Prime Time at Pebble

By: Blaine Newnham

Perhaps it suggests, as we all know, that prime time on the major networks isn't as sacred as it used to be. Milton Berle, Bill Cosby, "Miami Vice," none of them would ever let this happen, coverage of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach going on until 11 p.m. on the East Coast on a Saturday night, on NBC.

We're talking about prime time, our national Open delayed on the West Coast so it can be viewed on the East Coast after dinner.

I don't like waiting until 3:50 in the afternoon for the leader - Graeme McDowell - to tee off for the third round. I doubt he does either.

There was no need for it other than getting the entire field around the course and finished by around 11 p.m. in New York. Surely, the first players could have started play before 9 a.m. here on the Monterey coast. But they didn't.

The bad thing is that many of us will be wandering through the Del Monte forest in the dark trying to find our cars. It isn't exactly ideal that the leaders - including Phil Mickelson - faced the strongest winds late in the day, gusts predicted to hit 25 miles per hour, twice what they were for those off early. The temperature was dropping as well.

Ten years ago, when the Open was last played here, the field started five hours earlier. We were heading for dinner when Mickelson was heading for the 15th hole. But then World Series baseball games used to be played in the sunlight.

The good thing that comes with change is that the USGA will look again and again at a West Coast site. Over an eight-year period between 2008 and 2015, half the Opens either played or scheduled are on the West Coast: Torrey Pines (2008) in San Diego, Pebble Beach (2010), Olympic Club (2012) in San Francisco, and Chambers Bay (2015) in Tacoma, Wash.

We're talking, of course, about money and about ratings. Not about the comfort of the fans or the players.

Two years ago, at Torrey Pines, with starting times moved back to assure prime-time viewing in the East, the ratings for the tournament were the highest in six years and Sunday's final round - Tiger Woods versus Rocco Mediate - was the third-highest final day ever recorded. (Sunday's final round at Pebble Beach is scheduled to be completed at 9:00 EDT, same as 2008 at Torrey Pines, pending an 18-hole playoff that would be played on Monday.)

The television window closed at 10 p.m. in the East for the third round at Torrey. This time from Pebble it will be even later, 11 p.m. The later, the better.

Don't people in New York go to bed?

"Playing the Open on the West Coast in June allows us to showcase this championship in prime time," said Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports and the Olympics. "It should make for a great Father's Day weekend with the best golfers in the world competing on one of golf's most picturesque courses in prime time."

That's the official line. There is no question the USGA is trying to expose more folks to its championships, both at the course - where huge, public sites, like Bethpage Black and Chambers Bay, have been selected - but also on television.

In all, between the early coverage or ESPN and the weekend coverage by NBC, there will be nearly 30 hours of U.S. Open exposure, twice that of the Masters.

Struggling to keep its market share, NBC is treating this more like the Olympics, throwing Bob Costas into the fray, complimenting the golf "experts" with sports "entertainers."

At the course, tickets for the four days of the championships - priced at $110 each - were sold well in advance.

The limit, in fact, was put at 37,500. There are predictions that an Open at Chambers Bay could provide room for 60,000 a day.

The Open keeps getting bigger and bigger. Not to mention later and later.

Blaine Newnham has covered golf for 50 years. He still cherishes the memory of following Ben Hogan for 18 holes during the first round of the 1966 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. He worked then for the Oakland Tribune, where he covered the Oakland Raiders during the first three seasons of head coach John Madden. Blaine moved on to Eugene, Ore., in 1971 as sports editor and columnist, covering the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. He covered five Olympics all together - Mexico City, Munich, Los Angeles, Seoul, and Athens - before retiring in early 2005 from the Seattle Times. He covered his first Masters in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman, and his last in 2005 when Tiger Woods chip dramatically teetered on the lip at No. 16 and rolled in. He saw Woods' four straight major wins in 2000 and 2001, and Payne Stewart's birdie putt to win the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. Blaine now plays golf at Wing Point Golf and Country Club on Bainbridge Island, Wash., where his current index is 12.6. In 2005, Blaine received the Northwest Golf Media Association's Distinguished Service Award. He and his wife, Joanna, live in Indianola, Wash., where the Dungeness crabs outnumber the people.

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