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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Berman takes Open assignment seriously

Berman gives TMac another mulligan.

   With the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club’s East Course in the Ardmore section of Haverford Township teeing off in just 42 days, a few thoughts from Monday’s Media Day.

   I read a lot of golf publications and it seems like in the wake of the U.S. Open every year, someone who fancies himself or herself quite the golf purist (OK, it’s almost always a guy because women don’t pay much attention to announcers), takes a shot at Chris Berman for his role as part of ESPN’s broadcast team for the first two days of coverage.

   So who would have to end up witnessing me hacking it around one of the finest golf courses in the world on Media Day, but Boomer himself.

   It rained pretty steadily Monday morning and I despaired even getting out on the course.

  And the poor weather certainly persuaded some among the media to sit this one out. So that’s how it ended up with me paired in a twosome with Berman teeing off the first hole. Just him and me and our caddies, carrying single bags. Pancho had Berman’s bag and John mine. They were veterans – as I had once been a proud veteran caddy at Merion – and if I had been a little more on the ball, I would have their last names, but that gives me something to work on during Open week.
   A couple of Berman’s ESPN colleagues, including “Baseball Tonight” host Karl Ravech, were in the group ahead of us, but Berman was happy to tee it up with a “local guy” like me, even moreso when I told him I was an old Merion looper myself and had a bag in the 1981 Open.

   As we worked our way around the course, Berman penned some notes on each hole on a scorecard. He paid attention to all the Merion stories Pancho, John and myself could dole out. And he got a pretty nice putting tip from Pancho, who gives lessons to city kids at a range at 33rd and Oxford in Philadelphia.

   He left all of the Boomer shtick at the office and he cared a lot about the course and his game, which got steadily better as the day wore on. Again, considering he had to watch me hit 100-yard popups off just about every tee, it was amazing he was able to muster a half-dozen or so pars.

   OK, I did get a bit of a nickname.

   To save the fairways, in certain areas your caddy lays down a driving-range style mat to hit off. Apparently, even the membership has had to put up with this since late last fall. Anyway, I hit some of my best shots off the mat, probably owing to my driving-range roots. We had to hit off the mats on the shortest hole on the course, the par-3 13th, which is only about 115 yards, but is protected by a massive bunker in front. I hit a soaring 8-iron off the mat right on to the green (3-putted it, of course, for a bogey).

   My mastery of hitting off the mat (probably combined with my Penn State headcovers) earned me the nickname … Matt Millen. Made sense.

   Then rain stopped just about when we started and pretty much held off until the last three holes. And despite my inability to keep my ball out of the nefarious Merion rough, it was a very enjoyable day.

   Berman never even came close to big-timing me and, of course, he had some interesting stories to tell out of what I’m certain is a limitless supply of them.

    I will probably catch some of the replays of ESPN’s coverage. Most years, when the U.S. Open is not here (or at Oakmont), I watch the coverage live and the replays, just because it’s the U.S. Open.

   It will be interesting to hear Berman’s broadcast this year. I know for a fact he will be prepared because I got to see some of his preparation up close. And I know he knows his golf, particularly when it comes to the Open. And I will take the critics a little less seriously this year because I got to see how seriously Berman takes this assignment.

 As for the golf course …

   I had been warned a little about this, so it wasn’t a total shock, but two of the alterations done to the East Course in preparation for this Open seemed unnecessary.

   In the case of both the 12th and 15th greens, the slippery front portions have been rendered less slippery, probably taking away two really neat pin placements. They are both still tough greens and the yawning bunkers that protect the right side of the greens will still provide USGA executive director Mike Davis the opportunity to set up a couple of sucker pins.
   But anybody who has ever seen a player – even some good ones – putt one right off the green from above the hole when the pin was set in the front left of either hole, will probably be wishing, as I am, that maybe the old 12th and 15th greens will be restored when the Big Show leaves town.


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