Shane Bacon has seen just about everything on the golf course. From caddying at St. Andrews to playing on mini tours and now covering the U.S. Open and other USGA events as a FOX Sports analyst, there aren’t many surprises for the rising broadcast star. But even he gets excited for the Masters.
“The sounds, the smells, the sites. It really is an experience unlike anything in sports,” he said.
In between hosting his podcast, The Clubhouse, and preparing for the Masters, Bacon spoke with The Big Lead about the tournament, Rory McIlroy overcoming his Sunday demons, Tiger’s chances of winning a fifth green jacket, why Jordan Spieth winning the Masters would a big surprise and what FOX has planned for the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach this year.
Brian Giuffra: Hey Shane, thanks for taking some time to chat with us. First off, who’s your favorite to win the Masters this year?
Shane Bacon: Statically, it has to be Rory. He’s had an unbelievable season so far, with five Top 5 finishes and the win at The Players. But this is a huge week for Rory. He’s had a lot of close calls at Augusta National. It’s such a mountain to climb, winning the Masters. Even he’s said if he only has one more win, he wants it to be this one. I think heading into the Masters and losing to Tiger in the Match Play tournament (two weeks ago) was actually a good thing. If he had won that and played a few more rounds, maybe having to play in the consolation match, it would have been a detriment to Rory. Even though he lost to Tiger, there were good things coming out of that. When a guy like that drives it around Augusta the way he can, all he needs is the putter to just get going a little bit.
I mean, he’s got four birdie holes every round. If he drives the ball on the fairway on every Par 5, he’s not hitting more than an iron into the hole. Maybe on 2 he’s hitting a 5-iron. He’s hitting 8 irons or 9 irons on 13 and 15. It’s still a drive and a pitch on some of these Par 5s for him. So he’s got four great birdie holes every round. It’s going to be about the times when he gets himself in trouble and needs to lean on the wedge game to get it close that I’m going to be looking at.
Giuffra: What’s it going to take for Rory to win?
Bacon: With Rory, it’s just finding a way to control his wedges. When you play Augusta and you’re looking at the greens, it’s a big green, but it’s really 4-to-5 greens. When you’re hitting a wedge into those greens, you’ve gotta be precise. One of the common misnomers about Augusta National is you’ve got to be a great putter to win there. There have been some terrible putters statically over the course of their careers who have won at Augusta. You know, you think about Sergio. You think about Adam Scott. These are guys who were never great putters. Ángel Cabrera, not a great putter over the course of his career, and he won at Augusta.
Rory is not statistically a great putter, never has been outside of that year where he won a couple of major championships, and it’s really about his proximity to the hole with his short irons. If he can control those and get his ball in the right quadrant, especially if he drives it errantly and needs to get it up-and-down for par, that will be what I look at early in the week. Is he hitting those ones 40-feet behind the hole that rip back? Or is he hitting more of a controlled wedge where it’s hole high and stops? If he’s doing that Thursday and Friday, watch out because we’ve seen him run away from fields in majors and if the wedge game is there come Thursday and Friday, it could be one of those weeks where he does just that.
Giuffra: Do you think Rory is over his heartbreaks here? You know, there’s the snap hook tee shot on 10 and being in the final group with Patrick Reed last year. He’s had a lot of tough moments there.
Bacon: We’ll have to see, but I think yes. He’s in such a different place with his golf game and his mental approach to his game. I think if he doesn’t get the win like he did at the Players against that field, then maybe yes, it’s a different story. But he got that victory and he comes to this place having finished in top 10 the last five years. Being so close, playing with Patrick Reed in the final group, playing with Jordan Spieth in the final round, he looked like a lost golfer at times. He’s had so many of those types of moments at the Masters. That scar tissue, that will never go away. But if there was ever a year where he could put that in the past, this would be the year to do it.
Giuffra: You mentioned Rory’s loss to Tiger. What would it take for Tiger to win at Augusta?
Bacon: It’s just such a hard golf course for a guy who doesn’t drive it perfect. Tiger has driven the ball a lot better than a lot of people thought he would coming into this season. His game is close, I’m just not sure it’s at a place where he can win a major championship against this type of field. I think he can put himself in the conversation, I’m just not sure he’s ready to win. Looking across the stats, he’s solid. His game has been close this year, but it’s not where it was late last season. It just feels like we’re almost there, but not all the way there. Also, it’s been so long since he had a lot of success around this golf course, and this is not the same Augusta that Tiger dominated in the early 2000s. You need to hit good drives all over the place and I’m just not sure he’s there.
Giuffra: Do you think Tiger wins another major?
Bacon: Yes, I think he can win another major. But I’ve said for a long time, the Masters is actually last on the list of places he can win a major. His best chance to win a major is at the Open Championship, just because that always plays fast and firm and he doesn’t need to hit as many drives. He has a great chance at Pebble Beach this year too, in the sense that it will be dry and firm like it was in 2000 when he won the tournament by 200 million shots. The PGA Championship would be his next best shot. Here and there, there are golf course he likes. Historically, he’s played well at Bethpage (where the PGA Championship is this year). He can get in contention there, but again, he’ll have to hit driver. When that’s the case, those are lower on the totem pole of chances to succeed. So the Open Championship would be No. 1, then the U.S. Open just because mentally and strategically he’ll be prepared better than others. Then it’s the PGA Championship and the Masters.
Giuffra: What’s wrong with Jordan Spieth? It’s been a rough year for him on the course. Can he pull it together at Augusta where he’s historically played well?
Bacon: It’s through the bag with him. I wish I could pinpoint one thing, but everything is going wrong with the golf game right now. I believe he has one Top 10 finish since the Masters last year and that was The Open Championship and that was a tie for ninth, so it’s been a rough 14-16 months for him.
Pros talk about how you can’t contend if you’re hitting it short and crooked off the tee. Well, Jordan is 204th in strokes gained off the tee. He’s hitting 48 percent of fairways and he’s not the longest driver. That’s not a good combination. His putting is not where it was when he was at his best. If you scroll through the page and look at his stats on the PGA Tour, you would be shocked by the numbers.
He can put it together for short spurts of great golf, but it hasn’t been consistent. I know this is a place where he finds his golf game, but I don’t see it this year. I think if Jordan Spieth won the Masters, that would be the biggest surprise to me. He seems completely lost all the way around. But if he does play well here, you’d have to place him next as the dominant Augusta player of his generation. But that would be surprising this year.
Giuffra: Who’s a dark horse you’re looking at to win?
Bacon: I look at a lot of international players as players I think can come out here and surprise some people. I like Tyrrell Hatton. He’s been playing some pretty solid golf coming in. It’s going to be hard for him, because this is one of those places that makes you want to kick your golf bag over, and Tyrrell Hatton has a bit of a temper for sure. But I think coming in he’s looked solid the last few weeks. It will be interesting to see what Sergio does. I know, just based on the name, Sergio isn’t a dark horse, but he hasn’t really been close since his Masters win a couple of years ago, so I’d like to see what Sergio can do. And I’ll tell you this, it would be fun to see it, Charles Howell III, being in the field, getting that win, being from Augusta, his game has been pretty impressive the last eight months. I could see him having a pretty great week. And you’re not going to say dark horse, just because of the way he’s been playing, but Matt Kuchar. His season has just been crazy. He nearly won again at the Match Play. You go back to when Matt Kuchar was an amateur with his dad on the bag here, smiling his way around the course, it was a really nice thing to see. He was the low amateur that week. He’s had some good finishes here. Matt Kuchar is as confident as he’s ever been. Those are some players I’m looking at outside of the norm to have a big week.
Giuffra: One person we haven’t talked about is Phil Mickelson. Do you think Phil has a chance to win?
Bacon: I think Phil’s got a chance. I always think Phil’s got a chance at this golf course with the way he’s played it over the years. What’s so wild about Phil is he’s a little bit like Bubba. When you look at the way Bubba’s played Augusta, it’s feast or famine. He has a great week or he finishes 70th or misses the cut. And Phil’s been a little bit like that. When you look at his finishes over the years, you know he had that great stretch of great play, he wins it in ’06 and doesn’t finish in the Top 20 in ’07. He wins it in 2010 and doesn’t finish in the top 25 in 2011. He got close in 2015 when Spieth ran away with it.
We’ve seen better play out of Phil this season, but it’s so hit or miss with his golf game. There are weeks when he looks like the best player in the world again and there are weeks when he doesn’t look like he’ll win again. But I think when Phil gets to this place, he always believes he has a chance.
Giuffra: What do you expect the course to play like?
Bacon: It always depends on the weather. They always want it to play firm and fast, but it all depends on the weather they’re having that week. They’re going to get rain. They always get rain. Part of the tradition unlike any other is you get rain. On Thursday and Friday, it seems like every single year they get rain and the golf course will play a bit different. Really it comes down to that. They can pull water out of the green all they want, but if they get a really wet week, it’s going to play completely different than what we’ve seen in years past. But if it doesn’t rain much at all, it will play like when Zach Johnson won. It would be fun to see it dried out. We’ve gotten so much rain the last few years, it would be fun to see it get a little bit baked and see how it would play and who would take advantage of the golf course.
Giuffra: What’s your favorite Masters memory?
Bacon: I have two. My first Masters story, I was just getting into golf as a teenager, I was a humongous Phil Mickelson fan. It was Easter weekend in East Texas where I grew up and we had to go to my aunt’s lake house. My aunt had a 15-inch television with rabbit ears, so I wasn’t exactly excited about having to go to the lake house. And as Phil started making his run on the back nine, my entire family, like 20 people, we’re all packed into this bedroom watching this tiny TV and every Phil putt that went in we were all going crazy. So I always remember that as kind of a fan experience.
At the Masters, I remember in the playoff with Sergio and I was covering it. Kevin Van Valkenburg and I were doing the dance between the media center and being on the course. As a media member, you’re not allowed to have your phone on the course, so there’s no access to the rest of the world and what’s going on, so sometimes it’s better to be in the media center late. But when it got to a playoff, we said we had to go out and we wound up going down the wrong side of 18 because we were in such a frantic rush and it just so happened that was when Rose hit that shot that hit the tree and the ball dropped down about five feet from where we were standing. And so we had this unbelievable view and we did it all by mistake. It was a complete screw up. But it was fun to see in person the shot that Justin Rose had and then seeing the reaction of Sergio when his dad ran out of the clubhouse and the reaction of his family finally getting that first major championship. It was pretty cool to see all that unfold and how much euphoria that happens when a player wins a green jacket.
Giuffra: What’s one thing people can’t appreciate watching on TV?
Bacon: More than the course, because you always hear about the undulation and the greens are a lot wilder when you see it in person, my thing is I just love watching the people. I love seeing a dad and his daughter or a grandad and his son walking around the property. You can see in their faces if they’ve ever been there before or not.
I asked on Twitter for people to share their experience about their first trip to the Masters and you get these stories, and these people are pouring their hearts out and they remember it like it was yesterday. I just like watching that. And what I love, and it’s one of the only places in the world this happens anymore, is no one is on their phone. There are no phones, they’re not allowed. Everyone is just taking in the experience. They’re only accepting what they’re seeing through their eyes.
Giuffra: What would your Masters champions dinner be?
Bacon: It’s kind of a cheat because they make the food, you can’t cater food in. But there’s a place in Shreveport, Louisiana called Herby K’s. And my family has been going there for generations. It’s this run-down restaurant that has the best cajun food of all time. It’s got the shrimp buster and Étouffée and raw oysters on the half shell and it’s kind of this family tradition of ours. So I would serve that. I’ve said that since I was like 10 years old.
Giuffra: How can golf improve broadcast coverage?
Bacon: It’s hard to say. I love some of the stuff that’s going on right now. I love the fact that the PGA Tour introduced PGA Tour Live and keeps pouring money into that and expand that out. It allows fans to see golf at a time they never used to see it. I always would love more coverage, but being in the broadcast side of that, I also understand the handcuffs that come with it. You’ve got cameras guys out there for eight hours and you can’t ask them to stay out there for 16 hours. I think a lot of time people don’t understand that, the manpower it takes to cover a golf tournament. A golf tournament undertaking is bigger than the Super Bowl. You have 18 greens to cover, you have all these players to cover. It’s a big, big deal and it’s a lot harder than maybe it seems at home.
One thing I’d like to see is not showing tap ins. When a guy hits it up there one maybe two feet away and you have all this other stuff going on, you don’t need to see him tap it in. You can have the announcer sell that later on. It happens a lot now. But sometimes you stay in a group and a guy has a gimme and you’re going, we could go somewhere else and see another shot. Maybe avoiding an inevitable shot. You can leave that hole and show some other golf. But for the most part, I think it’s improving. It’s getting better every year and the coverage is expanding. There’s so much golf to show now.
Giuffra: Fox has been very innovative. Are you going to use anything new this year for the U.S. Open?
Bacon: There’s going to be some stuff, there’s always some new stuff. I’ll wait and let the execs announce that. But they’re always trying new things, maybe screen grabs and images of potential graphics. and that’s one of my favorite things about working at Fox. They’re always willing to try things and sometimes they get it right and sometimes they get it wrong and they’ll be the first to admit that.
I will say, there’s a really cool opportunity this year to get all the champions at Pebble Beach together. I’m hoping something like transpires. Because if you look back from the first Pebble Beach champion down the line, all of those champions are still with us and still able to come out and chat. So that’s a rare opportunity and something we don’t normally get when you think of Shinnecock and Oakmont, which have been hosting U.S. Opens since the early 1900s.
I’ll tell you his, you get Pebble Beach for the U.S. Open and you just throw a camera out there and say, we’re going to show it to you. It’s such an unbelievable place. The golf course and the views and some of the shots we’re going to get to see. It’s hard to beat. There are some golf course that are meant to host U.S. Opens and Pebble Beach is on that very short list.