In the ruthless, relentless world of sports broadcasting, it is not enough to simply fulfil the “inform and entertain” elements of Lord Reith’s original mission statement for the BBC. His third instruction – “to educate” – is just as crucial, which is maybe why Sky Sports has taken the good Lord at his word and sent their developers into overdrive ahead of their second Open.
Even the former pros-turned-pundits are impressed. “Getting out of the bunker is the most difficult part of the game for the amateur golfer, so this year in our Open Zone, we have a pot bunker with cameras around it and right down in the sand,” said Paul McGinley, the Ryder Cup-winning captain and member of the Sky commentary team at Birkdale. “Bunkers are a key part of links golf, so we will get the pros in to demonstrate how you get out.
“How do you advance the ball forward but with the height to escape? How do you use that bounce on the club? How do you use the golf technology?”
The coverage will also feature a hydraulic putting green which can be raised and lowered to mimic the breaks and challenges of the greens at Royal Birkdale. As last year, the professionals will come in to demonstrate their shots.
“Golf looks like a generic game from the outside and, sure, you have to have the fundamentals but there are huge differences. I am five foot seven so, while I admired his mental game, I never looked at Nick Faldo. I looked at Ian Woosnam.”
By getting in a variety of pros, amateurs players of all shapes and sizes (plus, of course, fatal flaws) will be able to learn, as well as following the action on course.
McGinley believes maintaining this connection between the Rorys and the hackers is a vital mission for pro golf right now.
“There’s a growing disconnect between the professional and amateur game,” he said.
“Pro scoring has never been better. Last month, the US Open was 8,000 yards, the longest-ever for a major. Another record. Players are demolishing courses. The technology is based around club-head speed, not forgiving mis-hits. And golf always prided itself on having the same rules, the same equipment for the pros and the amateurs.”
These length monsters with their freakish ball speed might rule in the USA and around the world but the Open has traditionally been a different challenge.
“I hope the wind blows,” said McGinley. “Royal Birkdale is one of the great Open venues and you want 25mph every day. The Open should be about bobbing and weaving, not aggressive scoring. How do you solve the puzzles created by the wind, do you ride it, do you hold it? We have a great tracer on-screen where we can ask the pros to show us how they are using the wind, the lines they are taking.”
Fancying a European if it blows, McGinley is something of a rarity among professional sportsmen in that he sets real store by what the competitors say to the cameras.
“Last year on the Saturday, we interviewed Henrik Stenson, and I know him well having captained him in the Ryder Cup. It was the best interview I have ever seen him give: his mindset, his body language.
“I said to Butch Harmon, if he comes back tomorrow like that there is only one winner. I’d seen him like that once before, in the DP World three years previously when he hit 68 greens out of 72 and played the best golf I have ever seen anyone play. And he did come back on the final day. He was not to be beaten.”
Many of the pros, McGinley thinks, are far happier showing than telling, making the Open Zone a safe lie for them.
“A lot of players get intimidated staring down the barrel of a camera. But when you get them hitting a shot, talking about it, they’re comfortable,” he said.
“And golf is a game where everyone can learn something. The player is always evolving. Even Jack Nicklaus says that he still sometimes sees something on the telly, picks something up, tries something. It is the great elusive game.”
Sky Sports will show The Open exclusively live as part of a summer of sport that includes England cricket and F1.
The Open courses ranked - where does Royal Birkdale feature?