Saturday 22 October 2016

Tommy Conlon: All fine and dandy when codger factor cranks up in the commentary box

Tommy Conlon

Published 22/05/2016 | 16:00

"In any case, the commentary was more or less fine and dandy. Brown (pictured) was his usual affable self." Photo: Getty

Not wishing to be a Little Irelander or anything, but it did seem odd to hear English accents all over RTé's coverage of the Irish Open last week.

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With Ken Brown and Mark James doing long shifts in the commentary box, we were just short of Peter Alliss to complete a BBC takeover. A third commentator was Englishman Dominik Holyer (me neither) while the fourth was Tipperary native Shane O'Donoghue, formerly of RTé and BBC, now a commentator with CNN in America. Reporting from the course was a former American pro, Jay Townsend.

The Irish Open is an official event on the European Tour. An RTé spokesman explained that the television coverage, both editorially and technically, is therefore also controlled by the European Tour.

In any case, the commentary was more or less fine and dandy. Brown was his usual affable self while 62-year-old James drizzled a few welcome drops of citrus into the cloying blandness that is golf's preferred tone of voice.

Indeed there were times during the first round when he seemed to be auditioning for Alliss's mantle as the resident golfing codger who hasn't quite come to terms with the modern world.

Alliss was back in the manure on Thursday when news came through that the R&A had dropped Muirfield from its roster of Open venues after the Scottish club had voted against admitting women members. The great doyen of the golfing airwaves had scant sympathy for the equality argument. "If (a woman) wants to join (Muirfield)," he told BBC Radio 5 Live, "well you'd better get married to somebody who's a member." He added: "I want to join the WVS (Women's Voluntary Service) but unless I have a few bits and pieces nipped away on my body, I'm not going to be able to get in."

Back in The K Club, meanwhile, Brown isn't about to forget that he's broadcasting on RTé. He informs us with impressive diplomatic sensitivity that Soren Kjeldsen is a massive fan of "the BBC commentator" Peter Alliss - lest he be accused of presuming that every golf fan in Ireland would know who Alliss is. Which of course they do. But it's the thought that counts anyway.

Kjeldsen, from Denmark, won last year's Irish Open. "He often comes up to me," continued Brown, "and says, 'Did you hear what Peter said?!' And titters away to himself." A long pause ensues before James musters a suitably sardonic retort. "I don't know if there's a wealth of Scandinavian comedies, is there?"

Not even angels dare to tread the fairways of feminism and ethnicity these days but, as Muirfield demonstrated, all is still not lost. Observing the youthful looks of golfer Jeung-hun Wang, James remarks: "He is only about 20 but he looks about 11. Not very big is he?" On cue, the TV director cuts to a shot of a young girl in the crowd. James: "That's his grandmother." Not for the first or last time, Holyer laughs a little awkwardly, before pointing out that the lad is a very good player. "Yes, he's a rare talent," agrees James. Pause. "The Chinese are coming." Wang is Korean. Still, it's the yellow peril innit?

Naturally, the coverage was a lot more concentrated on Rory McIlroy than Jeung-hun Wang. Even by the Stepford Wife standards of golf commentators, the deference among grown men to McIlroy was discomfiting. He missed a simple par putt on 14. "Oh well, that is not what we expected - or what we want," sighed a crestfallen Shane O'bsequious.

One would doubt that someone as patently tough-minded and intelligent as McIlroy would either want or need the sycophantic treatment which he routinely receives within the golfing cocoon.

Presumably there was more of the same when he hosted a major fundraising night at the Dublin convention centre on Tuesday. McIlroy was joined by Alex Ferguson on stage where they were interviewed by the Northern Ireland actor and Manchester United stage-door Johnny, James Nesbitt.

On Thursday, Lee Westwood fluffs a chip from off the green. "And his chipping has improved over the years," remarks O'Donoghue, always anxious to please. But James, showing some semblance of an independent mind, demurs. "Very difficult to know, because when you ask these players if they're improving, they will nearly always say yes."

The recently-crowned Masters champion Danny Willett was also sharing much of the limelight with McIlroy. Westwood, James recalled, had also been in contention on Sunday at Augusta.

"He looked like he had a chance at one point and then as soon as he looked that way, he just sort of backed off a little." Which is to say, Westwood had bottled it again.

Anyway, as if the BBC presence wasn't sufficient, we also got a blast of Sky Sports too when greenside microphones picked up comments from Sky's course reporter and his anonymous companion. There was a lull in the commentary box when this exchange was heard. "I've got to tell you about my gate." "Oh no no, please, bit later maybe." "You've heard the story about the conservatory but the gate is exceptional. It's well worth the listen."

Ken Brown was mystified, but Mark James wasn't. "That's (the former British pro) Howard Clark!" Shrieks of laughter from the two amigos. "Is it?" "He's obviously got problems with a conservatory and a gate!" "Oh, happy Howard," purred Brown.

It was RTé alright, but not as we know it.

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