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How Fox plans to cover the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay

Greg Norman walks to the 18th green during

Greg Norman walks to the 18th green during the final round of the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. Photo Credit: AP

Johnny Miller will not be part of the television coverage of this year's U.S. Open, but he still can lay claim to the most memorable line (so far) about the television coverage of this year's Open.

It was in August 2013 when the longtime NBC golf analyst famously said this to The Associated Press after learning Fox would take over for the 12 Opens starting in 2015:

"I don't know what they're going to do. You can't just fall out of a tree and do the U.S. Open. I guess the money was more important than the performance.

"No way they can step in and do the job we were doing. It's impossible. There's just no way. I wish Fox the very best."

Well, as it turns out Chambers Bay, the Washington state course from which Fox will make its Open debut Thursday, features but a single tree, a lonely Douglas fir.

So, even if Fox were so inclined, there is not a practical way to fall out of a tree to do this particular Open.

Instead the network will try, as host Joe Buck told, "To act like we've been there before, even when we haven't," and at the same time provide the kind of fresh approach the USGA was looking for when it struck the controversial deal.

(Well, that and the reported $100 million per year Fox shelled out.)

So Buck, the face of the network's sports division, will host the coverage and have alongside him as lead analyst Greg Norman, someone with every bit the golf bona fides and personality to match NBC's Miller and CBS' Nick Faldo.

Beyond that there will be a production team that Buck compared in magnitude to four Super Bowls combined, plus Foxie touches such as coverage by aerial drone.

Asked on a conference call Friday about balancing Fox's "style and innovations" with servicing a notoriously tradition-bound golf audience, coordinating producer Mark Loomis said:

"First and foremost, our goal was to cover the event. So anything we did along the way was figure out how to cover the event better. It's not change for change's sake by any means . . . It's certainly not innovation for innovation's sake."

Said Buck on that same call, "What a boring world it would be if trying new things and changing things up was so frowned upon that they were scared to do it. I remember in '94 when we got into football and everybody freaked out about Fox putting the score in the corner of the screen.

"If [former Fox Sports chairman] David Hill was worried about that criticism maybe not every single event that's on television would have the scoreboard on it. But he wasn't scared of that criticism."

Buck added, "If we're going to go into this worried about what the traditional golf fan cares about what we're doing, we're dead."

He said USGA wanted "fresh eyes, a fresh perspective, a little energy . . . It's going to be a different experience to a fan of sports on television, not just hard-core fans wearing knickers watching the tournament and sitting on their couch."

Miller long has had a reputation for honesty and blunt criticism. Norman said he will have no problem delivering the same when called for.

"When you are in the seat of lead analyst, you have to give your opinion," he said. "It can't be sugar-coated. It irks me when I watch TV and every player hits the perfect shot and every player is the greatest short-game player in the world and every player is just so good.

"When you look at it in totality, these players are the best in the world, but when they do do something wrong, it's got to be pointed out. This is going to be magnified dramatically at Chambers Bay because if a player is just a little bit off he's going to be brutally penalized. I have to explain that.

"I am going to be very forthright in my thoughts and what I see. I am not going to go out there to be critical just to be critical. I'm going to be constructive so the viewing audience will be able to understand. It's the education to the viewers that I've got to look forward to giving."

Norman said he is a "big fan" of Miller's but will not try to be like him, only like himself.

"I'm not going to try to bring anything different; I just have to bring myself, to tell you the truth," he said. "For me I just want to be myself and just let it flow from there."

Buck admitted he was "a little intimidated" when he first heard he would be teamed with Norman, whom he called "the World's Most Interesting Man, Part Two."

The two practiced over an NBC feed of the Open last year and have spent plenty of time together since. "Frankly, I'm kind of sick of him," Buck said.

Fox cannot do any worse in ratings terms than NBC did last year, when the Peacocks were hurt by competition from the soccer World Cup and by Martin Kaymer's easy victory, finishing with an average of 4.6 million viewers on Sunday.

Billy Wanger, Fox Sports' executive vice president, called that figure "an aberration."

Fox Sports 1 will carry the first two rounds from noon to 8 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday and Friday, followed by Fox's broadcast arm taking over from 8 to 11 p.m. those nights.

Fox will televise the third round from 2 to 10 p.m. Saturday and the final round from 2 to 10:30 Sunday. If necessary, the 18-hole playoff would start at 2:30 p.m. Monday.

The star of the show beyond the golfers will be the unconventional course itself.

"We have had people up there shooting with drones, helicopters and on the ground," Loomis said. "We will have every angle of that area and that golf course covered. But at the end of the day, we're covering that championship, and a little bit of that will depend on what's going on out on the golf course.

"If there are 10 guys within two shots of the lead, we'll be hustling around to golf shots. If there are fewer players or two or three people near the lead, we'll have more time to stop and look around, so it's a little bit dictated by what the story line is as well."

That being said, educating even avid fans about the course will be a crucial part of Fox's mission.

"Comparing it to Augusta, pretty much any golf fan can take you through the back nine and tell you exactly which hole is which," Loomis said. "But it is incumbent upon us over the next week to tell the person at home about this golf course and because of that, we have architects on our staff.

"Greg's an architect. Tom Weiskopf is an architect. Gil Hanse is an architect. We put this team together a little bit around that fact, that we need to tell the story of this golf course and we will, and I think we have the right people to do it."

To that end the production team hopes to "make the viewer feel like they are playing the golf course right in front of them," Loomis said, before adding, "The technology is part of the experience. It's not the experience."

Among the Fox touches will be enhanced audio, including from the holes themselves, illustrating the dimensions to the green and giving viewers a look at shots from the golfers' points of view.

In addition to Norman, the team of golf experts includes Brad Faxon, Corey Pavin, Weiskopf, Steve Flesch, Scott McCarron, Jay Delsing and Juli Inkster.

Fox Sports Go will offer alternate online streams that will focus on featured groups -- did someone say Tiger Woods? -- and featured holes.

Fox's equipment will include 118 cameras, 11 audio mixers, 202 microphones, 29 replay servers, 47 miles of fiber optics, 12 production units, 17 support units and one Shark.


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