ORLANDO, Fla. -- Now hear this.
Sometimes our coverage is too !#*$@ good.
By "our," I mean the collective TV entities that broadcast golf, if not all of professional sports. Since it says CBS on my pay stub, tossing out a mea culpa here can't hurt.
The latest in a series of loose-lipped issues to cause a stir in a live golf broadcast came during second-round coverage of the PGA Tour event in New Orleans, when an angry Bubba Watson backed off a shot and vented in NC-17-rated language at playing partner Steve Elkington. For those who haven't viewed the offending clip, turn up both your speakers and your threshold for naughty language, then visit here.
Right before Watson mutters, "Tell you what, veterans can kiss my ass," he drops an F-bomb under his breath. It was aired live on the Golf Channel, and the sound of a broadcaster gasping is seemingly heard in the background. Quite rightly.
Some viewers laughed and some were aghast. To his credit, Watson apologized profusely to practically anybody with a set of ears on their head, apparently including Elkington. All well and good.
Yet this time, maybe the messenger deserves to get shot, too.
Golf Channel analyst Nick Faldo deftly attempted a deflecting joke after Watson's spontaneous diatribe was aired, but the bigger question is whether TV -- and we include golf mainstays CBS and NBC in this discussion as well -- is getting a little too close for comfort. Clearly, those high-tech directional microphones are a double-edged instrument when dealing with unfettered, occasionally foul language exiting the mouths of players in the heat of competition.
I know what a few of you are thinking. I know for a fact that this Elling guy swears like a drunken sailor who just slammed his thumb with a hammer after four-putting from 10 feet. I'm not denying it. But still, there's no reason the masses in the audience must be involuntarily subjected to Watson's screed, right? Some citizens, not to mention the FCC, take a dim view of this sort of speech.
Sure, auditory accidents happen, but at this point, they also should be anticipated. How much time is needed to finger the mute button, exactly? Hours, apparently. The Golf Channel said it re-aired the entire Bubba blast in its prime time replay on Friday night, with no editing.
Oddly, the Golf Channel rightly saw fit to bleep out the objectionable language in its post-game news show, where the disagreement between Watson and Elkington was examined in detail, but let the objectionable language fly live and nationwide in the raw replay. That's irresponsible or lazy, if not a bit of both. According to Golf Channel spokesman Dan Higgins, there is no fabled seven-second delay on the broadcasts and the re-airing of the comments without editing was a mistake the network acknowledges.
"That's something we have to improve upon," Higgins said Monday. "We should have caught that for prime time and didn't."
Hey, it's a start. Yet if memory serves, the network failed to edit Kelly Tilghman's ill-fated "lynch" comment during its prime-time replay in January, too. Doesn't anybody at that network work nights? (As for irony, several Golf Channel staffers were attending compulsory sensitivity training sessions Monday, as ordered by parent company Comcast, in the aftermath of the Tilghman episode.)
Though the Watson eruption might seem somewhat funny to we Gen-HBO types with thicker skin and scarred eardrums, and the Golf Channel is a cable network with broad latitude regarding what it can televise, sprinkling F-bombs into mainstream broadcasts is reckless television. Sure, Watson will surely be fined by the PGA Tour, but the networks bounced it off a satellite and onto your TV screen. Twice, in this case. So we're clearly complicit to some degree.
I don't watch as much golf on TV as some, but I can think of only two recent instances in which an eavesdropping microphone captured illuminating conversation between player and caddie: last summer when Hunter Mahan was conversing with bagman John Wood down the stretch at the Travelers Championship, and two weeks ago when Steve Williams called Tiger Woods off a key shot at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The rest is mostly a rote exchange of yardage and wind information, as in how far and how much. Riveting.
Though the PGA Tour said it has fielded inquiries about profane remarks uttered recently by prominent players, spokesman Ty Votaw said there's no sentiment at tour headquarters that encroaching network mikes are casting the tour in a bad light by catching a few potty mouths dispensing off-the-cuff remarks.
"We don't have that sense," Votaw said.
Players who are uncomfortable with the proximity of network microphones -- which can pick up nuanced conversation from a distance of five feet -- are encouraged to push them back to a comfortable distance, Votaw said.
Call me a prude, which would certainly represent a professional first, but perhaps it's time the networks understood that their microphones aren't the only listening agents that are increasingly sensitive.
So are many viewers, dagnabbit.