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TV blog: NBC needs to put some meat on these Bones

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A week ago, I had a conversation with a senior producer of PGA Tour coverage. I asked him how he thought Jim “Bones” Mackay, Phil Mickelson’s former caddie, would fare in his new life as an announcer for NBC. He said he expected Bones to do well, based on having watched the 2015 RSM Classic, where Golf Channel road-tested Mackay as an on-course announcer.
I had watched that same tournament, which left me far less optimistic that Mackay had a future in TV.
As it turns out, of course, Mackay does have a future in TV. NBC signed him to a multi-year contract and introduced him to viewers at the British Open.
The first two days of Open coverage only reinforced my initial impression that Mackay is better suited to carrying a bag than a microphone.
Let’s start with two assumptions. First, we all have warm feelings for Mackay. There are so many memorable moments from his 25 years working for Mickelson. Plus, how can you not like a guy named Bones? (A former colleague called me on Friday and posed this question: If Mackay didn’t have a cool nickname, would he get a TV job? I didn’t immediately rule out the possibility. Would he be so prominent if he were known simply as Jim Mackay? Is part of his appeal that anchor Dan Hicks can say, “Bones, what does Spieth have?”)
The second point is this: TV is hard, and being an on-course announcer is especially difficult. It’s one of the toughest jobs in televised golf. It’s perhaps a little easier on producer Tommy Roy’s NBC crew because Roy doesn’t have on-course commentators call replays, but it’s still a tough gig.
That’s one of the reasons I thought it was a bad idea for NBC to leapfrog Mackay over more seasoned announcers. An on-course reporter has to be quick-witted and concise, be comfortable in his own skin and have an easy rapport with the audience.
Let me go one step further: I’m a firm believer that announcers are born, not made.
You either have it or you don’t.
I’ll give you an example of what I mean. About eight years ago, I was laying in bed watching coverage of what was then a Nationwide Tour event at TPC Stonebrae near San Francisco. In those days, players sometimes would grab a mic and call some action after their rounds. It helped a short-handed crew, and also offered Golf Channel a chance to test new talent.
At Stonebrae, James Hahn joined the crew. He was funny, smart, insightful, instantly likable. (Side note: Hahn’s karate kick as he was walking up the 17th fairway at Royal Birkdale late Friday was one of the day’s highlights.) It was obvious that if Hahn’s golf career didn’t pan out – it has – he had a career in TV.
I didn’t get that sense listening to Mackay at the RSM Classic in 2015, nor over the past two days. In theory, you hire someone like Mackay because he has unique insights into players and caddies. In practice, Mackay was robotic, talking like a caddie – yardage, wind, club (“195 yards, straight downwind, with a 9-iron”). 
That’s fine, but somewhere along the line, you want more.
Mackay had a good moment Friday afternoon when he said Brooks Koepka’s caddie had told him players were taking an additional club even on downwind shots. And on Thursday, he shared a mildly amusing story about a college-age Bubba Watson making a wager with Mickelson 20 years ago, though he didn’t display a story-teller’s flair in relaying the anecdote.
There were, however, too many missed opportunities.
Hicks tried to tee up Mackay Thursday when he was following Adam Scott’s group.
“You’ve seen (Scott’s game) through the years, you just wonder why this guy doesn’t win every week,” Hick’s said. “It’s just that technically sound.”
“It is beautiful to watch,” Mackay said. “There’s no doubt about that.”
Johnny Miller jumped in to say, “But you gotta putt.”
That was a moment for Bones to offer some insight into Scott’s game: Why has he underachieved? Or maybe he hasn’t underachieved? Is he overrated? Where’s that insight we’re looking for?
Hicks tried again when discussing Paul Casey: “Surprised (Casey) hasn’t won a major yet, Bones?”
Bones: “I am, Dan. He’s an extremely good player. But as we saw with Phil
Mickelson, some of these guys don’t win their first major until they get in their mid-30s, and then they go on a tear.”
Actually, they typically don’t. Mickelson was unique in that regard. The multi-major winners typically win majors early in their careers because their talent is undeniable. What made Mickelson unique was that he clearly was the second-best player in the world through much of his career, but didn’t start winning majors until he was 33 years old.
This was in the midst of Mackay’s rockiest stretch. A few minutes later, he said, “Big tee shot here for Rick (Fowler), guys. I think that after a couple of poor swings on the last hole, he’s really going to be working hard to get this one in the fairway.”
Well, yes, golfers like to hit fairways. But what are you seeing that’s causing those “poor swings”? What are you seeing in Rickie’s manner? (Fowler seemed unusually frustrated at the time, slamming his club after hooking his approach on 15.)
Mackay also has a bad habit of starting many of his live hits by saying, “Yeah, guys. . .” or “Absolutely, guys. . .” He needs simply to share what he’s seeing on the ground.
He’s also too quick to default to groan-inducing clichés. On a Hideki Matsuyama chip, he said, “This is going to take all of his short-game wizardry to get this up and down.” Ugh. As for Tommy Fleetwood’s battle to make the cut? “He has shown a lot of moxie.”
Moxie. The only people who say “moxie” are those trying to sound like an announcer, rather than be an analyst.
Perhaps Mackay needs to decide which one he wants to be.

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Jordan Spieth takes 36-hole lead at British Open

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Here is a recap of the second round of the British Open, played at Royal Birkdale in Southport, England:

LEADING: Jordan Spieth fires a 1-under 69 in tough (rainy, windy) conditions to move from co-leader to two shots ahead at 6 under. Spieth started out hot with a birdie at No. 1, but was basically fighting the rest of the way. Bogeys at Nos. 3 and 9 pushed him back to 4 under and the co-lead. Spieth then went on an insane three-hole stretch: Chip-in for par at No. 10, 25-footer for birdie No. 11, stuffed tee shot to 2 feet for another birdie at No. 12. There was a 15-minute delay amidst this stretch due to heavy rain, but that probably helped Spieth, if anything.

Suddenly he was 6 under and two ahead. A bogey at 14 followed, but Spieth then made a lucky eagle at 15 after his “neck-thin mishit” for his second shot rolled up to 20 feet and he made the putt. At that point he was 7 under and had a three-shot lead. A short miss at 16 meant a sour late bogey, but it was overall a great round. Spieth’s last start was a victory at the Travelers Championship. This is his last major before his 24th birthday. As it stands, it looks like major No. 3 could be coming at age 23.

CHASING: Matt Kuchar, an 18-hole co-leader, posted a 1-over 71 early to post the clubhouse target at 4 under. It ended up putting him in second place, two back. Brooks Koepka, another 18-hole co-leader, shot 72 to find himself T-3 alongside Ian Poulter (70). Richie Ramsay (70) is solo fifth at 2 under. Rory McIlroy continued his climb back from an early hole, posting a 68 to rocket from a tie for 58th to a tie for sixth at 1 under. He’s there alongside Austin Connelly, a world traveler, Gary Woodland and Richard Bland.

SHOT OF THE DAY: Even though Spieth is in the lead and had an eagle at the par-5 15th set up by an excellent approach, well … it was a lucky shot.

Instead then, we have to go with this perfect strike from Chris Wood. With the possibility of needing birdie at 18 to make the cut, Wood erased all doubts by holing his second shot for eagle.

Birdie to make the cut?

Why not go one better! pic.twitter.com/NEvr5zjOnU

— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) July 21, 2017

QUOTABLE: “I feel a little guilty taking 4 on the scorecard there.” – Spieth, on his chip-in par at No. 10 that catalyzed his back nine charge

SHORT SHOTS: Bubba Watson had a wild day but is T-10 at even par. … Zach Johnson posted a 4-under 66 for the day’s best round by two shots. He jumped 100 spots on the leaderboard to a tie for 21st at 1 over. … Rickie Fowler is tied for 24th at 2 over after a second straight 71. Defending champion Henrik Stenson, dealing with a burglary at his rental home, is also 2 over. … World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is tied for 35th at 3 over. … Alfie Plant (4 over) is the only amateur to make the cut, which means he’ll earn low amateur honors. … Hometown boy Tommy Fleetwood shoots 69 to jump up 72 spots and make the cut on the number at 5 over. Jason Day shoots 76 but also makes the cut on the number. … Padraig Harrington, the 2008 champ at Birkdale, missed the cut by one. Justin Thomas shoots 80, with a crazy quintuple bogey, to miss out by two.

UP NEXT: Golf Channel will air third-round coverage from 4:30-7 a.m. Eastern before turning it over to NBC for a 7 a.m.-3 p.m. stretch. All our coverage from Royal Birkdale can be found right here. Also go to our Facebook and Twitter feeds for the action during the championship.

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VIDEO: James Hahn celebrates great shot with furious kick

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Have you ever gotten this excited over hitting a green in regulation?

James Hahn hasn’t had an easy Friday at the British Open. He shot 76, in which he had to deal with a flop shot getting stuck in a tree.

But the last man in the Open field will reach the weekend at Royal Birkdale at 4 over.

As the cutline is 5 over, it was big then for Hahn to not get into trouble sitting 3 over on the par-5 17th. He faced a third shot at the hole and beautifully knocked it to 20 feet.

Excited about the strike, Hahn decided to bring out a rare celebration in golf: The furious leg kick. Oh was this a beauty…

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So yeah, our question: What is he going to do if he makes a long putt? Holes out?

The possibilities are now endless.

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VIDEO: James Hahn hits flop shot … that gets stuck in tree

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Luck tends to even out in golf.

James Hahn had good fortune in earning the last spot into the Open Championship field thanks to Brandt Snedeker’s withdrawal.

He got a dose of bad luck Friday.

Hahn sailed his tee shot over the green at Royal Birkdale’s par-3 fourth and attempted a flop shot to get back into play.

All good, one problem: There was a tree in the way.

It seemed like Hahn would clear the tree, but the ball ended up getting stuck in it.

That’s a tough break to see. It would lead to double bogey. But as it stands, Hahn will make the weekend at the Open.

Considering he wasn’t even supposedly to be in this field at all, we’re thinking he’s not taking this bit of bad luck too hard.

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Friday's shot, hole and quotes of the day from The Open

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SHOT OF THE DAY

Chris Wood finished with a flourish, making the cut in clutch fashion with an amazing approach at the 473-yard, par-4 18th hole. After a solid tee shot left him with a good view from the fairway, the Englishman holed out for an eagle 2, much to the appreciation of the partisan gallery. Wood, who shot 72 Friday, stands at 3-over 143.

HOLE OF THE DAY

The 448-yard, par-4 first

Talk about your winds of change. No. 1, which played as the third-hardest hole at Royal Birkdale in the first round, rolled over and ranked 15th in Round 2. With strong breezes at their back, players collected 16 birdies, 116 pars and 23 bogeys for a 4.058 scoring average. It averaged 4.308 a day earlier.

QUOTES OF THE DAY

“I feel good. You never know what is going to happen tomorrow. But hopefully there’s some confidence, momentum for the rest of the weekend. It would be a shame if it poured and blew a little harder, it would be a crying shame.”

Zach Johnson, after firing the day’s best round, a 4-under 66 in wet, windy conditions that featured gusts up to 42 mph

“It’s just one of those things where if it starts going bad in these conditions, it’s just going to go bad. It’s not that big a deal. Unfortunately it’s the first cut I’ve missed this year and I missed it with flair. I was surprised because I really thought — I thought Thursday I was prepared. I felt like I was ready. I thought I had a good game plan. I thought my game was sharp. But obviously it wasn’t. I’ve got this week off and I’ll see if I can get it sharp for Akron and the PGA.”

Phil Mickelson, after second-round, 7-over 77 sent him packing

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2028 Ryder Cup preview? Poulter, Daly kids go head-to-head.

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SOUTHPORT, England – If Ian Poulter’s looking for some inspiration to overhaul a few strong Americans at the top of the Open Championship leaderboard, then 13-year-old son Luke might have the answer.

Luke, who plays off an 11-handicap at Woburn Golf Club where Ian is the tournament pro, was excited on Thursday after Dad returned a 3-under-par 67 to get into contention at Royal Birkdale. He was even more excited after taking £20 off John Daly’s son John over eight holes at Southport & Ainsdale Golf Club in a quasi-Ryder Cup match.

And young Luke made sure he rubbed young Daly’s nose in the loss afterwards.

“He went out to play golf with John Daly’s lad last night,” Poulter revealed. “He played eight holes. There was a little matchup and he managed to be successful in his little match. He came home pretty pumped last night and was excited to play some good golf.”

Former European Tour player Simon Hurd set up the match at the course more commonly known as S&A. Hurd’s friend and one-time fellow European Tour pro Jim Payne is the S&A club professional, so there was no problem securing the venue for the Junior Ryder Cup match.

“One was very upset when he’d come back in the house, and unfortunately that was little John. Luke was kind of rubbing it in as he took a £20 note from him. Poor little John was not best pleased.”

Poulter senior has done a good job over the years of making sure Americans are not best pleased in the Ryder Cup. Yet when asked who taught Luke how to rub it in, Dad replied:

“I’m not sure. It must be his mother.”

Hmmm. As they say in England, “pull the other one!”

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Kent Bulle powers his way into the mix at Royal Birkdale

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SOUTHPORT, England – Kent Bulle joined his cousin on a golf excursion to Scotland a few years ago to fulfill a dream harbored by so many American golfers: They played a few courses that make up the British Open rota.

“It was a bucket-list trip,” said the 28-year-old Bulle, who now competes full-time in golf’s minor-leagues, on the Web.com Tour. He laughed. “I didn’t know I’d be playing here.” 

“Here” would be the 146th British Open at Royal Birkdale, where Bulle stepped off the fifth green on Friday afternoon, peered up, and saw his name on a bright yellow leaderboard right below Spieth, Kuchar and Koepka. He’d make four bogeys on his way in and shot 2-over 72 in difficult conditions, but at level-par 140 through 36 holes, he is in very good stead for the weekend. 

He’s hoping that it’s a big one.

Surely in a rich history that dates to 1860, The Open, played in England and Scotland, has been a stage for many lads from Glasgow. Bulle, a stocky man with a neatly trimmed beard, fits right in. He, too, is a bloke from Glasgow; Glasgow, Ky, that is.

The Glasgow he knows has about 15,000 residents, and he can’t remember if there are 11 or 13 stoplights, as the little burg just keeps adding them. He grew up on one side of town, and played his golf at Glasgow Country Club, some 10-12 minutes away “depending on traffic.” He resides in Nashville now because it makes travel easier, but still can scoot home to Glasgow, have lunch with his grandparents and still get home by dinner.

Bulle – “pronounced like the animal,” he explains – hasn’t had the greatest season on the Web.com, where his best finish in 13 starts is a tie for 13th, fittingly, at an event in the Bahamas where the winds blew past 50 mph. He’s a long hitter and he enjoys courses where par means something, which instantly means he has an affinity for Birkdale. Friday, pars were golden.

Bulle ranks 96th in earnings on the Web.com, and in flying to England he surrendered ground to his counterparts who are competing in Elkhorn, Neb., this week. But Bulle, who got into the Open field by winning the 2016 Argentine Open (he successfully defended his 2015 title in a three-man playoff), wanted to do things right. So instead of groggily stepping off a plane in England on Tuesday of Open week and not getting his feet beneath him for a few days, he traveled early and played some golf across the sea in Ireland, sampling the links of Ballybunion to get links-ready.

In his bucket-list trip to Scotland, he and his cousin huddled outside the starter’s shack at St. Andrews’ Old Course at 3 a.m. in the rain and cold just in hopes of landing a tee time. He got one, and played the Old Course on a day when winds reached 50 mph, a tad higher than any gusts he experienced on Friday. That morning, a thought crossed his mind about links golf in Scotland and England: This could get goofy.

“But I love it,” he said. “This is the kind of golf where you have to shape shots. The thing about around the greens, you can hit anything from a putter to a driver, putt it, or chip it, whatever you want to do. It’s so much fun to be able to shape shots instead of just being almost bored hitting stock shots all day.”

There was nothing “stock” about Friday’s round, a day at Birkdale that sent many of the world’s best players careening to scores well over par. Bulle hung in there. He said a key to his good play was that he’s been able to convert those 5- and 6-foot par putts that can keep momentum on a player’s side.

He made it to the U.S. Open last summer at Oakmont, but practiced and played too much leading in, was wiped out, and missed the cut, shooting 10 over. He did learn from the experience. There was a sentiment inside him that he was pleased just to have made it there, and the tournament itself was kind of icing. This week, he brought a different mindset. 

He paced himself leading into the week, and still had some highlight moments. He played practice holes on two days with fellow Kentuckian Justin Thomas, who he’s known for years, and also prepared alongside Ryder Cuppers Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker. During one practice round, Snedeker, who withdrew this week with a sternum injury, dropped out after nine – and in stepped World No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

“I got up there (in distance) with him a couple times,” Bulle said rather proudly. “We had some wind going on. From what I hear, he (Johnson) has another gear that goes another 30 (yards) from what I saw. But it was just fun to watch those guys.”

One day soon, Bulle wants to be one of “those guys” competing for millions of dollars each week on the PGA Tour. If he plays well enough this weekend, he could gather significant FedEx Cup points toward earning his way into the Web.com Finals, where PGA Tour cards are doled out. So he’ll make sure to enjoy the experience – he has his mom, fiancée, her parents and other friends along with him, as well as a former East Tennessee teammate, Chas Narramore, on his bag – the golf he has ahead of him has plenty of meaning.

“I think everybody in our position is looking for that chance,” Bulle said. “If you hang around long enough, you all get that one chance. It’s a matter of you take that chance and you play well, or you don’t.

“This may be my chance.” 

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VIDEO: Jordan Spieth gets REALLY lucky on 'neck-thin mishit,' and makes eagle

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Jordan Spieth has the skill and luck on his side.

The 23-year-old was 5 under and in a one-shot lead in the second round of the Open Championship as he stood over his second shot from the rough at Royal Birkdale’s par-5 15th.

He hit a mediocre shot from there, calling it a “neck-thin mishit.” But once in a while, golf will help you out.

Spieth could only watch in belief as his “mishit” rolled possibly some 100 yards all the way to the green and 20 feet below the hole.

And the ball keeps running, running and running, running 🎶

Links golf 🤷🏼‍♂️ pic.twitter.com/YB2jbl8O0r

— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) July 21, 2017

Unbelievably, he’d have that putt for eagle to move to 7 under and take a three-shot lead. Like the great ones often do, Spieth took advantage of his good fortune and buried the putt.

Eagle! @jordanspieth goes three clear #TheOpen pic.twitter.com/Z4KLc77Hke

— The Open (@TheOpen) July 21, 2017

Hey when you get a break like that, don’t question it. Capitalize.

Spieth did, and now he’s in command of the Open.

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VIDEO: Chris Wood holes out for walk-off eagle to make cut at British Open

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Chris Wood, you are incredible.

As he stood over his second shot at Royal Birkdale’s par-4 18th in the second round of the Open Championship, Wood was 5 over and one back of the cut.

Honestly, he likely just needed a par to make the weekend, because the cut was probably going to drop to 5 over at least (and it has indeed since). Regardless, Wood was on the edge as he prepared for that shot.

He had to be thinking birdie to be sure he’d reach the weekend. He couldn’t get it done. Instead, Wood holed out for an amazing walk-off eagle to move to 3 over and secure his Saturday spot.

Birdie to make the cut?

Why not go one better! pic.twitter.com/NEvr5zjOnU

— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) July 21, 2017

What a show, Chris Wood! The lesson here: When you may need a birdie to make the cut, just go ahead and score an eagle to make sure.

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Phil Mickelson, among MCs at British Open: 'Not that big a deal'

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SOUTHPORT, England – For the first time all season, Phil Mickelson will not advance to the weekend of a golf tournament.

Mickelson shot 7-over 77 on Friday at Royal Birkdale to finish 36 holes of the 146th British Open at 10 over. He did birdie his first hole of the day to move to 2 over, but a triple bogey at the par-4 third hole and eight more bogeys, including two straight to end his round, ended Mickelson’s week early in Southport.

“You know, it’s just one of those things where if it starts going bad in these conditions, it’s just going to go bad,” Mickelson said. “It’s not that big a deal. Unfortunately, it’s the first cut I’ve missed this year and I missed it with flair. I was surprised because I really thought Thursday I was prepared. I felt like I was ready. I thought I had a good game plan. I thought my game was sharp. But obviously it wasn’t.”

Mickelson, 47, was making just his second start since a T-9 at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in early June. Mickelson missed the U.S. Open to attend his daughter Amanda’s high-school graduation before a T-20 three weeks later at the Greenbrier Classic.

Last month, Mickelson also parted ways with longtime caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay, who is at the Open working for Golf Channel. Mickelson’s younger brother, Tim, who is Jon Rahm’s agent, replaced Mackay and will caddie through the end of the year.

“We all go through days like this, and it’s part of the game,” said Mickelson, who will next play the WGC-Bridgestone and then the PGA Championship. “I don’t want to put too much stock in it, because I’ve really been hitting the ball well and playing well. So rather than dwell on two rough days here, I’ll go back home and get ready for these upcoming events.”

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