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First on the Tee

First On The Tee: After Eleven Straight Weeks, Sayonara to CBS

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Nick Faldo, Jim Nantz and Jack Nicklaus at a Memorial Tournament past. (CBS SPORTS)

And now for something completely different. Finally.

With Dustin Johnson’s gobsmacking 11-stroke victory Sunday evening at the Northern Trust in suburban Boston, the PGA Tour will — at long last — be free from the grip of the Columbia Broadcasting System for a couple of months.

Of course, I’m being a tad hyperbolic, but the combination of the stale tone of its telecasts and the COVID-19 rescheduling that gave the reins to Messrs. Nantz, Faldo and the rest of the CBS crew for 11 straight events underlined what I’ve been thinking for a while.

Whether it’s the sweepingly-sleepy Yanni soundtrack, the too-dulcet tones of the commentators or the generally reverential approach to covering the Tour, CBS just makes golf more boring. And if any sport could use some livening over the air, it’s this one.

What’s funny is, I’ve actually developed more of an affinity for lead voice Jim Nantz over the past couple of years, since Tony Romo entered his NFL booth and loosened him up. Prior to that, the man who was born in khakis and an understated sweater vest was completely nondescript in my book. He’s better on football these days, but there’s a too much Sunday service in his golf delivery for my taste.

Not to pin this on Jim, who by all accounts is a good man and generous with his time, but I don’t think the ‘Church of Golf’ approach to the PGA Tour is the way to sell the highest level of this sport.

While Fox is officially (and disappointingly, in my view) out of the TV golf business, that means we only have occasional respite from the CBS hegemony until ESPN jumps into the golf streaming game with both feet in 2022.

As we’ll see this week at the BMW Championship, NBC will take command for the next few tournaments, culminating with the Tour Championship and the first-ever September U.S. Open at Winged Foot.

While the polarizing legend-turned-analyst Johnny Miller has been retired for over a year now, I think his irreverent, refreshingly critical stance still lives on in spirit with NBC’s approach.

This is mostly subjective, of course, but I feel there’s a little more edge to the broadcast when Dan Hicks is at the helm, David Feherty and Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay are on the ground and Paul Azinger is breaking it down. Not that this group is setting fire to every golf-broadcasting convention, but there’s just enough emotional heat to make it an appreciably more absorbing experience.

I asked a couple of weeks back whether the PGA Tour had truly taken advantage of its near-monopoly on pro sports. My contention was that it didn’t, partially because most aspects of the rescheduled events seemed the same as any other summer.

A huge part of that is the tone of the TV coverage. CBS obviously isn’t to blame for the lack of natural energy normally provided by thousands of fans on the course, but there didn’t appear to be an effort to alter its well-worn approach, outside of mic-ing up a few players. Heck, even CBS’s on-screen graphics are flat and uninteresting. I suppose it’s good to be consistent?

Apparently, since the PGA Tour re-upped with CBS for nine more years, the powers-that-be are more than OK with how CBS covers their product.

Hey, whatever. It’s their show, and I’ll still be watching more weeks than not, so maybe the joke’s on me.

All I know is I feel that extra excitement — and relief — when the Peacock flaps its wings over America’s fairways. The Eye might as well be shut.

DOWN THE FAIRWAY

• As for the actual golf this weekend, what a scintillating display put on by the man who might be the most imposing figure in the sport when he gets it rolling.

DJ’s 30-under-par total in the FedEx Cup Playoffs opener at TPC Boston was the second-lowest to par in the history of the Tour, and the only one lower was achieved on a par-73 layout. This might’ve been the best four-round score ever, objectively speaking.

He might have three fewer majors than his frenemy Brooks Koepka, he might not have the show-stopping personality to go with his molten skills, but Johnson is putting together one of the finest careers any of us has seen. The man made five eagles on the week, including two during Friday’s 60 and two more Sunday.

Oh, and he’s back on top of the World Golf Ranking, too. Quite the week when it takes four paragraphs to mention that.

He’ll be atop the FedEx Cup standings as well, when the playoffs continue this week in Chicagoland at Olympia Fields.

• From a guy for whom domination has become old hat, to a gal who rose from down-and-out to top of the world in record time.

German-born 27-year-old Lyme disease survivor Sophia Popov set a new rags-to-riches standard by winning the AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon as the 304th-ranked player in the world. It was Popov’s first win on a major tour.

She spent part of her COVID-19 spring on something called the Cactus Tour, winning three times while waiting for the big women’s tours to rev up again.

Even when the LPGA returned three weeks ago in Toledo, Popov was caddying for a friend, since she lost her exempt status due to that aforementioned health crisis.

But she finished ninth at the Marathon Classic two weeks ago, entering the Women’s Open with earned confidence. After surviving a couple of rough weather days to start, Popov surged to a 67-68 finish to win by two.

• We’re hoping for another great story locally this week, as the postponed Western Pennsylvania Amateur Championship finally tees off at Allegheny Country Club in Sewickley.

For Monday’s first round, West Penn Open champ Mark Goetz starts at 9:51 a.m., defending champ Connor Schmidt tees at 11:03 and Pennsylvania Open winner Jimmy Ellis goes at 11:21. Find the full tee sheet for the 120th edition of the event here.

PGN is hoping to be on site for Tuesday’s final round. Crossing our fingers that work schedules allow for it!

A 15-year veteran of sports media, Matt Gajtka (GITE-kah) is the founding editor of PGN. Matt is a lifelong golfer with a passion for all aspects of the sport, from technique to courses to competition. His experience ranges from reporting on Pittsburgh's major-league beats, to broadcasting a variety of sports, to public relations, multimedia production and social media.

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