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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.


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