This wasn’t a made-for-TV golf event. It was a perfect-for-TV golf event, thanks to Annika Sorenstam.
Jerry Greene of the Orlando Sentinel suggested as much on a conference call the USA Network and CBS held for reporters earlier this week. He also said that the networks should send Sorenstam a gift.
That goes double now.
Going up against the men in the Colonial on Thursday, Sorenstam was gracious, charming, flashed a nice smile and was even somewhat lighthearted at times. And considering all the pressure she was under, she also played a great round of golf.
It all fell into place for USA. It was good golf and a good show. For once, the event fit the hype. It was all up to Sorenstam, and she delivered.
The coverage got off to a roaring start. USA went on the air at 6:58 a.m., and immediately, there was Sorenstam, getting ready to tee off.
Viewers might have expected to see Sorenstam gnashing her teeth. But, at least outwardly, she appeared calm as she stepped to the tee.
No more talk was needed. Host Bill Macatee opened the telecast succinctly and fittingly.
“An historic moment in sports unfolding at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas,” he said. “Annika Sorenstam, soft-spoken, 32-year-old Swede, the No. 1 player on the LPGA Tour, is about to become the first woman in 58 years to hit a shot in competition on the PGA Tour.”
She then hit one right down the middle. As she walked away, she slumped in mock relief and laughed. The tone was set. This was going to be fun to watch.
USA didn’t go to a commercial for 20 minutes, which was appropriate. It didn’t show any other golfers besides Sorenstam and her playing partners until after that break. It didn’t need to. This was Sorenstam’s show, and USA knew it.
Without her, this would have just been another first round of another golf tournament that few paid attention to. With her, this was world news. And USA gave it appropriate coverage.
A nice historical touch was showing current interviews with other giants from women’s sports, such as Billie Jean King, Nadia Comaneci and Julie Krone. Live cut-ins with Jan Stephenson and Meg Mallon from the LPGA tournament at Corning, N.Y., worked well.
Having Hall of Famer Patty Sheehan work alongside the USA team of Macatee and Peter Kostis was a good move. Sheehan may have gushed a bit, but if this wasn’t a time for a little gushing, then when would be?
If there was a flaw -- besides brief power outages reported by some cable subscribers -- it was Kostis stepping out of bounds a couple of times.
At one point, Sheehan said, “Everything from now on will be a lot easier [for Sorenstam], not as pressure packed, nor as important.”
Kostis said, “If these tournaments aren’t as important to her, I can assure you there is going to be a performance slack-off. Maybe that will get her back in focus and make them important.”
Sheehan had to quickly explain that she didn’t mean that upcoming tournaments wouldn’t be important to Sorenstam, but rather not as important in the scheme of her career.
A key moment Thursday came on the final hole, one Sorenstam would bogey. She stood over her most important shot of the day -- a putt from the fringe. Kostis then chose to go into a dissertation about how if the top women golfers end up playing in men’s tournaments, that doesn’t bode well for the LPGA Tour. He cited 13-year-old Michelle Wie saying she’d like to play in men’s tournaments about half the time.
Kostis may have had a good point. It just was not the time to bring it up. What we needed at this point was for the announcers to set the stage for Sorenstam’s putt, then get out of the way and give the moment some breathing room.
Otherwise, it was a glorious morning for watching golf and golf history.
The coverage continues at 11:30 a.m. today when USA goes on the air with the second round. Sorenstam is scheduled to tee off at 11:43.
CBS will go on the air Saturday at 11 a.m., one hour earlier than originally scheduled. The extra hour will be devoted to Sorenstam. If she doesn’t make the cut, CBS will review her first two rounds. If she does make the cut, CBS and its sponsors will be smiling, and the fun will continue.
The Mighty Ducks are waiting to see who they face in the Stanley Cup finals, which begin Tuesday. But they know the first two games will be on the road. So the team will show those games on the video screens at the Arrowhead Pond. Tickets, priced at $5, go on sale Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the box office. Fans in attendance will have a chance to win four tickets to one of the first two homes games. Parking is free and the $5 goes to charity.... The finals will be televised by ESPN and ABC, but Fox Sports Net will offer postgame coverage with Van Earl Wright and Mighty Duck announcers John Ahlers and Brian Hayward.
Here is some good news for Arte Moreno, Angels’ new owner: Channel 9 reported it averaged a 2.3 rating for Angel telecasts during the May sweeps rating period, up from a 2.1 last May. The Dodgers on Channel 13 averaged a 2.2. It marked the first time Angel telecasts on Channel 9 (the Angel outlet since 1996) have averaged a better rating than Dodger telecasts on Channel 13 or Channel 5 during a sweeps period.
Saturday’s edition of “Trackside Live Hollywood Park” on TVG and Fox Sports Net 2 from 3-5 p.m. features 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri in the Milady Handicap. On Monday, a special extended Memorial Day edition of “Trackside Live” will feature the Metropolitan Mile from Belmont Park and the Gamely and Shoemaker Handicaps from Hollywood Park.
Attention college baseball fans: The second game of the Miami-Long Beach State series tonight at 7 will be televised by College Sports Television (CSTV), available on DirecTV’s Channel 610.... DirecTV, which offers an NCAA tournament pay package, will offer a college baseball super regional postseason package for $19.95. The package involves up for 24 games not televised in this market by ESPN.... Oops: Some DirecTV subscribers complained the start of last Friday’s Duck game on ESPN was mistakenly blacked out. Some said the blackout lasted about seven minutes; a few said it was longer than that.
George Greenberg, the executive producer of Fox Sports Net’s “Best Damn Sports Show Period,” has been promoted to executive vice president in charge of the network’s programming and production. Greenberg came to Fox from ABC in 1994, shortly after the network acquired NFL rights. Greenberg plans to create two new shows, one to precede “Best Damn” and another to follow it. Greenberg said the early show will feature daily highlights, the later show will mainly address issues. “Best Damn” may be cut from two hours to 90 minutes, Greenberg said.
UCLA radio commentator Don MacLean was Steve Hartman’s sidekick on XTRA (690 and 1150) Thursday. It was Alvin Gentry on Wednesday. Mike Lamb was on Monday and was a good fit.
Hartman has had 27 guest partners since Bill Werndl abruptly quit on Feb. 27. Hartman said a decision on a permanent partner will be made in the next few weeks.
Hartman said he hasn’t talked with Werndl since he quit.
“I backed him and supported him,” Hartman said. “I wanted him as my partner. Then he quit without even telling me.”
The feud between Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach continues. First, Auerbach said on ESPN Radio that three titles in a row don’t constitute a dynasty. Then, Jackson, on his national Sporting News Radio network show heard on KMPC (1540), said, “I just hope when I get to be his age, someone will pull a cigar from my mouth and insert an oxygen tube to allow me to breathe and think clearly.”
The next day Chris Myers, host of Jackson’s show, played that sound bite for Auerbach on the daily show Myers does for KMPC with Bob Golic.
Said Auerbach: “I’m not going to get in a spitting contest with him. He’s not worth it.”