Best competition at the Tournament of Champions might be in the broadcast booth
KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) – The mere mention of the 2002 Ryder Cup made NBC Sports anchor Dan Hicks smile, only it wasn't anything that happened on the golf course.
Nick Faldo was doing some commentary for Sky Sports that week when NBC executive producer Tommy Roy thought it might be interesting to have the six-time major champion from England join Johnny Miller in the broadcast booth. If nothing else, he might offer some European perspective.
“Instant sparks,'' Hicks recalled. “And instant entertainment.''
They reunite this week for the Tournament of Champions.
Golf Channel is broadcasting the PGA Tour's season opener from the Plantation Course at Kapalua. Faldo is the lead analyst for CBS Sports, but he also works for Golf Channel for weekday coverage. Miller has been the lead analyst for NBC since 1990. NBC and Golf Channel now are both owned by Comcast.
For those tuning in from home, Miller and Faldo in the booth together might be as appealing as the waves crashing along the west coast of Maui.
What to expect? Not even they know for sure.
“It will be interesting to see if this ends up in a mild fist fight, or it ends up in a big brother-little brother kind of thing,'' Miller said.
Miller and Faldo could not be any more different.
Miller shot off his mouth as readily as he fired at pins. He is famous for his 63 in the final round at Oakmont to win the 1973 U.S. Open, and has two majors among his 25 career wins on the PGA Tour. Faldo did nothing without great thought, working his way around the golf course toward six majors. They were inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame together in 1998.
“As long as I've been working with Johnny, no one had ever sat in the chair next to him from a broadcast perspective,'' Hicks said. “All of a sudden, here's Nick Faldo, six-time major champion. And Johnny was like, `Wait a minute, this is my territory.' And people picked up on it. They're opposites. But sometimes, opposites in television can create a great chemistry.''
On the eve of the broadcast, Miller already was firing away.
“I'm probably a little more out there in what I'm willing to say,'' Miller said. “Nick did say that when he got comfortable in the broadcast booth, he would make me look like Mary Poppins. I haven't seen that yet.''
Faldo laughed when he heard that comment – “It was a throwaway line in jest,'' he said – although he says he's not afraid to say when he sees. Mostly, he's curious to see how he and Miller react to each other's opinions.
“We see things differently, and that's the whole point of it,'' Faldo said. “He'll spot things that I missed, and I'll spot things that he missed. I think it will be interesting because we both come at it from our own angle, what we see and what we think, whether we agree or disagree. It'll be good fun for TV. It's a good idea. Let's give it a go.''
It should be a special broadcast, for no other reason than it won't happen very often, if at all.
The experiment shows the flexibility Golf Channel now has with NBC under the same parent company. Bringing Hicks in as the anchor – or perhaps the referee in this case – only adds to the credibility of a tournament that is missing three major champions among 11 players who chose or couldn't make it to Hawaii.
“I think it's more or less a move to again brand the organization and show that it's not just Golf Channel and Golf Channel people working events,'' Hicks said. “We can do a lot of different things. The possibility of getting Johnny and Nick back in the booth was a big impetus. It gives the tour's kickoff event an even bigger feel.''
The work gets trickier for Hicks, who usually only has one other voice in the booth with him. Now he has two, and there will be no shortage of ego.
“I know they want to put on a good show,'' Hicks said. “I'll let them go, and if something gets down the tracks too wildly, maybe I'll have to steer it back on course. I'm looking forward to it. This is another example of what we can do as a company. Why not have the best two analysts in the game?''
Faldo has experience working with another analyst in the booth. He and Paul Azinger spent two years together with ABC Sports.
“I think Johnny is a lot smarter,'' Faldo said, taking a shot at his former broadcast partner.
The risk is to make sure that competition stays on the golf course, not in the broadcast booth. Neither believes that will be a problem. Even so, Miller said he won't let Faldo get away with anything, and he figures the feeling will be mutual.
“Our goal is to entertain,'' Faldo said. “If we both start trying to help the viewer – which I like to do – and give them sort of thoughts of what the players are doing or thinking, that will be quite interesting. We both have 40 and 50 years of golfing knowledge. There should be a few good gems.''