I have to confess that I have warmed up to golf even though I have never played one hole let alone one round that did not involve put-put. The Masters ended Sunday and the media coverage surrounding the event was so saccharin that one would think the Dali Lama was playing golf in the Grand Canyon with a club made from a branch derived from one of the oldest Redwoods in the world. ESPN “proudly presents” non-live coverage of The Masters?!?! The entire Masters phenomenon irks me due to its claims of a “tradition unlike any other” and jacket ceremonies in Butler Cabin. Plenty of sports have great tradition. The Kentucky Derby is classy, except for parts of the infield, and it has been run every year since 1875. Of course, Wimbledon, the French Open and Davis Cup also have their share of tradition. Heck, court tennis is referenced in the writings of William Shakespeare and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. How is that for tradition!
When it comes to action and athleticism, I will place tennis head-to-head with any sport under the sun. Tennis requires all of the footwork of basketball without the benefits of time-outs, coaching and substitutions. Tennis involves all of the massive application of hand eye coordination that baseball requires, but does so time and time again rather than letting a player eat sun flower seeds between 4 or 5 at bats in a given game. Tennis requires the steely nerve of golf but also requires a player to concentrate and execute difficult techniques while running. For these reasons and more, tennis is one of the most taxing sports in the world.
The one thing golf has over tennis in the U.S. is positive media treatment. This is partially a result of 3 of golf’s 4 majors being located on U.S. soil. It is also a result of players having 15-25 years on tour to develop rapport with fans rather than the much shorter career of the average professional tennis player. It is also the result of sports journalists such as Jim Nantz. Right as Nantz finishes announcing the NCAA Men’s Final Four, he heads off to The Masters. Nantz is a CBS announcer for just about every major sporting event covered by the network. He also played golf for the University of Houston and was Fred Couples’ roommate.
When Nantz makes a plug for golf while commenting on another major sport, it is an insiders’ plug. Nantz understands golf even if the average sports fan does not associate him with golf. His plugs for The Masters during the NCAA Final Four were quite good. Jim Courier, John McEnroe, Luke Jensen, and Patrick McEnroe all played tennis and comment on their former sport. No former tennis player seems to comment on other major sporting events. Developing some broadcasting breadth would help tennis’ prospects and exposure. Jim Courier could likely announce a baseball game. John McEnroe played a lot of team sports growing up. If former professional tennis players are not able or willing to broaden their broadcasting duties, tennis needs to find a solid college player who is gregarious enough to study journalism and become the next Jim Nantz. Tennis is a great sport, but many journalists simply struggle in their reporting on the sport. Awkward phrases such as “Nadal won the game versus Roger Federer in Paris to capture the French Open” can be avoided with more tennis players entering general sports journalism.
PS – The Masters’ par 3 event the day before actual play starts is a nice idea that tennis could borrow. Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day is a similar event at the U.S. Open, but maybe Wimbledon could hold some sort of skills contest for previous champions and a legends doubles tournament the Sunday before the tournament begins. Seeing Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe try to hit the most accurate drop volley could be fun. Watching Stefan Edberg and Andre Agassi play doubles against Pete Sampras and Boris Becker would also have a certain appeal. Tennis has tradition and should find more positive ways to utilize it.
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