CBS gave Lanny Wadkins a tryout as a guest commentator at the
Colonial, but he should have been billed as guest clairvoyant. To
open Sunday's telecast Wadkins said, "The only person who can
beat Phil Mickelson is Phil Mickelson"--and those prescient words
framed all the action that followed.
This is a time of transition at CBS. In his 33rd season as the
network's color commentator, Ken Venturi, 70, who has recently
undergone treatment for prostate cancer, is thinking about
retiring at year's end. Whoever takes his place in CBS's 18th
hole aerie will have the chance to be more than another talking
head. "The right person can take that job and turn it into a
franchise," says Jim Nantz, the network's play-by-play man. "Look
at Johnny Miller. He has done remarkable things. The person who
fills this position will be on air for roughly three times as
many Tour events as Miller and twice as many majors. You become
the spokesman for an entire sport."
If Wadkins, 51, becomes that guy, expect a lively dialogue. For
last Thursday's telecast--carried by the Golf Channel using CBS
talent--Wadkins was paired with David Feherty in the 16th hole
tower, and the rookie came out swinging. The coverage began with
a shot of Mickelson. Wadkins made the point that with the
course's tight fairways and small greens, players were going to
be left with a lot of chip shots, which suits Mickelson, who has
so much touch and imagination. Then he added, "Which makes him
just the opposite of Hal Sutton."
When informed of Wadkins's comments, Sutton said, "Lanny doesn't
have to worry about offending his friends out here, because he
doesn't have any." Briefed on Sutton's critique, Wadkins didn't
back off. "If you're going to be up in that tower, you've got to
say what you think about players," he said.
Ever since he finished 10th on the money list as a 22-year-old
rookie in 1972, Wadkins has been one of the game's biggest
personalities. His resume shows 21 Tour wins, including the '77
PGA, and in February 2000 he became only the ninth player to win
his Senior debut. A torn tendon in his right elbow caused Wadkins
to miss a month last year. The injury still bothers him, and he
has cracked the top 10 only once in 11 starts this season. "I'm
tired of being hurt, tired of playing bad and tired of not having
any fun," he says.
On Friday's telecast Wadkins analyzed Mickelson's putting. After
Lefty missed a five-footer for birdie on 16, Wadkins said, "I'm
not a fan of the way he forward-presses. It's one of the reasons
he struggles on short putts. It's very difficult to forward-press
the same amount every time." This was a telling insight that
resonated when Mickelson missed several short putts on Sunday.
(Told of Wadkins's comments, Mickelson said, "When you can't play
any longer, it's easy to commentate, and it's even easier to be
Wadkins was less of a presence on the weekend, when he was paired
with Gary McCord. On Saturday his fellow announcers made a point
of including Wadkins, but he struggled to articulate his
thoughts. When the Sunday action got intense, he was all but lost
in the shuffle. Still, the CBS team rated his debut a success.
"We're pleased and want to see more," said Terry Ewert, the
executive producer for golf.
Wadkins may get another tryout at next week's Memorial. "If this
is going to become a full-time deal, then I know I've got a lot
to learn," he says. "But from Pat Summerall on down, everybody
has told me the same two things: Be yourself, and be succinct."
Wadkins is still working on the latter. As for the former, he
should have no problem.