Three weeks before he captured his first Open Championship, Jordan Spieth went wire-to-wire in winning the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut, holing a bunker shot on the first playoff hole for a stunning victory.
In the subsequent press conference, which I attended, Spieth talked about the round – including his putting – and attributed his misses to bad reads and poor strokes. He called the putting surfaces Jeff Reich and his crew produced for the tournament “pure.”
Meanwhile, over in the world of TV golf, a different story was being told.
Since I only saw the broadcast and did not hear it, I was stunned to find out that the announcers were attributing the missed putts to Poa annua. Frank Nobilo cited turf as the reason Spieth missed a short one on 14.
I tweeted, “Is this true, during telecast Frank Nobilo blamed Spieth’s missed putts on the Poa annua greens?”
One former superintendent who was a volunteer greenkeeper on Reich’s crew for the week replied, “I heard it many times.”
So I called Nobilo a dope.
To his credit, Nobilo responded and said the only hole on which he broadcast Spieth missing was the 14th. He did not address whether he blamed the error on a seed head, adding in a later tweet, “I don’t think I have ever been on a broadcast where the ‘super and his team’ weren’t praised.”
“Fantastic!” I replied, “Not sure you know how much it means to those guys to hear praise on TV. Blaming Poa for the miss is a dagger in the super’s heart.”
One responder on my thread asked Nobilo, “If you also blame grass on putting surface for miss (I don’t know if you did), then who do you think takes heat?”
That day, before Spieth arrived at the 14th, 72 other players and their caddies had been on the green. Countless ball marks had been made and repaired, and there’s no way of knowing how much sand had been splashed out of bunkers.
Early in the tournament week, I looked at the River Highlands greens on a couple occasions. Both times, I was there in the early evening, when the Poa theoretically would have been the cause of bumpiness. The putting surfaces were as smooth as could be. Maybe something caused Spieth’s putt to move off line, but it wasn’t a Poa seed head – not on that green or any other.
I’m not here to pick on Nobilo, but I am here to once again bring to light the fact that television announcers have little to no understanding about golf course maintenance. Complimenting the superintendent and his crew every week is not enough if, a short time later, an accusing finger is pointed directly at the big office in the maintenance facility.
I write a variation of this column about once a year and will continue to do so in an effort to get TV announcers to stop blaming golf course superintendents for missed putts. I’m not sure what it’s going to take – maybe hundreds of protesting supers outside the headquarters of NBC, Fox and the Golf Channel, holding up signs that read, “Blame the superintendent again and your a** is new-mown grass!”
Then again, a more peaceful route is probably the way to go. Perhaps before the next tournament, the local or regional superintendents association could invite the announcers to attend “A Brief Introduction to Turf,” in which superintendents and even college professors could educate the guys behind the microphones, turning those who are frequently the enemies of golf course maintenance into powerful allies.
It would be wonderful to hear an announcer say, “I’m not sure why Spieth missed that short one, but it sure wasn’t because of a poor putting surface. The superintendent’s cultural practices, including the use of plant growth regulators, are proof that Poa was not the cause.”
Because of poor technique, Pioppi was kicked off the bunker crew at the 2000 Open Championship and assigned to clean the Swilken Burn.