MAMARONECK, N.Y. – It was a fitting backdrop for the unexpected news.
When the USGA moved the U.S. Open from June to September, it essentially left Fox Sports with a buried lie. There simply weren’t enough broadcast hours in the day to weave golf into a schedule heavy with NFL and MLB obligations.
The ensuing chatter behind the scenes was kept to a whisper.
Dan Hicks spent a portion of the COVID-19 shutdown at Winged Foot Golf Club where he’s been a member since 2010. The 58-year-old Greenwich, Connecticut, resident, who’s been anchoring NBC’s golf coverage for 20 years, just happened to be there playing alongside NBC Sports Group president and fellow member Pete Bevacqua in late June as negotiations to reacquire the USGA media rights neared a conclusion.
A critically acclaimed jaw dropped when news of the forthcoming rights transfer was quietly passed along.
“I still can’t believe it happened,” Hicks said. “I knew there were some conversations at the outset about doing a one-off because Fox had some programming issues when the championship moved to September. And then I was actually here at Winged Foot when I found out it was the whole package. Chills went up and down my spine when he told me that we were on the goal line of getting it back.”
The commute to Winged Foot is about 20 minutes.
Hicks will be calling a home game when the 120th U.S. Open gets under way on home turf Sept. 17.
“I feel terrible, I really do, for a lot of the Fox Sports people I know, including producer Mark Loomis, who’s a lifetime family member here, so there is that side of it,” he added. “But to do a U.S. Open here at Winged Foot which I know intimately is pretty special.”
Bevacqua, a Westchester native, will be coming down I-95 from New Canaan, Connecticut.
The ride to work will be even shorter for NBC essayist, interviewer and feature reporter Jimmy Roberts. He’s been down this road before. Roberts was here for the 1997 PGA Championship with ESPN, the 1984 U.S. Open with ABC and the 2006 U.S. Open with NBC.
“It’s not entirely new for me, but it’s unique and it’s exciting,” said the 63-year-old White Plains native who’s a longtime resident of Rye. “I’ve literally traveled millions of miles in my adult life. I’m going to be going eight miles from my house to Winged Foot to punch the clock.
“I’m OK with that.”
White Plains native Jimmy Roberts will be covering his fourth major championship at Winged Foot Golf Club next month. He’s been covering golf for ABC, ESPN, NBC and the Golf Channel for 40 years.
Roberts knows the history and tradition of the game in the northern suburbs. He ranks among the most enthusiastic advocates of golf in the Met section.
“My first job was working for the Gannett newspapers,” he said. “The first article I had with a byline was a feature on Chi Chi Rodriguez from the 1975 Westchester Classic. Golf around here means a lot to me. When I got the Distinguished Service Award from the MGA a few years back, what made it special is the fact that I’m a 914 guy.”
Roberts is a member at Westchester Country Club, but he makes the rounds.
“We didn’t play much this summer because we were restricted at Winged Foot in terms of guest play, but I’ve played a lot of golf over the years with Jimmy,” Hicks said. “I’ve had him over here numerous times. He’ll come over here a lot on his own because he’s friends with so many of the members and I’ll get a text, ‘By the way, I used your locker today.’”
The local knowledge will come into play.
“I couldn’t tell you how many rounds I’ve played at Winged Foot, how many friends I have at Winged Foot,” Roberts said. “It’s just a really comfortable assignment to have. And it’s exciting. I get to welcome the world to my neighborhood.”
Choreographing the U.S. Open telecast will be NBC lead golf producer Tommy Roy, who was a member at Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville until he moved to Florida. He could fill a production truck with his stash of Emmy Awards.
It’s going to be a unique event with no fans to frame the drama.
“Yes, it will be different,” Roberts said. “I like to think the people who are responsible for our broadcasts are the best in the business. Tommy Roy has been doing this, as far as I can tell, from the beginning of time. He’s the son of a golf professional, so this is in his blood. It means something to him. He’s a big golf fan, so he doesn’t only approach it as a guy who sits in front of 40 or 50 monitors, he approaches it as a guy sitting in his living room only looking at one. He’s always coming up with something new and I know he is really, really thinking hard about how we can give people something they might not have seen before, how we can maximize their viewing experience. It’s what he lives for.”
When the only applause is coming from the folks deemed essential to running a major championship, finding a proper volume level isn’t an easy task.
“I watched the PGA Championship and how the CBS announcers dealt with it, you do have to kind of just experience the moment and see what comes out of you,” Hicks said. “That’s always how I’ve approached broadcasting. Without a crowd, though, I think it’s going to be a different gear. With everything that’s gone on, somebody is still going to get their name on that historic trophy, but it’s going to be a challenge from a broadcasting standpoint to find that right tone with no crowds.
“I think back to all the calls we’ve had and to calls by Jim Nantz and on and on, the level of crowd noise gets you pumped up. You have to let the story happen, but at the same time, you have to match or enhance what you’re watching. I suspect there will be more enhancing.”
There will be plenty of squawking behind the scenes.
“People don’t understand the level of mayhem in Dan’s headset,” Roberts said.
NBC’s lead golf commentator Dan Hicks interviews USGA managing director of championships John Bodenhamer on Tuesday at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck. The Greenwich, Conn. resident has been a member of the club for the last 10 years. (Dan Hicks)
Despite a relatively hot and dry summer, the rough at Winged Foot is dark and dense. The fairways have been narrowed. A number of new tees will be in play along with several new pins.
After playing a number of rounds at Winged Foot this season, both men believe the best golfers in the world are going to again experience moments of utter despair. So much depends on the weather, but they expect scoring will be a chore if the USGA gets a firm and fast West Course.
“I really suspect over par is going to be in the ballpark for the winner,” Hicks said.
The infrastructure to support the 3,000 or so essential personnel onsite each day is currently going up.
So is the rough, which is already dense and dark.
“The course is as advertised,” Roberts said. “It’s just a beast. I could tell you something about every single hole at Winged Foot, but what got my attention was the sixth hole, which is the short par 4. I played it a couple of weeks ago and came off the course and said, ‘What the hell happened to the fairway?” Somebody kidnapped the sixth fairway. It’s literally half the width it’s been for the members. It’s crazy narrow.”
Phil Mickelson walks towards the 18th green during the U.S. Open Championship at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, June 18, 2006.
A transcendent storyline would elevate the U.S. Open ratings and Hicks has a thought in mind.
Who doesn’t enjoy a comeback?
“I have a recurring dream that Phil Mickelson at the age of 50 gets into contention on Sunday,” Hicks said of the popular U.S. Open bridesmaid whose best chance to win sailed wide left on Winged Foot’s 18th hole in 2006. “I truly believe that it would be one of the great golf stories in history, one of the all-timers. It would resonate beyond belief, but we have to let it all come to us.”
U.S. Open telecast schedule
Winged Foot is going to get a lot of screen time with NBCUniversal planning nearly 45 hours of U.S. Open coverage across NBC, Golf Channel and Peacock beginning Sept. 17. A partnership with Rolex will allow the last hour of Sunday’s coverage on NBC to air commercial free.
Along with Hicks and Jimmy Roberts, the broadcast team includes:
Tom Abbott, Paul Azinger, Notah Begay, Curt Byrum, Kay Cockerill, Nick Faldo, David Feherty, Terry Gannon, Damon Hack, Trevor Immelman, Peter Jacobsen, Gary Koch, Justin Leonard, Jim “Bones” Mackay, Roger Maltbie, Steve Sands and Mike Tirico.