NBC/Golf Channel just announced it has hired Jim McKay as an on course announcer for its coverage. He’ll start getting paid at the upcoming British Open. The announcement came as no surprise considering the network gave “Bones” an audition last November. The following is what I wrote after tgat try out. Here’s hoping McKay gets better now that he’s getting a paycheck…
Friday and Saturday golf fans were treated to new voices and perspectives as then NBC golf production team included PGA TOUR “bagmen” John Wood and Jim MacKay as on course announcers during the RSM Classic shows that aired on Golf Channel. The loopers probably spent Thursday observing and then got “hooked up” for the broadcasts on Friday and Saturday.
If I were a betting man I’d risk losing a shekel or two on the guess that producer Tommy Roy told both veteran caddie/rookie announcers which groupings they would be assigned at least 24 hours in advance. As good as Roy is he most likely even knew, close to exactly, on which hole those groupings would be when the broadcast went live. By the sounds of what came out of both guy’s mouths MacKay and Wood used that knowledge, and approached their assignments, very differently.
Right out of the gate Bones began prattling away about things he had clearly rehearsed in his mind that he wanted to say. I could picture him standing in front of a hotel room mirror practicing his lines about the importance of “keeping the ball out of the hazard” off the tenth tee or how he would make sure to come across as magnanimous by telling people “Harry” English was “one of the nicest guys you’ll ever want to meet”. He even threw in a “perfect tee shot” for good measure on just the third shot he called. Then for the rest of the day, when not prompted to tell a story, he talked a lot and said very little. MacKay spent most of his time “trying to be an announcer” instead of simply announcing.
Eventually, either prompted by Roy or on their own initiative Gary Koch, Curt Byrum and Rich Lerner spared us the babble by getting Bones to talk about his regular boss, Phil Mickelson. Some of the stories about Phil were his best moments even though he labored for breath as he told most of them.
For the most part his commentary wasn’t much different than what we hear from a lot of announcers; cliche riddled… “Many ways to skin a cat”, “helps to have that shot in the arsenal”, “Sahara desert”, “dinner will taste better”, and telling us what we could see with our own two eyes or talking over the “real” caddie/player conversation.
John Wood did just the opposite. His commentary, mercifully unprompted most of the time, was intelligent, interesting and insightful. He talked about the importance of “flighting the ball in the wind” or the need for the caddie to keep his player focused while preparing to play each shot. In the multiple minutes I watched I didn’t hear one cliche come out of Wood’s mouth and he was always ready with pertinent information when the grouping he was following was the focus. Unfortunately it felt like he got about half as much airtime as MacKay but in that time was at least twice as good.
A broadcaster and friend told me, after I had given him my initial thoughts, that “to expect someone to come in and be great would be an insult to the craft” and I agree. I don’t think any player turned announcer to whom I gave a mic was “great” right out of the gate but several were very, very good including Jerry Foltz (who is still calling shots) and James Hahn (who is still hitting them) but John Wood could have a future if he ever decides to drop the bag and put on a headset. MacKay could too but he’ll need a lot more help. Despite Bones’ shortcomings both are better right now than a lot of people who are doing it and collecting pay checks.
I don’t think there are many caddies that could join MacKay and Wood in this endeavor (maybe Damon Green or Kenny Harms) but I hope NBC golf explores more opportunities so this doesn’t end up being a “one and done” deal.