This was one of the most enjoyable and controversial sporting weekends in recent times, and the Ryder Cup drama was generally well covered by Sky Sports. The bust-up involving Rory McIlroy gave the occasion a welcome bit of needle, and handed the programming a genuinely juicy news story to cover.
Taken as a whole, the weekend proves once again that the golf fan is well served by the depth and breadth of coverage on Sky. Perhaps only the cricket offering is superior. Documentaries about previous editions like the Miracle at Medinah, profiles and feature interviews with the protagonists, great access to this year’s competitors and a healthy smattering of legends from yesteryear all augment the live coverage and mean that the serious fan, should he or she wish, can have the channel on for pretty much 24 hours a day.
Those who only have access to the BBC got a 90-minute programme at the end of each of the three days’ play. Given the day-long nature of the contest and that it can swing so quickly – although not, luckily for Europe, on the final day on this occasion – it is hard to see how you could cover this contest on anything other than a dedicated sport channel. It is not an event you can dip in and out of.
If Sky’s coverage had a flaw it was the failure to keep rolling after the McIlroy Saturday night incident. Instead, the Sky Golf Channel ported in the coverage from America’s NBC feed, meaning that Brandel Chamblee, Paul McGinley and US anchors and journalists brought us the story of the car park contretemps rather than Nick Dougherty and company. Given that Sky had a huge team out in Rome you would think that they might as well have done their own coverage of this, stick another 50p in Sir Nick Faldo and keep it rolling for a while.
A furious Rory McIlroy confronted a Team USA caddie in the car park, after he was spotted waving his cap in McIlroy's face when lining up his final putt on 18 😳pic.twitter.com/Ha4r5hDsGi
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) September 30, 2023
It is not like there were other golf tournaments or stories to keep up with. McGinley, aside from being an excellent analyst and a good bloke, must be a hell of a worker; he seems to be on one channel or another almost non-stop. The availability of today’s players reflects well on both them and the media relations: when McIlroy won his match on the Sunday he was talking to the Sky cameras within a few seconds; brilliant access and great to get the instant reaction from the man of the moment. “I needed that [caddie row] to fuel me, it brought a different level of focus and determination,” he said. “The incident lit a fire under our bellies.”
One bellyache, however, with the Sky coverage is the frequency of the adverts, which are constant and also dismally lacking in variety. I am sure he is a perfectly good chap but the man who does the pompous, word salad voiceover about the enduring legacy blah-di-blah of Rolex timepieces has been driving our household completely round the bend over the last few days. It is enough to make you not want to spend 20 grand on a watch. But even he is less annoying than the dandruff advert guy. Golf fans: this is what they think you want to buy.
Sky’s coverage has made a good fist of the context around this unusual sporting event, although it occasionally got a little over-ripe and sickly. Certainly it has not been a vintage renewal for devotees of the Nicklaus-Jacklin Award, which recognises and celebrates the player who has most embodied the fraternal ethos of the Ryder Cup. Is it the American who did not want to play unless he got some dosh? Or perhaps the caddie trying to put off his man’s opponent by disturbing him on the green? Or even the players effing and jeffing in the car park?
Much like the elusive Spirit of Cricket, this guff always makes itself a hostage to fortune. Sky’s golf product is at its best with its technically excellent and shrewdly analysed coverage of the sport rather than the soft-soap stuff, and the only shame is that we have to wait another two years until Farmingdale, New York.