James Corrigan: Lineker's low-brow presenting skills miss the cut

View From The Sofa: The Open, BBC
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The Independent Culture

To a column such as this, "Gary Lineker, golf presenter" is not just a sitting duck, but the ugly duckling sprawled out on a chaise longue with a nasty case of cramp. It is almost too cruel to take aim. Almost.

Lineker's performance at the Open last week made that of Tiger Woods seem like The Masters, '97. Yet Lineker made the weekend. And that was a crime. If anyone deserved to hear the three most-feared letters in golf it was that witty shanker. "CUT!"

But none of the Beeb producers were brave enough to scream it and Saturday morning featured quite possibly the most banal passage of analysis in the history of sports broadcasting. Lineker was in the glorified portable building overlooking the practice green with his pal, Chris Evans, and the conversation would have made Finbarr Saunders's blush with its puerility. "Do you like to roll your balls on the green, Chris?" "No, I keep mine in their bag, Gary." And so a million fingers reached for the red button. For any bloody button. Red, blue, green, yellow, nuclear...

It didn't get any less insulting to a numbskull's intelligence when the subject turned to Tiger. Evans actually had the effrontery to question Woods' ability "to shape the ball" which is a bit like Woods questioning Evans' ability to imbibe sufficiently to create a hangover. There are times when the gob must remain shut, no matter how strong the professional urge to fill silence and this was clearly one of them.

Mark James tried manfully to rescue the situation with some sharp comments about the faltering Tiger swing but by now the former Ryder Cup captain must have known his courageous entreaty into the land of insight would be depressingly brief.

All too soon word was coming in of heroics on the course and all too soon Lineker was applying those little touches which affords the grateful viewer instant understanding. "Harrington will be quite pleased to birdie the first, won't he Mark?" "Yes he will, Gary." Suddenly the uncomfortable demeanour of Peter Alliss earlier in the programme made perfect and irrefutable sense.

The fact that Alliss doesn't much approve of his anchorman is hardly the best kept secret in golf. He would far prefer someone else in the chair. A socialist even. Or most definitely a professional. Whatever the scandalous figures on his wage slip might claim, Lineker is not a professional presenter, not like Steve Rider or Hazel Irvine. He is a professional sportsman who is accomplished at talking about his former profession. It should start and stop there.

So why golf? Just because he happens to be a member of a reported £145,000-joining-fee Queenwood Golf Club? By that criterion why not ask Michael Owen to front their racing coverage, Fabio Capello to present their arts show? Many are expecting the BBC to do just that as their obsession with celebrity spirals. But they would never dare do it to football. They wouldn't get say, Sir Nick Faldo in on Match of the Day. Quite rightly. One rule for their favoured sport, another for all the others.

Golf is a pursuit popular enough to sustain five national monthly magazines. Its fans are numerous and know their subject and although the Open obviously reaches out to a wider audience this wider audience can still tell the amateurs from the pros. But then, what does one expect from a corporation which does not even bother to schedule an Open highlights package? They are not worthy of this crown jewel. In the sun or otherwise.