27 January 2016

Paul Azinger will replace Greg Norman as Fox's lead golf analyst

(Hugh Gentry/Reuters)
A little more than a week after Greg Norman was ousted as the lead Fox analyst for Fox Sports (as first reported by Links Magazine), Fox has found a replacement and the news should surprise absolutely no one. Paul Azinger was expected by many to be Norman's replacement and now, according to Golf Digest, it is official. Azinger will join Joe Buck in the broadcasting booth for Fox's USGA schedule, including the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club.

Norman's departure took me by surprise before after a debut season for him and for Fox's golf coverage that, in the eyes of critics, left a good deal to be desired. I actually was not as critical as others were because I knew it was going to be a work-in-progress considering last year was Fox's golf debut. Expecting them to be at the level of NBC, who they replaced with the USGA, or CBS was never going to be a fair situation for them and while there certainly was plenty of situations where the coverage could have been a lot better (and Chambers Bay wasn't exactly an easy course to cover), I had no reason not to expect some improvement this summer.

I didn't think that Norman was terrible when he talked but the problem with him was that he was too reticent, much more than a top analyst should have been. This was most noticeable on the final hole in the wake of Dustin Johnson three-putting on 18, which gave Jordan Spieth the championship. Norman had a history of having issues finishing the deal at majors and yet, he didn't really contribute anything in that moment. At times, he didn't sound like he had enough comfort in his role to chime in more than he did. Norman has a big personality, part of the reason why I thought he could have been a good fit in the booth, but it didn't come out that often.

This quote from an anonymous source at Fox, when speaking to Golf.com's Gary Van Sickle, doesn't exactly reflect well for Norman:
It was tough for the whole staff because he wasn’t involved in the shows like a lead analyst should be. Maybe he thought just being Greg Norman was enough. He's been successful in everything he's done in business but he wasn’t good at TV. He was a team player but when the cameras turned on, he just went silent.
In the end, I do think that Norman would have gotten better with more improvement but even then, going from the Shark to the Zinger is certainly an upgrade. Azinger has shown over the years ever since he joined ESPN and ABC, where he famously teamed with Mike Tirico and Nick Faldo, that he is an analyst that brings plenty of candor and knowledge to the broadcast booth. He has never been afraid to share his opinions and it helps to liven up the broadcast.

A key connection for Azinger to Fox USGA is Mark Loomis, Fox's coordinating producer of golf coverage. Loomis previously had served in that role for ABC and ESPN before stints at NFL Network and MLB Network, playing the key role in pairing Azinger and Faldo with Tirico. Norman was hired before Loomis was so Loomis made not have felt as tied to his top analyst as he could have been as a result. It remains to be seen if Loomis can lure some former ESPN golf personalities to their coverage in the wake of "The Worldwide Leader" being down to only the opening rounds of the Masters.

Fox still has a ways to go to match the coverage quality of CBS and NBC as they have to sort out the bright spots of their coverage (Tim Brando, Brad Faxon, Steve Flesch, Gil Hanse, Juli Inkster) from the weak spots (Curt Menefee, Holly Sonders, Tom Weiskopf) but it is clear that is replacing Norman with Azinger, they have made a step in the right direction.

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