The video image, whether on a TV or computer screen, is how we see the world. No news flash there. A little closer to home in terms of our interests is how TV (and by extension the internet) shapes how we see sports. Here in the U.S. a lot of observers attribute football’s rise to ascendancy over baseball to football being better suited to the screen. The stately progression of a baseball game was perfect for radio. Hell, you didn’t even have to be in the stadium to broadcast a game. Ronald Reagan, after all, broadcast Chicago Cubs games based on telegraph reports he received in the studio in Iowa. Football with its complex bursts of action and violence loves the screen and the screen loves it back.
Golf? Maybe not so much. My issue, however, is not tournament broadcasts but a more insidious undermining of our game that originates in another example of TV’s influence on sport, the sports highlight show. To be specific I’m talking ESPN’s Sportscenter. That show’s influence is pretty impressive. It’s male catnip and it’s the audience that athletes preen for. Did your slam dunk make the day’s top ten? Was that diving catch in deep left field a Web Gem? Did you see that end zone celebration in the Jets’ game?
And what does golf get? Putts. Here’s Nick Watney rolling in a couple to win. Oh look, another LPGA player that you don’t recognize tapping in for the win. STOP. STOP RIGHT NOW. Yeah, yeah putting’s difficult and it’s what separates the winner from the pack, but showing it over and over is not winning us any props from the non-golfing sports fan. In the midst of all this athletic extravagance we need something just a bit more dramatic than some guy in a polo shirt rolling a ball across a really tightly mowed lawn. So here’s the deal for ESPN: they can show putts that win but for every putt they replay they have to show a full swing shot with an appropriate commentary that describes for the non-golfer just how effin awesome this is as an athletic feat. For example, “Here’s Rory McIlroy propelling a ball farther than three football fields and making it come to rest in an area the size of a tennis court” or “Here’s Ricky Fowler launching a ball higher than a 10 story building and making it land in an area the size of a Honda Accord. And oh yeah, he made it spin backwards too” The announcers can jive it up with all their faux-bro b.s. I don’t care. Just let the game put on a display. As we all know, it’s one thing for the dough but another for the show and the show is what we need.