The smartest thing producer Frank Chirkinian did at CBS was hire knowledgeable golf people with contrasting backgrounds. Ken Venturi won a U.S. Open. Jim Nantz played with Fred Couples at Houston. Peter Kostis was an in-the-dirt teaching pro. We viewers want to know the origins of the sudden push-slice, the options from behind a swaying palm and what the poor bastard is thinking, and each guy had his own road there.
Last week, the expert-witness idea was super-sized. Did you catch the √ºbercasual Johnny Miller and tight-knotted Nick Faldo in the broadcast booth together from Kapalua? It's the best yin-and-yang golf pairing since the Tiger-Fluff marriage in 1996, the Rev. Butch Harmon presiding. Faldo and Miller will have about a dozen gigs together before this new year goes auld-lang-syne, a function of the Comcast-NBC merger.
When Faldo and Paul Azinger sat blazer-to-blazer in a too brief ABC Sports experiment, it worked because the differences between the two Ryder Cup warhorses and contemporaries were so subtle. Faldo fished for trout and Azinger for bass. Oh, did the sparks fly.
But the thing about Miller and Faldo is that they are two Hall of Famers who are true opposites. Their playing primes didn't overlap. Wherever Miller goes, he's still Johnny, even at age 64. Faldo, 54, likes being called Sir Nick. Miller, despite the efforts of various directors, has never been able to shake his cool, Northern California, inflection-challenged tone. Faldo's voice betrays his boyhood in a striving, working-class English home. For maybe seven years Miller, a golfing savant, hit the ball with scary precision with fast-twitch hips and hands. Faldo, a golfing scientist with a big, slow, shoulder swing, hit pure straight shots for 15 years.
The mistake is to want these two to be entertaining. How crude. Residents of golfdom don't want to be "entertained." We want to learn something new, and Miller and Faldo, working together, are in a position to teach. They're living proof that there's never only one way to go: to make a swing, to think about a shot, to get your head straight after making a double. The more time you spend at golf, the more complicated you realize it is. That's part of the beauty. This new duo will give Tour players even more reason to hit the mute button; those guys are trying to simplify golf. The rest of us are trying to understand it. All Johnny and Sir Nick have to do is be themselves.
GOLF PLUS will next appear in the Feb. 6 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.
SI GOLF RANKING
PLAYER (FIRST-PLACE VOTES)
Luke Donald (12)
Rory McIlroy (3)
GOLF MAGAZINE TOP 100 TEACHERS POLL
What did you think of the Johnny-Nick pairing?
Loved it 27%
Hated it 17%
Don't care 56%
ERIC RISBERG/AP (MILLER AND FALDO)
THE ODD COUPLE Golf Channel stablemates Miller (left) and Faldo differ in age, origin and style.