The defections of some of golf’s biggest names will cost NBC star power when it covers the Olympic tournament in Rio de Janeiro next month. But there will be no such concern this week when the network televises its first British Open.
The stars will be out at Royal Troon, not only on the course but in the 18th tower, where Johnny Miller and Nick Faldo will share featured analyst duties.
This is a huge moment for NBC’s venerable golf crew, led by producer Tommy Roy, after Fox wrested the U.S. Open, a longtime Peacock stronghold, starting with last year’s tournament.
The British Open had been on ABC and/or ESPN for decades and was scheduled to remain there through this year’s event, but NBC negotiated to move up its debut from 2017 to ’16. Its deal runs through 2028.
“I cannot tell you how special it is for us, for the crew, for everybody,” host Dan Hicks said on a conference call with reporters. “Not that we needed to be rejuvenated, but this has got everybody jacked up beyond belief.”
Coverage will be shared by NBC and its sister network, Golf Channel, which never before has provided live images of a major men’s championship.
Faldo, a three-time Open champion, said his first Open was at Troon in 1973, a week before his 16th birthday, when his father lifted him onto his shoulders so he could get a better look at Miller — then the reigning U.S. Open champion — as he battled and eventually finished second to Tom Weiskopf.
“I was on the back, some little skinny kid, on the back of every tee; that was me,” he said. “You were my inspiration . . . That was a famous week for me to watch. I was on the practice ground and watched Jack [Nicklaus] and Arnold [Palmer] and Lee [Trevino] and Gary [Player] and you and Tom warming up.
“Copied your swings, and see what happens. See how you started me for life copying your swing.”
Said Miller: “There you go.”
Faldo primarily will be on hand in his role as a Golf Channel analyst. Miller remains NBC’s main man. But the two provide a formidable one-two punch.
“I think it’s great for us that you’ve got two guys sitting in the tower who have won The Open,” Faldo said. “I hope that’s the most important thing. Our role is to give some insight to the viewer what it is like, what you’ve got to do, what you’re thinking, and what really could happen when you’re in the fescue, two-foot-high fescue rough, how difficult some shots are, how easy.
“We hope we can give some real insight to all those different things.”
Mike Tirico also will be part of NBC’s coverage in his first major assignment since coming over from ESPN, where he was a British Open regular, starting with today’s 1:30 a.m. Eastern first tee-off time.
Roy said NBC will have 44 of its own cameras and access to 55 from the world feed. That will help in dealing with the unique challenges of televising links golf, as will five wind detection devices spread over the course that borrow a technology from the British sailing team in using ultrasound rather than an anemometer.
Roy said another links-inspired device that NBC calls “Links Tracks” will detail a ball’s path from where it first hits the ground to where it finally settles to a stop.
Roy said the absence of a major on NBC’s schedule last year created “a little bit of a hole there when you don’t get a chance to do a major. This is awesome for us.”
Said Hicks: “Seldom does an event come around that gets your juices flowing in that new kind of vibrant, fresh way, as this Open Championship has got everybody kind of ready to go. After 145 years of this championship, we get to do our first one.”