He is handsome. He speaks with a foreign accent. And he won a major championship, which makes Trevor Immelman a logical successor to Nick Faldo as senior golf analyst at CBS. Unlike Sir Nick, whose immense credibility as a broadcaster has been undermined by a penchant for delivering these thoughts in a disheveled or incomplete fashion, Immelman is an affable guy whose polished delivery makes him easy to understand.
His promotion to HQ alongside Jim Nantz recalls something John Lennon once said about Ringo Starr. When asked if Ringo was the best drummer in the world, Lennon laughed and offered this priceless answer: “The best drummer in the world? He’s not even the best Beatles drummer!
In terms of conveying information to viewers, Mark Immelman, Trevor’s older brother, has clearly been more effective in his part-time responsibilities at CBS. Although he was a terrific collegiate golfer at Columbus State, Mark never played on the PGA Tour, let alone won a Masters. Trevor’s 2008 triumph at Augusta National qualified him as a replacement for Faldo, at least in the eyes of CBS Sports president Sean McManus, a continuation of the network’s longstanding practice of pairing a major champion with Nantz in the 18th tower.
It’s an arrogant mindset, prioritizing street cred over broadcast ability, which isn’t to say the two are mutually exclusive. Johnny Miller revolutionized the senior analyst role at NBC long after winning the 1973 US Open and the 1976 British Open. Paul Azinger has done a fine job in the same chair since Miller retired in 2019.
It’s completely understandable that the major networks would insist that someone who excels at the highest level of the game take on such an important task in their golf shows. Then again, none of the world’s most respected political pundits has ever spent a day living in the White House. Expertise in any field is achieved through years of acquired knowledge, then processed through a filter of objectivity before having to pass the test of relevance and consistency.
Some guys are much better at certain parts of the procedure than others. Faldo, for example, never really mastered the skill of articulating his endless reservoir of competitive experience. Ben Crenshaw and Ken Venturi suffered from the same flaw: they climbed the tallest mountain but weren’t very good at telling a TV audience how they got there.
These three great champions legitimize the idea that CBS has reached the point of diminishing returns when it comes to choosing partners for Nantz, and there is no reason to believe that Immelman will end this trend. He has been a full-time commentator for only three years. McManus brought him on board after a very limited tenure at TNT, where he called early-round action at three PGA Championships.
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Immelman’s most obvious weakness is his apparent inability to diagnose bad moves, which his brother does quite well. Trevor’s benevolent nature seems to have made him allergic to criticism from his former colleagues. He apologizes on behalf of a player for a mistake, which many viewers simply cannot tolerate – Faldo is quite incapable of trying to mislead the public with a weak excuse.
Without a frank sense of perspective and a habit of handing out meaningless information – revealing a hole’s pin position has become an infuriating favorite – Immelman enters his expanded role unequipped to handle the nuances of the job. -same. Can he get better? Sure, but one could easily get the impression that CBS doesn’t want him to become something he isn’t. Immelman’s see-nothing, say-nothing style makes him the ideal spokesperson for a network that calls golf pro like he’s teaching a kindergarten class.
What’s really too bad is that Phil Mickelson would have proven perfect as a follow-up to Faldo, mixing mature opinions and informed observation while instilling a desperately needed edge into the CBS product. Even if Mickelson’s red flag status were to be rescinded in a few years, however, his popularity factor would likely have diminished to the point where he would remain untouchable as a television presence.
David Duval might have warranted consideration for the role Immelman will fill in early 2023, but from there realistic options are few. This calls for a reflection: should a network rely on the same main analyst every week? Wouldn’t a rotation of notable former players skilled enough to handle half a dozen hours of weekend airtime provide an interesting diversion back to the same old formula?
One of the issues with the allure of a household name in the full-time TV booth is the time commitment that comes with it. We’re talking 20 weekends on the road with CBS, and frankly, most of the contestants have made a lot more money as players than such an aggravation would require. A list of invited analysts makes sense in this regard. It would also open the door to non-major champions such as Paul Goydos, whose humor and offbeat sensibility would make him an instant crowd favorite.
Immelman has work to do before he gets such acclaim. He becomes the latest example of how the role model presents a downside – a former player who was elevated to a high profile position based on how he looked, how he spoke and what he did instead of what he is able to do. If the likeable South African doesn’t perform, McManus can always ask his star NFL analyst if he’s ready for another 20 weekends of service with Nantz.
Doesn’t Tony Romo play a little golf?
Come to think of it, doesn’t Paul McCartney still have that lovely British rhythm?