Why the ShopRite LPGA Classic was a TV show like no other
GALLOWAY, NJ – The LPGA has landed here, like every year, on a smooth and timeless course next to the Seaview complex, through a sparkling bay of Atlantic City. The sunlight was dazzling. Maybe you were watching, on Golf Channel. The ShopRite LPGA Classic, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., then the PGA Tour has begun. You know, the Sanderson Farms Championship.
Judy Rankin was the show’s senior analyst. An icon of the game, as a player and broadcaster. A mentor for dozens of players over the years, and also for a significant number of viewers.
Rankin watched veteran Dottie Ardina punch a corner for an eagle on the last hole to make the cut on count and said: “Glad to see a good thing happen to a player who really needs it.” You could hear half a century of golfer empathy in that single comment. Our Judy. To be on TV every week or so, and in our dens, is to be part of our life.
Next to Rankin was Cara Banks, the presenter of the show, her chic southwest London accent came straight to you from Jersey. Parkway Exit 41, if you know the Garden State roads. “Photo of the day on her lawn,” Banks told us, setting up Ardina’s eagle band. “And you can’t do better than that.” Indeed, you cannot.
Why does golf sound better in the mouths of the British?
Rankin and Banks were both sitting in black swivel chairs in what you might call a TV tower, even though it was only about 6 feet off the ground. A trailer, really, dark and cool, located behind the 16th tee. Late on Saturday’s show a shadow was cast behind them and through a window you could see the course, Absecon Bay behind it and, across the bay, the glass walls of the gaming palaces. of Atlantic City.
On the course, players plied their trade in the wind, bouncing balls off the green like in 1921. If you were there, you could see a lot – and miss more. Has there been a better invention than golf on television?
To the left of Banks and away from the lights of the TV, Katie Szklinski, a production assistant, handed Banks large index cards, one at a time, a series of player and tournament facts, as well as the copy. designated for this promo and that one. In a corner of the trailer, Paige Mackenzie, the former LPGA player, watched golf on various monitors, preparing to analyze holes and strokes as needed. It’s like playing the outfield. The ball comes to you. You don’t know when. So you have to be ready. As needed, as needed.
Nearby on a table were bags of Doritos and Cheetos, a lint brush, and a jar of Germ-X hand sanitizer. No one said it would be easy to broadcast live TV during a pandemic.
On the course, wearing headsets and microphones, were two so-called fairway infantrymen: Karen Stupples of England and Florida and winner of the British Open 2004, and Kay Cockerill, two-time winner of the US Women’s Amateur. They were following Lexi Thompson, Inbee Park, Brooke Henderson, among your other popular favorites.
A good tournament, with a group ranking. The ShopRite Tournament is everything a professional golf event should be: sweet, community and charming, but also athletic and, in its own way, exciting. There were pieces of fruit above the starting markers.
As required isn’t a live TV production term, but it could be.
The show was directed by veteran producer Beth Hutter, seated in a broadcast truck planted in a barren field about 500 yards from Rankin and Mackenzie and Banks. Various MPs were next to Hutter, everyone looking at a wall of screens, 15 in all, with more screens in other places. It was Hutter’s show, after all. We saw what she wanted us to see. The broadcast truck’s digital clocks gave you the time to the second, but the countdown to a living is human, as it always has been.
“Five, four, three, two and – one.“
Live TV is fast and stressful. He has produced many screaming and secular producers and directors over the years. Hutter isn’t among them, not at all. Go here, go there; go here, go there. Her boss, Molly Solomon, executive producer of Golf Channel, is no gaudy either.
“Give me an air pass,” Hutter said.
This is not a business with time to please and thank you, not when you are live. Maybe at the end of the show. Later, Banks told Greg Thorne, the show’s affable manager, “Greg, I’d better put my jacket on,” Banks told Thorne. He helped Banks put on his purple blazer, right arm, left arm, without saying a word.
In the broadcast truck, there was a fleeting joke about “pellets,” courtesy of Hutter. You know, someone is creating a new way of saying lozenges and the shelf life is forever. There was, during a commercial break, a mock discussion about which fruit was assigned to which tee. Live TV is strained. You do what you can to keep it light. This is Hutter’s approach.
Céline Boutier won the tournament. Her parents are Thai, she grew up in France, she went to Duke’s and she speaks perfect English with a French accent. Boutier, two-time Solheim Cup player, won the clubhouse. She won, after a final round 63, watching the golf channel broadcast on a television in the locker room.
Television has played a huge role in golf for 65 years. At least three other players could have equalized Boutier, but they didn’t. Cockerill interviewed the winner at the end of the New Jersey show, quickly by 4, to make way for the Sanderson. The victory was Boutier’s second LPGA title, his first in the US What final round.
It’s easy to forget, when you gaze at the skyscrapers of the fall sports landscape – the NFL and college football, baseball qualifying for the playoffs – how life-changing an event like the ShopRite can be. It’s a huge event, the most important thing in the world, seen through a certain lens. But not either. Just one more week in their life, for players, broadcasters, caddies, rule makers. The traveling circus of professional golf.
A day before the tournament started, Rankin was talking about his Golf Channel family, his traveling family. “In our group of people,” she said, “you never, ever need to have dinner alone if you don’t want to.”
On Saturday evening, Cockerill tweeted in the blink of an eye a dozen women – and a little girl, along with her mother, Hutter – who ran the ShopRite tournament. It reminded me of the old CBS gang – Ken Venturi, Pat Summerall, Ben Wright, Frank Chirkinian, Chuck Will – drinking their dinner at various steakhouses in various cities in the 1970s and 80s and 90s.
No one then noticed that the broadcast team was all male, and one day, perhaps, it won’t be interesting to note that the on-air talent for a golf tournament is all-female, but for the ‘instant, it is. It happened for the first time at ShopRite. There were a lot of men working on the show, but the five live mics were all owned by women. History, in a way.
Thorne, the manager, was making his way across the set on Saturday afternoon, attending to the talent needs, when Rankin said, “Greg is a man of the girls – and he likes it.”
Everyone laughed. You don’t need to have a sense of humor to work on live TV. But it helps.
Soon after, the show was over, dinner was scheduled, the blazers retired, an executive assistant offered Banks to go to the clubhouse. – No, thank you, she said. “I will walk.” Rankin watched the setting sun through his iconic sunglasses and said, “I’ll walk too.”
Michael Bamberger can be contacted at [email protected]