Sunday, June 17, 2007

It's a Mental Game, But Not THAT Mental

Johnny Miller is a good golf announcer. Six and a half of a live microphone is a long time for any human being to go without saying something silly, even with commercial breaks.

Just the same, on the 72 hole of the U.S. Open, Miller let something fly that as the golf analysts say all the time, he'd like to have that one back.

The settting is reasonably dramatic. Tiger Woods has a 20 foot putt to tie for the Open lead or lose by a stroke. Woods gives the putt a good long look, long enough to perform nanosurgery on every blade of grass between his ball and the hole. Desperate to fill the dead air (And why? 30,000 people around the green had no problem keeping quiet.) Miller blurted out the following.

"I'm sure everyone watching would love to know what's in Tiger's mind right now."

Actually, in the entire sum of human knowledge, that was the one fact I was pretty sure I did know. I THINK HE'S THINKING ABOUT THE BLEEPITY-BLEEP PUTT, JOHN!!! It's Tiger Woods, you know, the guy whose phenomenal powers of concentration you've spent the whole week praising.

The "what he's thinking?" reflex is the second worst feature of TV sportscasting. The athletes on the end of the question are thinking about their games, and how they might try to win them. The worst reflex, of course is, "How do you feel?" I just the U.S. Open, I feel great! I missed 50 putts I should've made and lost, I feel lousy. The whole point of Roone Arledge's genius was that he SHOWED people the thrill of victory and agony of defeat. No need to ask about it.

Miller's gaffe, however, did remind me of a story involving that very same question posed by some other golf announcer, one of CBS's crew, at a Masters. A golfer who we'll leave anonymous was standing over an approach shot at crunch time and the announcer said, "What's going through his mind right now?"

Watching in the press room, Mark Whicker, the brilliant columnist of the Orange County Register, responded. "Player X? Probably a 40 mile an hour gust of wind."


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