THE WANDERING GOLFER:
GREG Norman ruffled some feathers recently when he described TV golf commentary as “boring” and “far from appealing.”
“They’re (commentators) as boring to listen to as it is to watch boring golfers play,” he said. “You get that constant monotone voice: everyone hits a great shot, nobody has an opinion, nobody wants to upset the apple cart and everyone’s got the greatest short game in the world.” The comments came at the same time as the announcement of a new business venture he was entering with American phone company Verizon that would “bring powerful and disruptive technology to transform the golf industry”.
He led with his jaw on this one, given his short-lived commentary career with Fox Sports, and arch rival Nick Faldo on the CBS network caught him with a sweetly timed uppercut. “I think I need a hug,” he said, referring to their embrace after Norman blew a six-shot lead in the final round of the 1996 US Masters.
If you wanted an opinion on golf commentators, Norman is probably not the first person you’d ask. Throughout his career he has been a TV reporter’s dream because he’d talk underwater on any subject.
But it was tough for the print journalists who had to work out what he was actually trying to say and then write it down because his accent, American vernacular, unfamiliarity with the dictionary and a tendency to contradict himself created confusion. As with the “powerful and disruptive technology”, he is bringing to golf, you’re left wondering if it is a good thing or a jamming device for radar and mobile phones (we can only hope).
Television commentators can be annoying at times and some of us who eke out a living from the written word think they are overpaid prima donnas who get all the perks and pretty girls despite wearing cosmetics to work in a field open only to those with their own hair and teeth. They in turn think we are pedants and Luddites in this age of computers, instant gratification and shallowness. For all that, we get on and eat and drink together on the job at the few remaining big events in Australia.
While golf commentary can be boring, it is generally far better than the routine mutilation of the English language by the football, basketball, wrestling, swimming and car racing callers. There was a time when the football commentary team contained a token larrikin or buffoon because he was perceived as a colourful character. He was usually uneducated with a proud, working class heritage and the majority of the audience did not notice when he betrayed his ignorance by saying on radio: “Will you look at that! He’s kicked it down there.” Today it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between the buffoons and the anchors, although if the cameramen and producers are on the job, you do see where he kicked it.
Commentators looking for a point of difference would do well to ignore the current crop and look to the past for inspiration. Lack of formal education is not insurmountable. Ian Baker-Finch left school at 14 but taught himself to be an articulate, intelligent, professional, balanced and thoughtful broadcaster. He was mentored early in his career by Peter Thomson who wrote all his own newspaper reports and magazine articles for more than 50 years.
At the start of his career Thomson was told by Bill Cust, the sports editor of the old ‘Argus’ newspaper in Melbourne that he may well be a hot shot golfer but his stories were worthless if his grandmother could not understand them. At his 80th birthday in 2009 Thomson revealed that he still thought of his grandmother when he wrote. For commentators concerned about the increasing resentment towards them in letters to the editor and calls to radio stations, here is some free advice: Norman is right about the overuse of the word great. It grates. Restrict yourselves to three greats a day. For using it in the right context, think ‘Expectations’ by Dickens, the Wall of China or Catherine of Russia rather than a 6-iron hit to three feet. Severely restrict cliches: n., a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought. In the words of Norman: “It’s as simple as that, no question about it, what goes around comes around, as I was saying to my caddie just the other day...” Buy a dictionary and get someone to show you how to use it. You don’t have to talk flat out the whole time like the bloke who does the disclaimers at the end of political advertisements during election campaigns. One of the finest pieces of commentary came in the early days of television when a player accidentally knocked his ball off the tee. The great (the word is used advisedly) Henry Longhurst on the BBC paused for at least two seconds – a long time in a live broadcast – then said in measured tones: “And now in clubhouses across England, some fool at the back of the room will say. ‘That’s one’.” I wish I could tell you more but we are out of time. See me in the press tent and for a beer, a snappy shirt or some make-up that will help bring out the blue in my eyes, and I’ll get you going.
NORMAN IS RIGHT ABOUT THE OVERUSE OF THE WORD GREAT ... RESTRICT YOURSELVES TO THREE GREATS A DAY