The curtain rose Thursday morning on the Fox era of U.S. Open coverage with an aerial shot of Chambers Bay with Mount Rainier rising in the background.
It was the first sign that whatever Fox was about to unleash in its effort to revolutionize golf coverage, it would be overshadowed by the scenery.
Fox Sports 1 spent six minutes setting the stage with an introduction from lead announcer Joe Buck before it showed its first live golf shot.
It was about that time, the whole thing started to feel a lot like any other major golf tournament coverage. Just as producer Mark Loomis said it might.
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Of course he also promised enhancements. And Fox delivered. Graphics popped on the screen showing yardage to the green and nearby hazards. The “ball tracer” on almost every shot showed the flight of the ball in towering orange arcs.
There were rookie mistakes, too. Graphics identifying players and their score were sporadic. On several occasions the graphics awkwardly overlapped the leaderboard. At one point during the morning rounds, the leaderboard feed was interrupted and impacted the broadcast.
While there are kinks to work out, it was a promising debut for Fox.
The leaderboard was an almost permanent fixture in the lower right corner of the screen. And 3-D course flyovers and shaded shots of the greens gave a better understanding of the wickedness of Chambers Bay’s undulating terrain.
The beautifully simple shaded greens device, in particular, smacks of a feature that will one day be as important to a golf telecast as the superimposed first-down line is to football coverage.
But even the coolest graphics can’t steal the show.
Fox clearly knows this. With cameras on Fox Island, in a circling blimp and a drone hovering just off the course, Fox simply turned them toward Rainier, the rolling links and Narrows bridges and left the scene stealing the South Sound.
Ouch: The coverage didn’t play well on social media. There were too many “stick to football/NASCAR” comments to count. Less than two hours in @Chris__Schmitz, the Twitter handle for a Las Vegas resident, posted: “Hearing Joe Buck calling golf makes me want to cut my ears off with a garbage disposal.”
On Twitter, hardly the best place to look for affirmation, positive comments were almost as scarce as Chambers Bay trees. But there were a few.
The constant display of the leaderboard and the ball tracers both drew a few thank yous.
No Bawl Teen Hammer: With 118 cameras at Chambers Bay, Fox isn’t likely to miss much on the course this week. Thursday morning it caught an especially poignant moment, a few minutes before 15-year-old Cole Hammer teed off.
Clearly overwhelmed by the enormity of realizing his dream, Hammer was seen holding back tears. The video quickly made its way to social media sites such as Vine.
But when Hammer stepped to the tee, the easy one-liners started. (Yes, he does have the coolest name in golf.) Thankfully, Buck got the obligatory “he’s not old enough to drive, but he’s going to drive the ball anyway” out of the way so we won’t have to hear that anymore this week.
Heavy breathing: Fox Sports is collecting some interesting sounds with its 202 microphones on the course. The fairways, tee boxes and all 18 cups are mic’d.
And at times it sounded as if Fox mic’d up Greg Norman’s nostrils. The Shark’s breathing could be heard over much of the live coverage.
The mics didn’t do any favors for other announcers. The afternoon announcers on Fox Sports 1 also sounded like they needed oxygen.
Hopefully this isn’t how Fox is planning to breathe new life into golf coverage.
Train talk: I was unaware the authenticity of the trains passing Chambers Bay was in question. Buck put an end to the debate anyway. “That’s a real, working train,” he said. “It’s not like a zoo train.”
Where are we? For the most part, Fox did a good job of showing the world precisely where Chambers Bay is located without just lazily placing it in Seattle.
Early in the broadcast, they flashed a map showing its location in relation to both Tacoma and Seattle.
But they were far from perfect. On Fox’s online coverage for the USGA app, a member of the geographically challenged broadcasting trio of Joel Klatt, Joe Ogilvie and EA Tishler called the course “Seattle’s Chambers Bay.”
Take a little closer look at your own map, fellas. Seattle isn’t even in the same county as the one that owns this course.
The primary broadcast team also compared the vertical rise of a trip around the course (610 feet) to the height of the Space Needle (605 feet).
Sure, it would be cooler if they compared it to a stack of four Tacoma Domes (608 feet), but calling them out for it seems nitpicking.
Note to FOX: the leaderboard doesn't change often enough to require showing a permanent leaderboard at the bottom right of the screen.— Craig Miller (@junior_miller) June 18, 2015
Joe Buck apologizes for FOX loss of leaderboard graphics pic.twitter.com/cYiRCcJvwJ— Michael Shamburger (@mshamburger1) June 18, 2015
Love Fox's USO mini leaderboard in bottom right corner of screen. Though would be nice to see how many holes players are through— Jeff Rude (@JeffRudeGolf) June 18, 2015