The next generational shift in golf might be on TV

By Doug Ferguson
Published on
The next generational shift in golf might be on TV

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Peter Kostis went to the Ryder Cup as a swing coach and left with a broadcasting career.

USA Network televised the 1989 matches when no one else wanted the Ryder Cup. Jim Simpson was the lead announcer. Gary McCord, Ben Wright and journalist Don Wade were part of the reporting crew.

"They get over there and realize they may be short a person," Kostis said. "I had several players on both teams that I was coaching, so they said, 'Would you like to be an on-course reporter?' I said, 'What do I have to do?' They said, 'Just walk and tell us what's going on.' I jumped at it. And that was my first foray into television broadcasting."

Roger Maltbie was handed a microphone, but no manual.

"I had no clue what I was doing," he said of his television debut in 1991 at the Bob Hope Classic. "They just put you out there, and either you have some aptitude for it or you don't. The television jargon, everything they were saying in my ear, half of it I had no idea what they were talking about."

Larry Cirillo was NBC's golf producer and gave Maltbie the only advice he ever needed: Just be yourself.

Inside the ropes, golf has been going through a significant generation shift over the last few years. For the first time since the world ranking began in 1986, the top three players were all in their 20s. And with Rickie Fowler winning in Abu Dhabi last week, make that the top four.

On the air, another generational shift might not be far behind.

Gary McCord has been with CBS Sports since 1986. Kostis is starting his 25th year with CBS. Gary Koch started with ESPN in 1990 and enters his 20th year with NBC. Koch and Maltbie already are starting to cut back on their schedules. Mark Rolfing, who is recovering from a rare form of cancer, is approaching 30 years in television, all but six of those with NBC.

Their voices — not to mention Johnny Miller — have filled living rooms for a quarter century or more.

Golf on TV already is going through a few changes this year. David Feherty has left CBS and brings his brand of humor to NBC and Golf Channel starting next week at the Phoenix Open. Dottie Pepper makes her debut this week at Torrey Pines with CBS and will become the first woman to be part of the announcing crew at the Masters. Notah Begay was hired three years ago at NBC when Pepper left.

But that core of voice in booths and on the course — Koch, Kostis, Maltbie, McCord and Rolfing — are all in the mid- to upper-60s and not sure how much longer they want to put up with the travel and the grind. Television is glamor. It's also hard work.

PROFILE: David Feherty talks golf - and plenty more.

Who's next?

"It's going to be interesting," Kostis said. "I don't see very many guys who want to work hard enough to do a good job."

Golf Channel executive producer Molly Solomon referred to the Feherty hire as a "bridge to the next generation." The biggest hole to fill is Miller whenever he decides to step away, although Solomon said getting the British Open has rejuvenated him.

But it's clear the network already is making plans, especially with Maltbie and Koch starting to cut back.

Brandel Chamblee has been a strong presence on Golf Channel, known for his research and biting commentary of Tiger Woods. Golf Channel last year brought on David Duval, a former British Open champion and world No. 1, primarily for studio work. Justin Leonard, another former British Open champion, made his TV debut at the Hero World Challenge last month and likely will get a few more looks. John Cook has been used on occasion.

"What helps is having a deep bench," Solomon said.

The networks didn't always have that. It's almost as if they found on-course reporters by accident.

Rolfing was playing in the old Kapalua International when he won a car for being closest to the pin, was invited to the booth and made enough of an impression to eventually get offered a job. "The break of all time," Rolfing said.

Maltbie started at the Bob Hope in 1991, but only if NBC let him work the Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island.

And that's where he thought his career was over before it really started.

He was pulled off his group to find Mark Calcavecchia, who had just blown his match against Colin Montgomerie. Maltbie said Calcavecchia had been sobbing so hard that his eyes were swollen. He wasn't about to interview him, so he left.

"My mindset back then was I wasn't a TV guy. I was still a player," Maltbie said. "I walked over to the production compound and (producer) Terry O'Neil is standing at the door. I said, 'I found him, but he can't talk.' He said, 'Stay with him. He'll talk.' I looked at Terry and said, 'You stay with him and maybe he'll talk to you. But I'm not doing it.' Whatever thoughts of doing television, I figured that was out the window.

"Less than a month later, Terry O'Neil offered me a job."

This article was written by Doug Ferguson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.