Seen & Heard – Sunday, July 21, 2013

by Rob G

The Open Championship provided golf fans with compelling television today, as Phil Mickelson won his 5th major in a surprising manner. Lefty shot 66 to come from well back to win a championship many (including himself) weren’t sure he was capable of winning.

ESPN (and TSN, the Canadian carrier) I’m guessing will be pleased with the ratings when they are revealed. The leader board was deep with today’s best golfers, led by the player that moves the needle, Tiger Woods. The storyline that developed during the final round, was even better.

From a coverage perspective, kudos to ESPN for a job well done over what they could control. Unfortunately from a camera perspective, they primarily rely on the feed from Britain, though they have some of their own handheld cameras. Unfortunately, the camera crew isn’t blessed with the deft skill that their American brethren have in terms of following the ball through the air.

The lead broadcast team of Mike Tirico and Paul Azinger were excellent in their commentary and analysis. It was a far better broadcast than ESPN’s US Open golf coverage, when Chris Berman inserted his persona on the broadcast earlier in the summer. Berman is excellent on Sunday mornings during the NFL season – his work on the golf coverage of the US Open is abysmal. Tirico is a pro’s pro – truly one of the pre-eminent broadcasters today. His work, be it football, tennis, or golf is first rate. Azinger is solid in his analysis – unfortunately, he isn’t heard enough, as ESPN has very little in the way of golf coverage through the year.

As for the golf today, please allow me to share some opinion.

First, Mickelson’s victory was astounding. His 66 today to win by 3 shots was one for the ages. To be clear, I’m not a pro-Mickelson fan, but I’ve always highly respected his ability. But even the ardent anti-Mickelson camp has to tip their cap to his performance today. Of the 4 majors, the Open Championship would have the greatest degree of luck play a part in a player’s performance because of the links aspect of the courses it is played on, but this round of golf today by Mickelson will be regarded as one of the great rounds in golf majors.

The “Tiger Watch” continues, as he hasn’t won a major since 2008, in his quest to break Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major championships. Time has been on Wood’s side, but that is creeping up on him, as Nicklaus won his 15th major championship at the age of 38. Woods is now 37, but he should be buoyed by Mickelson’s victory from the perspective that Mickelson is 5 years his senior, and he battles arthritis. Thought he has scar tissue (mental and physical) himself, I’d suggest Woods is in better shape physically than Mickelson, so there are 20 opportunities over the next 5 years to secure the record of 19 major championships.

Wood’s iron play was spot on this week. He suffered from some ill-timed missed fairways off the tee, and a tentative putter on the final day. If I’m his mental coach, I’d suggest he throw a bit more caution to the wind in the next final round of a major where he’s in a similar position. He was far too tentative early in the round today, and didn’t make the necessary adjustment, which is unfortunate as the Open Championship was there for the taking.

One final but important thought that, at least for me, I’d like to convey. Mickelson carries quite a reputation. It is purported that he is referred to by the acronym FIGJAM (allegedly standing for F**K I’m Good, Just Ask Me). There are many that love Mickelson, many that hate. The same can be said for Woods. Many golf fans resent the coverage of Mickelson, specifically the “great family man” spin that is conveyed during golf coverage. This brings out the “Phil haters”. Really, none of us know what he (or any other athlete) is really like in the privacy of their familial surroundings. But from what we hear and observe on TV, Mickelson is a guy that appears to indeed be that good family man, takes young players under his wing, and is well regarded by the majority of his fellow golfer pros. His caddy, Jim “Bones” Mackay, is one of the most liked guys by all on tour. If Mickelson was such a bad guy, why would a good guy such as Mackay be by his side for the past 20 years? What bugs me is the haters that can’t accept this. There is a resentment regarding Mickelson’s connection with golf fans – the haters believe the connection is contrived. I have to call B.S. on this. Mickelson high-fiving and fist bumping his long walk from 17 green to 18 tee today was not contrived. He looks people in the eye, and connects with fans. You don’t fake that. The ovation he received from the fans at Muirfield in Scotland should be the clearest indication that he is a man of honor and conviction. At what point do haters look at the evidence and consider that they may be in error? Bigger picture, why hate at all?

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