WATCH PLAYERS ON TV (all times ET)
Round 1: GOLF Channel,
1-7 p.m., 9 p.m.-12 a.m.
|Round 2: GOLF Channel, 1-7 p.m., 9 p.m-12 a.m.||Round 3: NBC, 2-7 p.m.; GOLF Channel, 9-11 p.m.||Round 3: NBC, 2-7 p.m.; GOLF Channel, 9-11 p.m.|
By Ward Clayton, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- As if midnight is approaching on New Year’s Eve at Times Square, a large digital clock is ticking toward start time at 1 p.m. Thursday. The Golf Channel and NBC are on the brink of 20 hours of live coverage from THE PLAYERS Championship.
Front and center is Tommy Roy, the 52-year-old executive producer of NBC Golf. He sits in the center seat of the production truck, which is hidden from spectators’ view left of the 10th tee in a compound of 18-wheeled rigs. The darkened room full of about a dozen television staffers has approximately 20 screens that display shots of every hole. Roy’s eyes will dart back and forth as he listens to preparation from all corners of the TV world and his voice arcs over others as he sets up the day. He has monitored the latest weather news since rain and golf don’t equal compelling television. He arrived on site earlier in the morning, is in the truck no later than two hours before airtime and never goes to sleep at night without reviewing the day’s news and player interview transcripts to make sure his team is prepared for the next day.
“I guess you could say I’m addicted to adrenaline because this job is such an adrenaline rush,” Roy said. “It’s the most fun. And it keeps me young.”
Roy guides the golf telecast into the homes of viewers from this nerve center. His directions result in the picture on your screen, as he produces all of the live golf during THE PLAYERS, first for Golf Channel today and Friday and then on the weekend for NBC. He sits in this main chair the entire time, with a soft drink at arm’s length and a Portalet available just outside the door, just in case. PLAYERS week is more rigorous than most of the broadcasts because of limited commercial interruptions.
Roy oversees a small army of staffers, including eight announcers, as well as employing 42 cameras stationed around the course, including 10 on the 17th hole. He is in the ear of the on-air talent, from the laid-back walking reporter Roger Maltbie to lead analysts Nick Faldo (on Golf Channel) and Johnny Miller (on NBC), and works inside the truck with those who guide the cameras, on-screen graphics and other features.
The live production is chaotic. This isn’t a basketball game with 10 players and coaches right in front of you. There are 300-plus acres of golf course with 145 players and multiple balls in the air all day long. In other sports, when you go to a commercial there’s a break in the action; not in golf. Unlike football or basketball, the stars of golf, a Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, might not necessarily be the story because they aren’t in contention that week. Finding the balance between live or taped shots, human-interest stories, highlights, the 17th hole goings-on and other unexpected occurrences can make or break the broadcast.
“It’s all on-the-job training,” Roy said. “It’s not something you learn in school. In school, you learn to make decisions after evaluating the evidence. In here, you make decisions in a split second.”
Roy was destined to be a golf producer. In 1978, his father, Billy, a Tucson, Ariz., golf professional for more than 50 years, offered Tommy a temporary job opportunity at the old Tucson Open. Tommy could either work at the portable bar on site or serve as a “go-fer,” delivering coffee to the NBC crew. He took the coffee gig and was hooked on the by-the-seat-of-your-pants environment of live televised sports.
He has produced NBC golf since 1993 and has been nominated for more Emmys than anyone in sports television history. This includes experience in just about every sport. He was the eye in the sky for Michael Phelps’ record-breaking swimming at the 2008 Summer Olympics. Add in the Winter Olympics, Super Bowl, Daytona 500, NBA, NFL, major league baseball, Wimbledon, Kentucky Derby and you have a well-rounded sports fan who still lists golf as No. 1 because of his passion for the sport (he’s a 5-handicapper) and the difficulty in portraying the action concisely.
Roy is also hooked on THE PLAYERS Championship. He fell in love with the area from working the tournament and moved his family (wife and two children) from Connecticut to Ponte Vedra Beach six years ago to take advantage of the beaches and the golf.
“I have to know every detail that’s going on,’’ Roy said a few years back. “As (NBC Sports Chairman) Dick Ebersol says, I’m preparing for the Normandy invasion.”
Brad Faxon won’t be back in the broadcast booth this season after NBC chose to not renew his contract for 2011. Faxon, who had a one-year deal and worked seven events for the network last year, will instead focus on his playing career.
“Technically I was never fired so that’s the good news,” Faxon joked when reached at his home in Rhode Island. “I was disappointed because I really enjoyed it and was more surprised than anything because I kind of expected to do it again.
“It seems to be more of an economics thing than a talent thing.”
Instead, NBC will use Peter Jacobsen in an increased role. Jacobsen will be on hand at eight events -- the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship, the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship, the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, THE PLAYERS, the U.S. Open, and three PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup events.
Last year, Faxon and Jacobsen overlapped in covering a few events for the network.
Faxon doesn’t have any ill feelings toward Jacobsen over the decision.
“He does a great job and is a great friend,” Faxon said.
Faxon, who will turn 50 on Aug. 1, has only past champion status on the PGA TOUR this season and will have to rely on sponsor exemptions. He has eight career wins with the last coming at the 2005 Buick Championship.
“I think the plan will be to play much as I can on TOUR and then on Aug. 1 it’s going to be an easy decision -- if I’ve played well I’ll stay out there and finish up on the regular TOUR, if I’m playing poorly then I’ll go straight to the Champions Tour.”
As for returning to the booth in the future, Faxon isn’t ruling it out.
“Yeah, I think [I’d like to],” Faxon said. “I don’t know if it will end up being a career or not, but I think I could do a good job. I felt like I improved as time went on.
“The hardest part was when everybody found out and they started calling me.” -- Brian Wacker