The odd obsession of CBS Sports

There is so much going on right now; what should I write about:

Yeah, that’s it: what is it with CBS Sports and the wives and children of PGA golfers?  It’s seemed to me for some time that Jim Nantz and the CBS golf broadcast are inordinately interested in naming, and showing, the wives/girlfriends/children of PGA pros when they win a tournament.  Frighteningly so.  Obsessed, even.

Not that I paid as much attention to golf on television then as I do now, but I don’t remember seeing Nicklaus’ and Palmer’s wives and kids showing up on the 18th green to hug daddy after a win.  Maybe it started with Tiger.  Tiger was such a phenomenon: so young, and so good, a new kind of golfer.  Way back when, the revered amateur golfer Bobby Jones* offered quite a compliment when he said young Jack Nicklaus played a game with which he was not familiar, and Nicklaus famously said the same about Tiger.  And when young Tiger would win, he’d walk off the green and hug his mom and dad.  It was kind of heartwarming, yes…but the TV couldn’t stop there.  Next it was Tiger hugging his bikini model-girlfriend du jour; then it was his fiancée, then his wife, but still his mom and dad.  And then after his dad died, just his wife.

(By the way, the CBS guys only ever call him “Tiger,” no need for last names…it shows they’re tight, I guess. Even if some bluenoses like me think it’s inappropriate for people covering a news event—even a sporting news event—to be quite so familiar with the people they’re covering—or even worse, to appear to be fawning over the people they’re covering—for fear that the presumption of objectivity and fairness will disappear.  Others say it’s better to be honest and not feign objectivity or pretend they don’t have favorites, and that may be the most charitable explanation I can offer for the overly familiar references from CBS, and the rest of the golfing press and TV, too, to be fair.)

Or maybe it was Phil (again, no need for a last name here) because he was hugging and kissing his pretty blonde wife, and later his pretty blonde kids which called to mind the legacy of the 1999 U.S. Open when he lost to Payne Stewart just before his first child was born.  And then even more so when Amy (yes, even some of the wives are first-name only) was being treated for cancer and she showed up to congratulate him at the 18th after a win, and that was sweet, too.

Somewhere along the way, the CBS golf producers got it stuck in their heads that the money shot from any tournament coverage was the winner being greeted by children and wives after sinking the final putt.  Eventually I realized it was happening at every tournament, every week, seemingly without exception.  Yes, some golfers have their wives/girlfriends/families with them on the road all the time; some of them are lucky enough to win a tournament being played near where their families live; but for the wives and kids to be there ever single week?  Too much.

Yesterday at The Barclay’s, the first playoff event for this year’s FedEx Cup, and Hunter Mahan is winning…yep, Cinderella story, comin’ outta nowhere…and Jim Nantz slides into that here-comes-the-fairy-tale-ending tone of his as he almost giddily whispers to a national TV audience that “hey, Hunter’s wife and daughter are HERE—I mean, they ACTUALLY FLEW HERE FROM ANOTHER STATE last night or this morning when it looked like he might win.  Have you ever seen such a thing in your whole life ever?!”  He even managed to slip in that she “NetJet-ted in.”  Imagine, if you can, the frontier grit it took for that woman to actually go to a local airfield and climb aboard a private luxury jet operated by one of her wealthy husband’s sponsors and ride in it all the way from Dallas to Teterboro?  (Yep, Nantz even told me which New York area airport she utilized!)

Mahan made his last putt, congratulated the others in his group, turned to walk off and you could see a little smile of surprise and recognition when he saw his wife and daughter on the other side of the green.  He was also trying to be a considerate competitor and get off the green as quickly as possible because there were still golfers on the course behind him waiting to finish the hole, but the cameras were in his way, hawking around waiting to capture the de rigeur heartwarming image of the man picking up his toddler and kissing his wife.  The camera even followed behind the little family as Mahan walked to the official’s tent to sign his scorecard, and we got to overhear as Mrs. asks “Weren’t you surprised to see us?”  A few minutes later the last group on the course finishes up and Mahan’s win is official; so, cue the CBS reporter for the perfunctory post-tournament “interview,” and damned if Peter Kostis didn’t make it part of the premise of his first question!

Today on my way to lunch I heard on CBS radio that Mahan won the Barclay’s AND OMIGOD HIS WIFE AND LITTLE DAUGHTER WERE THERE TO GREET HIM WHEN HE CAME OFF THE 18TH GREEN—WOWSERS!  This afternoon I was checking facts for this post, and this was the prominent picture on the front page of CBS Sports’ golf section:

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Pul-leeze, give it a rest.  You’re trying way too hard to prove…what is it that you’re trying to prove again, exactly?  Look, the journalism bar is much lower for sports than for news, but there still is a bar, or there should be.  We tune in to watch a golf tournament, not a reality show/soap opera about the golfer and his family.  Nobody’s buying what you’re selling here…not even you, I bet.

(*updated: quote originally, and inaccurately, attributed to Ben Hogan — PR)

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Another day, another sad head-shaking giggle

The PGA Tour is here in the Houston area this week for the Shell Houston Open, which has become a pretty nice stop for the pros the week before the Masters in Augusta,sportsfront Georgia. The Redstone Golf Club’s Tournament Course is set up to mimic the conditions at Augusta National, and the Houston Golf Association pitches the tournament as a great way for players to practice playing in Augusta conditions; it also provides the last opportunity for a player who’s not already in “the first major” tournament of the year to get a last-minute invite if he wins at Houston.

It’s a big deal locally, and the sports section of Houston’s Leading Information Source devotes many pages to promoting the event in advance and then covering the crap out of it when it arrives: two-thirds of the front of today’s sports section is Shell Houston Open stuff, and there’s more inside.

My eye first was drawn to the picture just below the fold of dMickelsoncutlineefending SHO champion Phil Mickelson during yesterday’s rain-shortened first round, where the cutline tells me Mickelson “got off to a strong start, getting a birdie on No. 1 when he holed his third shot from a bunker.”

Then I wandered to the top of the page, where in building a straw man to make some point about Charl Schwartzel, who was playing with Mickelson and Fred Couples Thursday, columnist Jerome Solomon tells me that Mickelson “dropped a 22-foot putt for birdie on the first hole of the Shell Houston Open.”

Solomons leadHuh? I shook my head, and it made that clunky sound of metal rattling around, like Yogi Bear’s did when he got confused. I re-read Solomon’s lead, then I re-read the cutline…then I re-read them both again, just to make sure. Then I looked more closely at the picture, and saw that Mickelson was holding his putter and making the triumphant “I sank it!” gesture. And then I measured: 12 and a half inches away from one another, on the very same page of the paper, and they can’t get the story straight about what the defending champion did on his third shot of the golf tournament.

When I got to a computer it took 45 whole seconds (at PGATour.com) for me to find out that Mickelson drove into a fairway bunker leaving 177 yards, his second shot ended up on the green, and he sank the putt from 22 feet for the birdie. So Solomon’s story was right, the cutline writer was wrong, and the people who layed out and proofed the page were either still suffering rodeo hangover or distracted with dread at the fact that the Astros start their season next week.

Caveat lector!