SAN DIEGO — At the end of 2022, the PGA Tour’s former chief tournaments and competitions officer Andy Padzer sent Max Homa a clip of a mic’d up MLB player who did a live interview while playing the field during a game.
“It was awesome because the ball comes to him in the middle of them talking, he kind of fumbles it, ends up getting the guy out at first and says, you know, ‘Hey, I’ve been lazy lately, I didn’t get my knee down or whatever,’” Homa said. “I was like, man, I just learned a lot in 15 seconds.”
The pitch was simple: let’s bring that same idea to golf. Homa realized he and his fellow players weren’t just athletes but also entertainers, so he took the bait and played the role of guinea pig during the third round of last year’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines on the par-5 13th hole.
One of the most outgoing players on Tour, Homa – who was in fourth place at the time at 7 under – spoke with CBS analysts Trevor Immelman, Ian Baker-Finch and Frank Nobilo about the hole and how he planned to attack it. With an iPhone and an AirPod, Homa helped usher in one of the best golf broadcast innovations since shot tracer.
“I thought it was good to have insight on the golf course,” Homa said after his round in 2023. “Obviously it’s going to take us as players being a lot more flexible, but this is an entertainment product and that means we should entertain.”
“If it makes you super uncomfortable, that’s all good, but it wasn’t so bad, that was the first rendition,” he continued. “Hopefully, like I said, people at home appreciated it and enjoyed it because I just think it’s a little different than an interview. You’re learning about a hole, about not just the player but about the tournament and the golf course and what it takes to be playing, you know, high-level competitive golf.”
Sellers Shy, the lead golf producer for CBS Sports, said last year the walk-and-talk is now “a box we have to check every week,” but players like Xander Schauffele were hesitant to partake at first as many thought it would negatively impact their round and take their focus off the task at hand. Homa was quick to throw water on that fire as he went on to win the tournament the next day.
“I think that the walk-and-talk at least was kind of something risky and different, but I think it turned out quite good,” Homa said earlier this week ahead of his title defense. “I’m sure there’s other variations that we could do, but just in general I think that’s kind of the direction at least, I’ll just speak for myself, I’d like to see golf go do. It’s not too crazy, it’s not too unbelievable to have people do something like that. I thought that it was nice. I mean, it’s nice to do it and then win and then look at people who said it might be distracting and then at least have that to say.”
Homa has some ideas for what the next entertainment innovations could be but didn’t share specifics. He did, however, praise MLB for its new pitch clock and the NBA for the in-season tournament.
“They seemed really extreme,” Homa said at first. “Yeah, it was a jump and it was a stretch, but it worked … so as crazy as those things sounded, I – as a fan of those sports – was like really pleased with what I saw.
“I just think trying stuff to entertain is really what the point of this all is,” he added, “just kind of evolving and being creative and things of that nature.”
Which begs the question, what comes next?
The NFL will have players wear a mic for an entire game, and then producers pick out the highlights to air during downtimes on the broadcast or as bumpers before and after commercials. Despite Homa’s success at the Farmers and Nick Taylor’s triumph at the RBC Canadian Open after doing a final round walk-and-talk, many players still don’t feel comfortable wearing a mic for one hole, let alone an entire round.
“We imagine that every single word we’re saying is being broadcast and it’s just not very comfortable,” said Homa, who also pleaded for his fellow players to get out of their comfort zones to give back to the viewership so that it gives them not just a reason to watch, but a reason to keep watching.
We’ve heard Homa, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Collin Morikawa, Min Woo Lee and more on the mic, but it truly doesn’t matter who’s participating. Almost any player or caddie, no matter how outgoing they may or may not be, can provide the viewer with a level of expertise they simply don’t possess. The more who get involved, the better off the broadcast will be.
Outside the ropes and up in the tower, NBC has yet to replace Paul Azinger with a full-time color analyst. Instead, the network has opted to use a rotating cast of voices including Kevin Kisner, Brandel Chamblee and Paul McGinley. The fresh voices have each brought something new to the broadcast and have kept the early-season events from going stale. Whether they meant to or not, avoiding a rushed hire has been an added benefit to the broadcast.
Maybe caddies will wear a mic next to help call the action. An on-the-range segment where players discuss what they’re working on would be interesting. What about an alternative show, similar to Monday Night Football’s ManningCast, for some of the marquee events?
There’s no shortage of ways for the game to modernize and entice its growing fan base. Like Homa said, the players and executives calling the shots just need to get out of their comfort zones.