SOUTHERN PINES, NC — Compared to the broadcast bonanza soon to be offered at the US Open, NBC’s booth at the US Women’s Open is… modest.
As the heat index slipped well above 100 degrees on Wednesday and Thursday, Golf Channel broadcasters could be spotted beading in sweat from their outdoor location. The NBC crew was in better spirits, largely because their stand was protected — and tucked away — in its cubby near the 18th green.
This week, many of the voices and names you’ve come to associate with NBC won’t be present during the network’s wall-to-wall coverage from Pine Needles. Dan Hicks, Roger Maltbie and Paul Azinger – three staples of the PGA Tour product – will be replaced by Terry Gannon, Morgan Pressel and Tom Abbott.
It may not look like it, but this is NBC’s most important show scene of 2022.
During the US Women’s Open, NBC will have seven hours of live television coverage nationwide – a figure representing 25 percent of the total network hours seen by the LPGA in 2021. Last year, the remaining four women’s majors saw just one more hour of network television combined.
The broadcast schedule is a development of particular significance for women’s football, which has found itself in a bitter battle for network television hours and, crucially, the eyeballs that come with them. For a sport concerned with strengthening both its national interest and its economy, national television hours are like oxygen – a fact understood by everyone on the Pine Needles lot.
It’s no surprise that Nelly Korda (blood clot) and Danielle Kang (spine tumor) struggled to recover from serious injuries in order to compete. For women, the tournament isn’t just about the biggest purse in history or major league glory, it’s also about sending a message to the rest of the sporting world. A message that looks like this:
“We can hang on.“
But the burden of not only falls on those who participate in the tournament, it also falls on those who present it to the world.
“I think we all feel a huge responsibility to cover women’s golf in the best possible light,” said Karen Stupples, who will handle tour work for NBC. “Obviously you want to watch golf for entertainment, but I think a lot of the entertainment comes from the competition, and that comes from the game that the players display, and how we describe their game and their shots and what they are actually done on the golf course.
Stupples and Co. freely admit their hope is to be part of the solution for women’s football, but that role isn’t as simple as playing cheerleader.
“It’s one thing to want to present it in the freshest and most entertaining way, but in doing so, not to take away from the competition, not to take away from describing golf as it should be described,” golf said. longtime female. commentator Jerry Foltz. “Because credibility doesn’t come from us telling you how great they are. Credibility comes from showing you how awesome they are, and all we can do is set it up and describe the action. They should be appreciated for their skills more than anything else, for their incredible quality, their punching power, so many of them. If we become cheerleaders for women’s sports and women’s golf, it becomes pretty transparent.
Earlier this week, Foltz walked away from NBC in order to join LIV Golf TV coverage. But her argument is true: for women, the path to growth is not through favorable coverage, it is through truthful cover.
“I think the real growth in the fanbase comes from people appreciating the quality of the game,” Foltz said. “Because each of us will tell you how great the quality of the game is until we’re blue in the face, but until you understand what’s going on in those shots, what’s going on in their emotions, what happens in winning a major championship against possibly the deepest talent pool women’s golf has ever seen, that’s where you become a fan. Because it’s a different game than men, but in many ways they play a much better game than men because they have to.
For NBC at the US Women’s Open, the stakes are new, but the work certainly isn’t.
“I think we need to focus on what we do as broadcasters,” said Tom Abbott. “But I think we certainly feel a responsibility to entertain the audience and produce a great product, and I feel like as a band we do.”