Golf always was a logical candidate to be at the forefront of sports’ return from the COVID-19 interruption — both recreationally and professionally — thanks to the ease of social distancing.
And here we are, with many courses open, last weekend’s match featuring Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff behind us, another all-star event set for Sunday and the PGA Tour due back on June 11.
Brian Anderson called it “the baton handing off,” as television production people and announcers figure out the new normal on the fly.
Anderson will have his turn on Sunday as he hosts Turner’s coverage of “The Match: Champions for Charity,” in which a minimum of $10 million is to be raised for COVID-19 relief as Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady take on Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning at Medalist Golf Club in Florida — Woods’ home course.
The Masters it is not, so trash-talking by players wired for sound will be encouraged and fun is to be had. Let’s put it this way: Charles Barkley is an analyst for the telecast.
“We will feed off what the competitors are giving us,” Anderson said. “Tiger and Peyton have played in so many events together, pro-ams and whatnot, and they’re kind of world-class trash talkers . . . Peyton brings something more out of Tiger, I feel.”
Barkley will be joined by Trevor Immelman as an analyst, and the course reporters will be Justin Thomas and Hofstra alumnus Amanda Balionis.
Naturally, the announcers will be kept farther apart than usual and have less access than normal. Anderson will operate from an open-air booth near the 18th green.
“I feel supremely confident and safe,” he said. “They walked me through [the plans]. After hearing that I ran that by one of my good friends who is a head of infectious diseases and he said, ‘Yeah, that’s great.’ ”
Anderson said his greatest challenge as an announcer is that casual access to participants is now impossible — be it Sunday’s stars or eventually when he returns to calling Brewers and/or NBA playoff games.
“I wouldn’t call it a concern, but the thing I’m thinking about the most is, how am I going to get some information that I can deliver on the air from the guys that I would normally do?” he said.
“There’s no walking down the practice tee and having a chat. We’re not even leaving our area.”
Instead, what used to be part of preparation could unfold in real time. “We might just throw it out there on the air,” Anderson said. “We don’t know what we’re getting, the context or what that’s going to be.”
The good news, at least in the short term, is that everyone in sports seems open to trying new things for the sake of the larger good.
“What I’ve noticed is the participants in these events are extremely flexible and understanding of what we’re going through from a television side and a broadcasting side, and that’s actually heartwarming,” Anderson said.
“I think they realize the effort and planning that goes into one of these events . . . Not that they didn’t know it before, but the participants, the competitors, they never really had to think about it before. I love that it’s a full collaboration with all parties.”
Many sports broadcasters hope that the COVID-19 crisis will lead to more access once team sports return, such as baseball players agreeing to wear microphones in-game as they did during spring training.
“I think the NBA is probably the best of the sports I cover with allowing the interaction,” Anderson said. “LeBron [James] wears a microphone in a playoff series.
“It’s hard to get baseball players to do that. Golfers are very reluctant to do that when they compete. If we can keep making the equipment smaller and less obtrusive and we can get in there more, that’s only good for fans.
“I’m sure players are skeptical, but hopefully we can prove to them that this can be done well, and without totally wrecking their routines and their craft.”
For now, the top priority simply is playing at all.
Anderson said “everything is up for grabs” in terms of how baseball will handle game announcers — from being on-site for home games and calling road games from a studio, to doing all games from a studio.
“None of it is ideal,” he said, but added, “the goal is to try to get these events on the air so we can entertain and be what we are, we can be that distraction, that entertainment, that people want.”