Cover Story – FOX Sports broadcaster Shane Bacon

Cover Story – FOX Sports broadcaster Shane Bacon

From the time Marshall native Shane Bacon could walk, he had a golf club in his hands. Trust me, there’s photos on social media to prove it. But while Bacon’s aspirations of playing professionally faded not soon after college, he always believed his career path would involve sports.

Boy, was he right.

What began as writing for the Daily Wildcat while attending the University of Arizona and interning at a local television station in Tucson later transitioned (after some looping at St. Andrews and attempts competing on the mini-tour) to blogging about golf from his bedroom, or while working at his “real job” in Denver.

Ten years later, and after wearing numerous hats in the industry, Bacon has made it to the big-time: host and play-by-play announcer for FOX Sports coverage of USGA Championships. With a little football and basketball work to boot.

Among his many duties and career highlights with FOX Sports have been covering the 115thU.S. Open at Chambers Bay as an on-course reporter, conducting pre- and post-round player interviews at the 116thand 117thU.S. Opens, and taking on play-by-play duties alongside Brad Faxon at the 118thU.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills and 119thU.S. Open at Pebble Beach, as well as FOX Sports’ entire schedule of 2019 USGA Championships.

Avid Golfer recently caught up with Bacon and chatted about his path to FOX Sports, his favorite aspects of commentating, and many other golf and broadcast-related topics.

AG: What do you believe was the most important moment/position to getting where you are today?

SB: Getting a chance to go to Connecticut and work at Back9Network and kind of see how TV works. For a lot of people, the path is fairly well laid out. Local news network to bigger markets while writing scripts, cutting takes and doing interviews. I had done a bit of that during college in Tucson, but this was different. It was on DirecTV. It was our show, our scripts and being an associate producer of the show and helping with ideas and being in the room was huge. I would write, help others out and receive help where I need to make improvements. And there were so many cool, knowledgeable people I was working around for it being just a start-up network. That was a huge moment for me.

And then the other thing I would say was just my boss here at FOX Sports giving a platform to a guy that had never done these things before. For him to sit me in a chair at the U.S. Open and give me a chance having never really done anything before on that scale … I remember when Justin Thomas eagled No. 18 at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills for a 63. Nobody had ever done before, shooting 9-under at a U.S. Open. I remember it clear as day. I had done a podcast (with Thomas) before and run into him at past events, but coming live to interview him and having this clairvoyant moment that I’m about to interview the guy that just made U.S. Open history. Those types of moments stick out. And then having these pinch-me moments that some of these guys are actually my buddies. I can text some of these Hall-of-Fame golfers or broadcasters. It’s still pretty pinch-me even a few years into it now.

AG: What has been the most surprising aspect or biggest challenge for you working in broadcasting?

SB: Seeing guys that can bounce between sports and make it look so smooth. Obviously, Joe Buck doing World Series then football and things like that. Last year, I did my first college basketball game, and the first five minutes were like driving a car with no steering wheel.

Golf is interesting to broadcast because there are 18 “courts” or “fields” with each hole and you have to trust your producers and know where you are going before you’re going there. In basketball or football, it’s all right there in front of you. You’re watching it and calling the action live and it’s a challenge trying to slow that down. You’re on the sidelines for your first college football game, and it’s at Texas and there at 75,000 people yelling and you’re trying avoid getting run over by a 100-yard American flag. When you’re in a booth calling golf, you’re obviously excited and get nervous, but it’s a completely different type of nervous than being in a fieldhouse or stadium.

I would also say knowing all your stuff and coming off as prepared natural and calm. My role on the golf course … I’m never going to speak of what the green does or the contour or about this dogleg. That’s not my job. That’s Paul Azinger or Brad Faxon or Curtis Strange’s job. And when you practice, you have to practice the right way. My first year, I remember at one point going out with Azinger for a few hours and he’s doing all this stuff on the course and I kind of thought why am I doing this? This is a waste of time. I need to be researching about Niemann or Steve Stricker or whomever is playing and playing well that week. That’s what I need to be providing on the broadcast.

AG: Do you ever look at a leaderboard and have no idea who someone is?

SB: At some of the amateur events. Again, they’re so interesting. You get bios, but it’s nothing like a professional bio. You know who those people, a Jordan Spieth or Rickie Fowler or Lexi Thompson, are. You know them because you follow the sport. But I think amateur golf is getting better, because it’s on TV a lot more and there are a lot more resources. I think amateur golf is getting more popular because the players are so good. But there are days on say a Wednesday at a U.S. Amateur where there is the person that just qualified as the No. 63 seed and he’s playing the No. 2 seed but is ranked 1,450 in the world. What you know is what you read one time 45 minutes ago doing your prep. Fortunately, a lot of times you’re bouncing around so much that you really don’t have much time to really spill out a lot to begin with and it’s pretty elementary stuff. That more in-depth info doesn’t necessarily happen till the later rounds, but at that point you’ve been around them a few times.

I do recall Cameron Champ at Erin Hills, though. Nobody really knew who he was, other than he was a kid from Texas A&M that hit it forever and he played a practice round with Rory McIlroy and outdrove him by like 50 yards or something on the first hole. Those times, you do quick research yourself just so you don’t feel like you’re missing something. But for the most part, you spend a lot of time making sure that doesn’t happen. That’s a big part of it. It’s the pronunciations and information that we have to know and get right and if we don’t, we’re not doing it right.

AG: I know you have some chops on the course. Was being a professional golfer ever a legitimate goal for you? If so, may it still be?

SB: I tried to play some mini-tour events after college for about a year but it didn’t work out. And this past year, I had a little success getting through local U.S. Open qualifying at my home course here in Phoenix. It was actually a story that followed me around probably a little more than I wanted it to. It kept popping up during work and it’s like, “Guys, I’m working next to a guy that almost won a U.S. Open and a guy that has won back-to-back U.S. Open’s. You don’t have to keep bringing it up that I got to the sectional part of qualifying.” But I love doing it, and I also do little mid-amateurs. I actually have a buddy caddying for me and we’re going to go to a little qualifier here in December and just make a trip out of it. But if I ever get out of the local Open qualifier again, my goal would shift to possibly ring the bell on actually getting into it. It was definitely a fun ride this year.

AG: Have you ever been star-struck doing an interview?

SB: I did the Tiger-Phil match last year in Vegas. I had been around each of the them a couple times throughout the week and they were very cool and nice and engaging. But I was standing on the first tee and Samuel L. Jackson had just done his beautiful monolog intro that he does. I mean it was a huge production and I’m about to talk to Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. That was the moment I had to take a huge breath and remind myself to take a second before you get into it. But the moment you start talking to them, it’s just having a conversation with two guys. Whenever I feel I’m starting to get a little rattled, I just remind myself that these guys are just people too. No matter if they’re a huge golf star, an amateur player, an NFL coach. For the most part, if you ask a decent question, they’re going to give you a good answer.

AG: Where do you think the game can make changes or improvements to get more casual players out to the course?

SB: Honestly, I think golf has transitioned appropriately. When I was, say, 21 and just getting out of college, golf to me — and I was a golfer — was the professional side of it. It was the PGA Tour and it was Tiger and Phil and Ernie and David Duval and Vijay. That was the group and that was the focus and then Annika had that run. You would focus on professional golf, but I think with the influx of young media, and there are a lot of good ones, there is a new kind of showcase of golf can be your golf. It can be you going to play or on a trip. Playing a local muni and realizing how great it is and why. You’re seeing a lot of shorter courses or nine-hole courses pop up all around the country. And combine that with things like TopGolf, it’s really a thing you can play and fall in love with it without even really knowing it.

I’ve always said if you want more golfers, just wait till people turn 35. All my friends that played other sports and never picked up a club are now obsessed with it. But now there is also a young movement because, and I hate to use this term, but they’re making golf more fun. It’s more fun to go play nine holes when you’re not going to shoot a million. It just is.

And when I get a club in my kids’ hands, I’m not going to take him to places that are going to beat his brains out. I’m going to take him to places where wherever he hits it, we’ll find it. And whatever he scores, I don’t care. And then we’ll go hit a couple in the water and watch them splash and we’ll get out of there.

Let’s make golf fun for the casual fan, which is about 15-handicap. It’s no fun to go shoot a trillion just to play a course that is world-renowned.

I’m one of the people that think it’s in a great spot. Of course, there are a lot of incredible young professionals now, and it’s great to see the movement not just amongst them, but amongst the casual player.

AG: If there is ever no Tiger Woods, do you think there is anyone on the Tour capable of filling that void?

SB: No. There’s not. He changed the sport forever. I don’t think there will ever be someone like him, or ever close to him. He made golf cool. He made it interesting and he dominated a sport that you can’t dominate. There have been tons of unbelievable golfers, guys like Jack and Arnie and Hogan. Sneed and Nelson and go down the list. But his run, his dominant run, how much he’d win, how often he’d finish in the top 10 and making consecutive cuts will never be seen again.

And to me, it’s not a disappointing answer. We saw someone burst on the scene capable of keeping their mind in a place that is so hard to keep and had the physical capabilities to do all of the stuff that few people can do … I was flying to the Safeway four or five years ago when he was going to make his return. I was going to write a story about it and he pulled out. I landed and called my editor and said, “What am I supposed to do now?” He said go find somewhere and write a story about what this means and fly back. And I wrote, “That’s It.” And he absolutely proved me wrong and he continues to prove me wrong. He’s a guy you simply can’t count out and I won’t anymore.

And then you think about how lucky I and we are as a 36-year-old … to get to have seen the entire careers of athletes in their prime like Tiger, and Federer, and Serena and Phelps and LeBron and Kobe … we’re so lucky to get a chance to see that. Tiger is right there with someone like Serena to me because it’s really hard to be that good for that long.

AG: So is Tiger the greatest golfer of all-time?

SB: He’s the most dominant of all-time. Plus, you can’t even pencil in greatest yet until he’s done. Who knows what he has left in the tank? I still can’t believe he won the Masters in 2019. It’s crazy to say it. I can’t say he’s the best, but I can easily say he’s the most dominant. His run and his ability to win and win is something that is not supposed to happen.

AG: Favorite course to play?

SB: Oh man. It’s just so hard. I think in 2019 there is a lot of nit-picking of golf courses amongst golf media. I won’t say I’ve never done it, but I try not to as much because every golf course could be great or bad for many reasons and that could depend on the person.

I got a chance to play Cypress Point last year for the U.S. Amateur and I’m not sure there’s a course that lives up to or surpasses expectations like that.

And I would probably put Royal Melbourne up there as well. That was a bucket-list item for me and it was special.

That’s the thing, though, and why this question is tough. I think a lot of the time there are so many factors that go into. It’s who did you play with? How did you play? What was the experience? … I caddied at St. Andrews after college and I can promise you there were days on the course when the guy I was looping for was playing in the cold with 45-mph winds with rain coming down sideways. If they said that was there favorite moment on a golf course they were lying. But if you came out and it’s sunny and nice and you’re playing great with buddies, that would have been a different story.

AG: Do you get to play the courses you broadcast from?

SB: Sometimes. You know I get that question a decent amount and I wish I could say, “Hell yeah”, but it depends.

We really have a close-knit group at FOX though, especially the golf crew. We all like to hang out and we all like to play together. We don’t play U.S. Open week or Women’s U.S. Open week because we’re pretty slammed, but sometimes we’re able to check them out prior for little media events. Or maybe we could get out on a Monday or a Tuesday, but a lot of the times you don’t, so we’ll sneak out and play some other course in the area.

And talk about bonding and doing a corporate outing … these are corporate outings on steroids. You got Juli Inkster on your team and you’re playing Brad Faxon and your boss and you’re at a course you’ve never played before and you’re betting and talking trash. You can really see their passion for the game there.

So, I’ll say we definitely play enough golf, but it depends on the week and if we have a chance to visit the place before.

AG: Shane Bacon’s best 18-hole score?

SB: Oh man back in my day, in the heyday, I shot 62 a couple of times. I might have shot maybe a 65 a few months ago, but I don’t practice anymore. I went and hit about 20 range balls earlier today and was like, “That’s pretty much it. I’m good.”

AG: Dream foursome?

SB: This is a lame answer, but it’s true. It would probably be my dad, my uncle and a buddy of mine. In my old age, I’ve gotten to the point where golf to me is playing with my friends. That’s when I have the most fun. I know it sounds Hallmark-y, but it’s true. My uncle lives in Phoenix and we play almost every Friday. It’s just being out there with the foursome you play with every week. Four hours to be out there together.

AG: If you were to brag about playing a round with anyone, who would it be?

SB: Hmmm I’ve never been asked that. I would probably say Juli Inkster. When you look at her career, what she has done from college on and how she continues to compete … you know she finished second at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open the last two years. If she goes on to win one, which I expect her to do because she’s still so good, then Arnie, Jack and Juli would be the only ones to win an Amateur, a U.S. Open and a Senior Open.

You can forget being around her, because she’s so cool, how accomplished she is. It’s always a pinch-me moment playing with her and when you get done after a round and people are taking pictures with her, you see how important she is to the game and what a moment that is for those people. It’s like walking around with a Rockstar at times, but she’s also like the coolest person in the world.

AG: Most regrettable thing you have said on-air?

SB: Hmmm, you know nothing pops in my head, which is good. I’m surprised. That’s a good question, though. I said something one time, I can’t recall, I just remember when I said it that it could have been taken the wrong way. One of those you immediately check social media and make sure. So, I can’t really think of anything and hopefully when we talk here in six months or a year that remains the same.

AG: What’s next for Shane Bacon? Where do you want to go from here? Ultimate career goals?

SB: I got a chance to get in the host chair and the play-by-play chair and doing the live sports is what I’m passionate about. So just continue to improve and get better in that world and hopefully pick up more events and more sports. That’s what I want to do. If it’s U.S. Open’s and USGA Championships and expanding in that role and doing some football and basketball, that would be a dream for me.

But it’s been a dream for me already. This is what I love to do. It’s funny I kind of go in a depressive state when the golf season ends. You go on this crazy summer run and get to bounce around. And what’s cool for us is every event is different. It’s not just the PGA Tour. We do the Tour, the LPGA, the Senior Tour, Under-19 golf and under-19 women’s golf and then the amateurs and the Curtis Cup and the Walker Cup. Every event is different and with different players and is a completely different beast to tackle. That’s what keeps us very refreshed. So, I’m really just hoping to continue to do this and that my role expands and that I can polish up on what I’m doing. I feel like I’m living the dream. It’s still pretty wild and I hope I’m doing it in 20 years still.