I was curious to see what David Feherty on NBC Golf would look, feel and sound like. It didn’t take long to form an opinion. After only a few moments it was painfully obvious that there is very little bromance in the NBC broadcast booth. The much anticipated coupling left this long time golf viewer longing for a Jim Kelly/Jim Nelford reunion. Feherty’s addition proved a TV subtraction from the start. Both the affable Irishman and the likeable on course stalwart, Roger Maltbie, were assigned to the SAME group on Saturday AND Sunday. That move alone unnecessarily diminished Maltbie and made this viewer more than a little uncomfortable. Then Johnny, either consciously or not, added to that discomfort by being mostly unable to conceal his disdain for the new kid on the block.
Johnny is only ten years Feherty’s senior but they might as well have been born in different centuries. Miller looks at the world through a lens much older than his 68 years. Feherty, on the other hand, has publicly lived a life filled with adult problems but he’s still able to approach it with a childlike joy.
Johnny Miller is Oscar the Grouch. David Feherty is Elmo.
Johnny is used to being the biggest personality on the show, the brightest star in the NBC golf universe. He’s not that anymore.
Johnny is banal. David, while a little past his “sell by date” is still delightful and delicious.
David seems to always know the right words to say. Johnny, simply and sadly, just has to have the last word. A few cases in point from Sunday:
Moments after coming on the air Feherty was calling Hideki Matsuyama’s tee shot at 9. The player, as he had done all week, struck a beautiful drive and Feherty commented on it by saying the clever, though oft used by him, line “don’t know if that’s just right or left of center.” Perfectly painted picture for the viewer, no further commentary needed. Except for the fact that Miller couldn’t grasp the nuance and had to add, “it was pure.” Well no shit Sherlock.
A few minutes later it happens again. Matsuyama is over his approach in the fairway. After telling us Rickie Fowler, who played just before Hideki, was “between clubs” (for some reason that was a bit of information Maltbie, who was calling Rickie’s shots, didn’t disclose), Feherty said simply, Matsuyama had “the perfect yardage” and “can hammer” a wedge. Cool, let’s watch. Nope. Miller just had to add, completely unnecessarily, that the three guys in the last group are “tied for the lead”. Gee thanks Johnny said all the blind people, who couldn’t see the oft displayed graphic leaderboard, watching. And there was more.
Not too much later in the telecast, Peter Jacobsen who, like him or don’t, has a personality and Feherty were having a little fun talking back and forth about golf’s penchant for naming hazards and bunkers. They referenced famous ones including “the Principal’s Nose” and “the Coffin Bunker”. Jake wondered aloud to Feherty if, when it came to the history of naming bunkers, “they did it on-line back then.” Clever line, admittedly not roll off the couch funny, but clever. Feherty probably thought so too and replied, “probably sheep involved”. Again cute, those of us who know Feherty’s style well know that farm animals are often a “go to” for him, but it was chuckle inducing just the same.
That kind of repartee had become a staple of CBS golf coverage with Feherty and for the most part viewers enjoyed it. The network is always voted as having the “best golf coverage” by various trade magazine surveys. Events and announcers are a huge part of that popularity. But “good old Johnny was having NONE OF IT despite the fact that while it was going on the only thing happening on the golf course was Rickie Fowler lining up a “he makes 100 per cent of the time” two-foot putt for birdie. Not to mention it was on the THIRTEENTH HOLE of the WASTE MANAGEMENT “LET’S INFLATE THE ATTENDANCE” PHOENIX OPEN. So in steps not funny Johnny to nip the lighthearted banter in the bud. “Uh this is for the lead guys,” he chastised. Curmudgeon.
Through the TV screen you could feel and swear you saw the “green with envy” dirty looks Johnny must have been giving Dan Hicks when the host giggled or laughed at Feherty’s funny lines. “You used to love ME best” is what those looks said.
I was far from alone in noticing how uncomfortable this team came off, how little chemistry they displayed. Half a dozen friends texted, emailed or called during the broadcast to find out if I saw what they were seeing, heard what they were hearing, and felt what they were feeling. One even said, “Johnny always tries to be funny. Feherty can’t help it.” My comments above were all written before these conversations, but confirmed afterward.
The beauty of the CBS system, of which Feherty used to be a part, is that it has stars but it’s not star driven. Producer Lance Barrow trusts his announcer team and gives them the latitude to say pretty much whatever they want, whenever they want to say it. They invite you in. You get the sense they like each other, they’re actually friends. When the show is over a bunch of them go out to dinner together and split the bill evenly. It’s a broadcasting version of a golf buddy trip. A group of pals sitting around having a pop and talking about golf. Newcomers Frank Nobilo and Dottie Pepper will fit in beautifully.
In stark contrast the NBC Sports way of doing the exact same job, of which Feherty is now a part, is the sports television version of trickle-down economics. It all goes through one guy at the top and that guy, up until this weekend, has always been Johnny Miller. Even before the addition of Feherty, much of the time the NBC golf conversation seemed stilted, a little forced, agreements among announcers prescribe by some sort of shaky treaty. My guess is it wouldn’t surprise any of us to find out that after a show each of them was holed up in a hotel room awaiting room service’s knock. Or if they did go out as a group that group was small and the first thing they requested, from the waiter or waitress, was separate checks. With the forced addition of Feherty, Johnny is now joined by someone who is arguably a bigger star and, unquestionably, a much better broadcaster. He’s also a guy that seems to be more than happy to not only pick up the dinner tab but then not ask for reimbursement on his expense report.
The contrast between the two men is equally conspicuous in the titles of each’s book. Johnny’s tome sports the tellingly titled, double entendre, I Call the Shots while Feherty’s Somewhere in Ireland a Village is Missing an Idiot is superbly self-deprecating.
It occurred to me that Feherty, to the delight of some and the dismay of others, actually seemed to have mellowed a bit. It was almost like he was trying hard to fit in to this extremely clannish, extraordinarily guarded, group. But for this marriage of convenience to start working even a little bit Johnny Miller is going to have to learn to both lighten up and lighten his grip on the telecast. A big ask, in my opinion, and an outcome that seems unlikely. After all, On Sesame Street Oscar was never NOT a grouch.