One of sports media’s top golf TV jobs opened up Sunday as NBC Sports dropped Paul Azinger as its lead analyst.
The network will audition several possible lead analysts alongside host Dan Hicks before the new PGA Tour season kicks into high gear in January/February, sources told Front Office Sports.
Among the possible internal contenders at NBC are former Open Champion Justin Leonard, outspoken Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, and Brad Faxon.
Rising on-course reporter Smylie Kaufman could also get a bigger role, said sources.
“Historically, the lead analyst at the networks has always been a major champion,” said a source. “But I don’t know if they need that any more. NBC does have Justin Leonard — and they do like him. And he’s a major champion.”
The feeling inside and outside of NBC was that the 63-year-old Azinger (who won the 1993 PGA Championship) never lived up to his TV predecessor Johnny Miller.
The straight-shooting Miller, a two-time major champion, earned a reputation as arguably the greatest golf analyst of all time during his NBC tenure from 1990 to 2019.
Meanwhile, golf viewers ripped Azinger’s analysis during NBC’s coverage of the 2023 U.S. Open, according to Awful Announcing.
“Everything Azinger says gets proven wrong three seconds later,” complained one viewer on Twitter.
“Can’t fire him fast enough,” added another NBC viewer.
Outside NBC, we will see whether Sir Nick Faldo, former lead analyst for CBS Sports, would want to do a full-time TV gig again.
Azinger was also damaged by the rise of CBS Sports analyst Trevor Immelman. The 2008 Masters winner became CBS’s fifth lead analyst this year, succeeding Faldo. He’s been a hit with viewers and the overall golf industry.
NBC declined to renew Azinger’s five-year contract, according to Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press, who broke the news. Over the last year, NBC also declined to renew the contracts of long-time analysts Roger Maltbie and Gary Koch.
Azinger was preparing to call Tiger Woods’ return to competitive golf at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3.
Still, he seemed caught off guard by the decision. Before joining NBC, he previously worked as an analyst for ABC, ESPN, and Fox Sports.
“I have treasured working beside Dan Hicks and the other talented NBC broadcasters as well as lead producer Tommy Roy and all those behind the scenes,” he told the AP.
“They are a remarkable team, and I will miss them tremendously. My thanks to them and the countless others who have supported me and helped me along the way during my work in television. I have faith in what the future holds for me, for NBC, and for the great game of golf.”