Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.

Some golf traditionalists have been trying for two years to wrap their heads around the reality that come June 2015 Fox would be taking over from NBC as the home of the U.S. Open.

Well, here we are. And for just one illustration of the oddness of the situation, consider this:

Joe Buck is one of the most experienced, established big-event sports announcers alive. And yet at the moment he is far more experienced and established as a golfer than a golf announcer.

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"I got down to a 2 [handicap] and I am listed as a 5, trending to a 27," he said Monday after a production meeting on the grounds of Chambers Bay, the Washington state course that has the golf world buzzing -- for better and worse.

That 27 part was a joke. Buck, 46, said he played Chambers Bay twice during the weekend and mostly held his own the first time around Saturday before running into trouble on Sunday.

"If you want to remind yourself how poor a golfer you are, go play a U.S. Open setup at this place," he said.

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Still, to restate the case: Buck now has played two more rounds on this U.S. Open course than U.S. Open rounds he has hosted on television from any course.

All that will change at last on Thursday, when Buck and lead analyst Greg Norman become the faces of a massive undertaking Buck compared to piling the four Super Bowls he has called "on top of each other."

Buck and Fox's production team have vowed not to overdo it in trying to update the TV golf formula. But the very fact all of this is new is part of the point.

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The USGA wanted Fox's very generous financial offer, certainly, but it also hopes the network's two-decades-old reputation for innovation and "attitude" provides a jolt for televised golf.

It starts with Buck, who knows and respects the game, even if he is not apt to get all gooey about the event the way CBS has done with the Masters since before Buck was born.

"I'm pretty obsessed with the game, and it's occupied way too much of my brain during the course of a normal day," he said. "I've been seen pantomiming my golf swing in places where I should have been doing other things."

Knowing golf is only part of the job. The sport is notoriously difficult to televise -- especially in the chaotic early rounds -- for producers, directors and announcers alike.

"If Bobby Jones came back to life and you said, 'Well, you know golf, go up there and analyze golf,' well, it's more than that," Buck said. "You're piecing together information over 300 acres of land here. I am in a position where not only am I only looking at a sliver of the golf course but my back is to it ... I can't tell you that it's like anything else I've done."

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The most difficult part, Buck said, is that unlike for football or baseball, he has no choice but to rely on others to know what is going on.

"I'm going on a leap of faith that when somebody says, 'We're going to 6 and here's the second shot by Rickie Fowler,' that it's actually the sixth hole and that's actually Rickie Fowler and that's actually his second shot," he said. "I'm not there."

Not that Buck is complaining. After 17 World Series and four Super Bowls, new and challenging is good. Plus, the timing is ideal in that this Open happens to be at a new, unconventional course rather than, say, Oakmont, next year's host.

"This one was made for us," Buck said. And for him. "I love it. This is something that energetically is unlike anything I've ever done. It makes me feel like I'm 27 again doing the '96 World Series at Yankee Stadium ... I think you'll see a different me here, because it has to be that way."

But Buck and Fox plan to be themselves. "Everybody's like, 'Oh my God, what are the traditionalists going to say?' " Buck said. "Who cares? I don't care."