor Ring.com ($50 off the security doorbell that will be cutting short the career of my football-playing FedEx package deliverer. Just use our link)
And finally, the hi-tech, no logo and bargain-priced workout gear from AthletesCollective.com (15% off using code HOUSE, I'm sure you won't be disappointed).
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ShackHouse remains the #1 golf podcast on iTunes. Thanks all for your support.
There is a lot to read and absorb related to the 2016 U.S. Open/USGA fiasco, but let me suggest you start with this piece I wrote for GolfDigest.com on the "Decisions" ruling used by the USGA to reach a decision.
We have plenty of time to debate their interpretation, but here's what they used to interpret.
In the interest of remaining on the topic at hand let's just get all of our high praise and deep affinity for rule 18-2 out in the open, and then go from there.
Before his 3:30 pm ET tee time with Andrew Landry (!), Shane Lowry probably needs some introduction before he attempts to win the U.S. Open at Oakmont.
Here is Doug Ferguson's game story on the conclusion of round three that saw Lowry open up a three stroke lead.
Ryan Herrington on Lowry prior to the restart and how much the stoppage helped the Irishman.
Brian Keogh of the Irish Golf Desk has covered the former Irish Open winner (as an amateur) and covers Lowry's self-called penalty. USGA researchers are trying to determine if it is historic first should Lowry go on to win.
In the morning he banked some crucial karma when he called a penalty shot on himself on his seventh hole, the par-three, 16th and did well just to make bogey and slip back to two over for the day.
“I addressed the ball, and the ball moved back,” he said. “I had to penalise myself. It’s very frustrating in a tournament like that.
“I actually holed a great eight-footer for a bogey on that hole. I think, if I had missed that, it would have been difficult to get back from there.”
Alex Miceli has post-restart quotes from Lowry, who says he would have been happy with four pars.
The pairing with unknown Landry will be interesting, and Rex Hoggard says the blue collar showdown is fitting in Pittsburgh.
Kyle Porter with various notes on Lowry including the records of those with a four-stroke-or-more lead.
After an incredibly taxing and downright heroic 11.5 hours straight of bonus-infused coverage on Fox Sports 1 and Fox, the network sent the final 49 minutes of third round coverage back to its less-visible cable channel.
The network's Major League Baseball game of the week pre-game show prior to featuring Cubs-Pirates in much of the country. In the New York market, it was the Mets vs. the lowly Braves.
Given that golf fans are used to majors staying on network TV through the completion of play, the Twitter outrage over the Fox network broadcast of a major championship shifting to a network seen in fewer homes was swift and directed at the USGA.
Did FOX just leave the US Open for a baseball game!! What a dumb thing the USGA did selling out to those guys.....
— Sammy Lane (@samm1968) June 19, 2016
Fox playing musical networks w/ Major Championship golf for regular season baseball is exactly why the USGA didn't think, only looked at $$$
— Jason Reid (@JReidOneNiner) June 19, 2016
**Martin Kaufmann at Golfweek.com had some issues with Fox's storytelling approach and lack of coverage of many players.
Whenever Buck or Shane O’Donoghue would say, “Let’s go to Holly Sonders,” my first thought is: Let’s not. That meant two things: we were leaving action, and we probably were going to see more of Brooks.
Later in the day, Fox lost track of Jason Day, who was chasing Johnny Miller’s 63. Fox belatedly caught up with Day on the 14th tee, when he was 5 under. (He shot a 4-under 66 to get back in the hunt.) We also saw little of Branden Grace, who shot 66 to move into sixth place, and Bryson DeChambeau (T-8), and I don’t think we saw any of Kevin Streelman (T-12), one of only five players to post two subpar rounds this week.