The 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines was one of the greatest sporting events I’ve ever witnessed.  It had everything from a great track to a great leaderboard to the best player in the game having a debilitating injury yet soldiering on.  There were storylines all across the board augmented by a genius course setup that was equal parts taxing and fair, and in the end, at least in regulation, it came down to Tiger vs. Everyman…one putt to win the whole thang.

Could you imagine any more drama?  From an announcer’s standpoint, this was career gold, a chance to paint one of the lasting images in all of sport with the brushstroke of oral artistry, a chance for a “do you believe in miracles?” or a “in your life have you ever seen a shot like that?”  You make the right call, you’re known forever.  Instead, Dan Hicks made perhaps the worst call in the history of sports broadcasting, and as a result, turned what was a great moment in time into a caricature of itself, but more on that later…

An aside…as a golf fan, I watch more than my fair share of the sport on television from Nationwide events to European Tour coverage (no LPGA or Champions Tour…I’m not a masochist) and there’s a distinct flavor to each.  In terms of PGA coverage, CBS, by leaps, bounds, heads and shoulders, is the leader, pairing the entertaining David Feherty and Gary McCord, the smart and eloquent Peter Oosterhuis and the FANTASTIC Nick Faldo (and others) with the best play-by-play guy in the business in Jim Nantz.  Not only are CBS broadcasts well shot, they’re entertaining and enlightening, and it’s easy to lose yourself for a few hours on a Sunday and just enjoy some great golf.

Now, CBS, as we know, has the rights to the Masters and the PGA Championship, while ESPN takes over the Open (and they do a great job…wish they got back in on golf) and NBC does the Players, the FedEx Cup and, as we know, the US Open.

NBC’s announcers are, how do I put this nicely, TERRIBLE.

Johnny Miller is the target for most of the criticism, and rightly so.  Miller is living off of a fantastic round back in the 70’s and has no problem criticising players to an absurd degree, knocking them for things that he was guilty of back in his playing days.  He comes off as a condescending, arrogant, miser who honestly believes that he can hear if a shot is “two grooves thin” and instead of just stating that, asks the on-course announcers to validate his opinion, almost like a child starving for attention.  Roger Maltbie and Dottie Pepper are solid enough, but where’s the entertainment?  An NBC broadcast is shot FANTASTICALLY with the best HD offered, yet it’s narrated by a bunch of clowns obsessing over every inch of grass while missing the big picture entirely? Watching an NBC broadcast is like watching Star Wars or Jurassic Park if the music were composed by the Spice Girls.  A fabulously displayed work of art tarnished by a soundtrack that is the polar opposite in terms of quality.

And that brings us to Dan Hicks.

“Expect anything different?”

THAT’S the best you had to offer?  That’s all you could think of in such a seminal moment, with so much happening up to that point?  There was nobody else on the course, it was just Tiger with the chance, and THAT’S all you had?

Now, to that point, it’s semi understandable what Hicks was thinking.  Tiger did the exact same thing at Torrey as he did in Dubai in February of 2008 and then again at Bay Hill a month later (which Hicks did commentary for) so why SHOULD we expect anything different?

Because of the stage.

Yea, the Dubai and Bay Hill events are elite events a notch below a major, but this was the US Freakin’ Open, man!!!  This isn’t some dog and pony WGC event with nothing really on the line other than a big winners check…this was HISTORY.  And not just history, the culmination of arguably the most dramatic golf tournament in the modern era.  This wasn’t the time for some hackneyed quote celebrating one man, this was the time for a poignant phrase that encaptured the moment’s essence.

Sure, everyone was thinking he was going to make that putt, but that’s besides the point.  The beauty of Jim Nantz is that he can let the moment speak for itself without getting in the way and carefully and cleverly deliver one line that perfectly sums it up.  Hicks not only failed, but RUINED the moment.  As soon as the putt drops, here he comes with a terrible line, yelling it with all the enthusiasm of a casual fan who tuned in 20 minutes before.

Yes, we expected it to drop, but that doesn’t mean that we wanted the moment, Tiger’s reaction, the crowd’s reaction suffocated with condescending pomp.  And yes, it was condescending.  Did you know the putt was going to drop, Dan?  No, and neither did I, yet it sounds like you knew this was coming all along.

So, I’ve already voiced my displeasure with the delivery of the line, but what about it’s message?  The beauty of Jim Nantz is that he, for the most part (I say for the most part because HE’S the reason people think Fred Couples is a great guy instead of the jerk that he’s known to be when the cameras aren’t on him) is an objective voice who treats every player in contention with the same respect.  Would Hicks have made that same call if Lee Westwood or Rocco were in Tiger’s shoes?  No.  Tiger is the greatest, but he needed that putt for a playoff, not a win.  Wouldn’t something like “…and we have 18 more tomorrow,” been much better?  Instead, Tiger is put on an even higher pedestal, like he’s bigger than the tour.

You may think that the moment wasn’t spoiled or that Hicks’ call was fantastic, but I just don’t see it that way.  Of all the greatest moments in sports caught on film throughout the years, the thing that makes them so seminal is the relationship the announcers had on the moment.  And my reaction might have something to do with my overall distaste for NBC’s golf coverage, but think about it…when you see those “greatest sports moments” things on Best Damn Sports Show or ESPN Classic, why is Tiger’s chip on 16 at Augusta almost always on there, but not Tiger’s putt at Torrey when the putt had much more on the line?  Could it have something to do with Verne Lundquist’s amazing call when compared to Dan Hicks’ Tiger slobbing?  Who knows, but in my opinion, one of the greatest moments in golf was tainted and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to truly savor that again with the volume on.