When the chatter around the 19th hole gets to golf announcers it is undoubtedly about who hates Johnny Miller, Nick Faldo, Lanny Wadkins or one of the other color commentators. Rarely does it focus on the other voice in the booth, the play-by-play person, who probably has more to do with your viewing enjoyment as the maitre d’ of the broadcast.
When it comes to the golf broadcasts the top accolade for set-up man has to go to Terry Gannon who currently does this for the Golf Channel coverage of both PGA and LPGA events. Along side of Nick Faldo or Judy Rankin Terry Gannon makes the broadcast informative but uncluttered, with a casual flow that keeps your attention without being pedantic. Compared to the rest who hold this position…….there is really no comparison.
Terry Gannon is the crème de la crème of golf play-by-play guysEmbed from Getty Images
The worst by far has to be Dan Hicks. Without his duffle bag full of clichés like “not sure if he has what it takes down the stretch” or “we will have to see if he can seal the deal” the man has nothing to add. He is predictable to the point of annoyance and does little other than suck up to Johnny Miller’s next premeditated outrageous golf revelation.
Mike Trico is the encyclopedia man-very bright but relentlessly overprepared. In covering all sports Mike scours the available research ad nauseam to fill a yellow legal pad with a cache of trivial facts with which he feels compelled to impregnate his broadcast descriptions. His sentences get so cumbersome that you often lose track of the point he is trying to make. As a wily college professor once said after reading an overly verbose term paper I submitted, just because you found 100 facts in your research does not mean you have to include every one of them in the final paper. A little white space around the ad copy makes it much more intelligible to understand the pitch.
Unfortunately, we have the insufferable Rich Lerner for some of the Golf Channel coverage. He is a very smart man with incredible recall of historical golf facts at his behest. The problem is that he is overly dramatic about the simplest point always trying to sound erudite when just saying it without embellishment would do. He is stuck in Jack Whitaker mode and ought to be wearing a tweed jacket and a matching tweed driving cap every time he arrives on the set. Rich is way to much into his brand.
Then we have all-is-right-in-the-world Jim Nance who has exactly the same schtick whether he is with Phil Simms, Clark Kellogg, or Sir Nick Faldo. His woefully Pollyanna attitude about everything is clinically sterile, like white bread with the crust trimmed off. He feels the necessity to drop the names of all the famous and influential people with whom he hob knobs and apparently has not spent near enough time actually listening and gleaning any valuable information from them to share with us. It is enough to cause a sane man to mute the remote.
Terry Gannon is the ultimate professional having cut his broadcasting teeth and built an impressive resume over the last 30 years doing college basketball, college football, FIFA soccer, international figure skating, the Tour de France, and even the Little League World Series. He is a craftsman. Much like Al Michaels or Keith Jackson, he has a way of relating the progress of the competition to the viewer without encumbering it with any baggage.
In 1983 N.C. State Wolfpack Championship Team Photo (row 2-2nd from the right)Embed from Getty Images
More significantly, unlike the others, he has worn the shoes of the competitors he is commenting on. As an all-whatever basketball and baseball player in high school he went on to have an illustrious four-year career with Jim Valvano at North Carolina State and played on the 1983 Cardiac Kids team that won the NCAA National Championship. If you have seen the ESPN 30 in 30 documentary “Survive and Advance” on this team you realize that Gannon was in the eye of that storm, heard all the locker room speeches, shared all the drama first hand in the pressure packed games. This provides him just enough dispatch to talk about the pressures of pursuing a Major Championship with a personal perspective.
When he does the broadcasts with heralded champions Judy Rankin or Sir Nick Faldo he does not cower to their knowledge, rather he prods them to uncover even more than they may have intended. He brings a certain degree of puckishness to the conversations that helps them avoid the pitfall of making the golf competition they are reporting a do-or-die life experience.
Gannon singular in his ability to get the cool Judy Rankin to show all her feathersEmbed from Getty Images
With Judy Rankin in particular Gannon has a way of nudging her out of her comfort zone. It is like a churlish younger brother egging on his older sister at the dinner table to try to get her to reveal something the he knows parents probably would rather not hear. Rankin takes and runs with it which makes her an even more provocative contributor. When Gannon refers to Faldo as Sir Nick it seems tongue in cheek. Faldo gets a bit of the same egging from Gannon though it is more linguistic fencing. Once again it adds extra content and flavor to the broadcast.
I don’t know about you but when I turn on the golf and Terry Gannon is doing the lead play-by-play I am relieved I will not have to manage the mute button so I can get through the broadcast. Like listening to Feherty or McCord, I actually turn up the volume because I don’t want to miss one morsel of the afternoon’s entertainment.