Paul Azinger and Dan Hicks will lead NBC’s coverage of the 2023 US Open. Ben Jared
For the second year in a row, the business of golf and upheaval in the game is preceding the US Open. Last year, it was the launch of the LIV Golf League. This time, it’s the news of the PGA Tour merging with the DP World Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, the entity that backs LIV Golf, striking an historic joint operating arrangement.
For NBC Sports, which will be providing a record 200-plus hours of coverage next week from Los Angeles Country Club across NBC, USA Network and its Peacock streaming service, the distraction really is no distraction at all. The first US Open in Los Angeles since 1948, conducted in the shadow of Hollywood, on the challenging North Course at LACC, supersedes anything else going on in the golf world.
NBC golf anchor Dan Hicks said the US Open comes “at the perfect time on the perfect course,” because it enables viewers to shut out the ongoing news surrounding the future of the game—crucial because that future right now has so many unknowns.
“I’m really rooting for this US Open to rescue us all, even for a few days from the story that I think everybody knows has been so divisive,” Hicks said from Paris, where he is covering the French Open tennis championship, during a conference call previewing the championship. “And I think that the LACC North Course is just the place to do that.
“We’ve all been immersed in this story, and frankly, it’s been pretty exhausting. Speculation … I don’t think anybody knows how this is going to go. I really believe that this golf course, this US Open come at the right time for us to be distracted by everything that’s going on and really enjoy the game. It will be interesting. The vibe will be different, no doubt about it. The guys, when they come to town, they’re going to be asked about it. When the gun goes off on Thursday, I think that’s going to be a relief for everyone.”
Hicks was joined on the call by lead analyst Paul Azinger, and commentators Brad Faxon and John Wood. Reporters were permitted to only ask questions about the US Open, so the four did not delve into Tuesday’s explosive news. Except to say that coverage of the year’s third major won’t delve into the explosive news. And probably what viewers want.
“When [Masters chairman] Fred Ridley had all these players from LIV come in and compete against the PGA Tour players for the first time [in a major], he said, ‘Look, we’re going to all get along. There’s going to be no distractions here,’’’ said Faxon, the former tour player added to NBC/Golf Channel this year. “And I think the USGA has the ability to do that as well. Say, ‘Let’s make this about the US Open, let’s not make this about two different tours.’ … The message is going to be the same as what Fred Ridley said at the Masters—let’s play golf and let’s all get along.”
Azinger, the network’s lead analyst, said that producer Tommy Roy will set the tone for the team, so he wasn’t worried about coverage getting off track. Not one bit.
“When we show up, trust me, it is all business and it is all live golf,” said Azinger, who shot 73 at LACC to qualify for his first US Open in 1983. “Everything that Tommy Roy and Tommy Randolph and their crew … there are too many people to name … the preparation and the scouting that went into showcasing this golf tournament, Thursday is when that all clicks into gear. The second we see Tommy Roy’s face, we’re going to know what our priority is and that’s live golf. Not opinions and not innuendos. We know we have the two best producers in the world trying to produce a US Open to the best of their ability and we’re going to try to call it and it is going to be a relief to everybody because it’s live golf.”
Wood, the former tour caddie, added, “All the outside noise is going to go away once you’re inside the ropes; hitting shots or calling shots, that noise just goes away.”
Ben Hogan won the last US Open in L.A., in 1948 at Riviera Country Club. And it was at Riviera in early 1950 that he made his miraculous comeback to golf less than a year after his near-fatal auto accident in 1949. It was the stuff of Hollywood—which, of course, turned into exactly that with a movie, “Follow the Sun.” Nothing so dramatic is likely to unfold next week as Matt Fitzpatrick defends his title, but that doesn’t mean a great story isn’t waiting to be told.
“Sports is the best reality show on television,” Hicks said. “Again, this US Open, I think it comes at the perfect time. Sports has a way of winning the day. I think our game needs it now more than ever. It’s the perfect venue to deliver all of that. We’re right in the middle of Hollywood. Let’s write a great Hollywood script. I think that’s the best way to counter everything we’ve seen in golf.”