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GolfTube: ESPN’s essays, Phil’s struggles, and analyzing Sergio’s major mindset

Jonathan Wall
Devil Ball Golf

Sizing up the TV coverage from the opening round of the British Open ... and away we go.

Whoever decided to send ESPN the Magazine senior writer Wright Thompson across the pond to write a couple essays (here's another) for the British Open deserves a serious raise. The World Wide Leader's done the video essays in the past (they once again acted as openers when the network returned from a commercial breaks), but this was their best work yet.

With Ian McShane doing the narrative and Thompson doing the writing, ESPN produced another home run that gave viewers at home a sense of the tournament's history and blue collar neighborhood that encompasses historic Royal Lytham & St Annes.

The brilliant essays had nothing to do with the outcome of the tournament, but they were a perfect complement to the coverage. We tend to pile on ESPN for questionable golf decisions (Chris Berman covering the U.S. Open, anyone?), but the decision to bring back the essays was a smart one.

Phil Mickelson's struggles with Lytham rough, his emotions

You can usually tell how a golfer is playing by his body language and the expression on his face, but during Thursday's first round, all you needed to hear was ESPN's audio to know Phil Mickelson was having one of those days.

After his ball found the rough on the third hole, ESPN's mic operator picked up Mickelson asking an R&A official for a ruling. What was he having trouble with, you ask? How about locating his ball at address.

"You know, I can't even see it where I'm swinging," Mickelson said. "Is there any rule about that? I mean, standing over it I can't even see it."

It was one of those moments that made you scratch your head, rewind the DVR and question if he was being serious.

Then there was the audio on the seventh hole between Mickelson and caddie Jim Mackay as they discussed another shot from the deep fescue that Mickelson believed could hurt his back if he tried to blast it out. At one point he talked to Mackay about the possibility of taking an unplayable -- something the caddie snuffed out in a hurry

After hacking it out with a wedge and watching it go from deep fescue to deep fescue, Mickelson could be heard yelling "Are you kidding?" as the ball disappeared.

And last but certainly not least, the audio from the par-4 eighth, a hole that had it all, including a search party that was called in to locate Mickelson's ball after it disappeared into the rough just a couple feet in front of him. After locating his ball -- it was embedded -- Mickelson was forced was forced to take a drop after being denied relief.

Mickelson went out in 3-over 37, but he managed to keep the damage to a minimum on the back-nine and come home in even-par 36.

"He really actually held it together to shoot that score," Paul Azinger said. "It really could've been much worse."

Sergio Garcia's major mindset

Sergio Garcia likely won't be a factor over the weekend after opening with a 2-over 72 on Thursday. ESPN's Mike Tirico and Paul Azinger seemed to sense his round was going downhill early on, as they talked openly about his struggles at the majors.

"Garcia at times has been his own worst enemy in so many ways," Tirico said. "He felt it was not him, it was the golf gods against him."

"He said, 'I'm dealing with forces unseen,'" Azinger said. "If he said that out loud you wonder what he might say to himself. Player self-talk is critical to their success in their career ... you just don't want to be your own worst enemy. I remember [Tom] Watson with Woody Austin when he beat himself over the head one or two times. Watson gave him some advice: 'It's hard enough to have friends out here you might want to be a friend to yourself.'"

Garcia's struggles on the big stage have been noted over the years, but it's always nice to remind viewers that when it comes to the Spaniard, it's more about what's going on upstairs than his swing.

Peter Alliss produces another British Open gem

One of the great things about ESPN covering the British Open is the addition of world-class BBC golf commentator Peter Alliss to booth.

There isn't a better voice or storyteller in the game than Alliss, and he once again reinforced that claim with a story about some rabbits on the course.

"For many years there were two or three families of hares on the course here," Alliss said. "You used to see them when the Open came around. They were as big as a spaniel dog. I don't know what happened to them."

"How did you know they were related?" ESPN's Terry Gannon asked.

"One of them had a smile on his face," Alliss deadpanned.

What else can you say? It seems like every word out of his mouth during the British Open is pure television gold.

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