Newly hired Shane Bacon and his co-host Damon Hack walked into NBC Sports’ headquarters for their first Golf Today show on Jan. 6 with a general idea of how the day would play out.
Just a few hours before going on air, coordinating producer Matt Hegarty got a message from Molly Solomon, Golf Channel’s executive vice president of content and executive producer, saying something was going on with commissioner Mike Whan at the LPGA but she didn’t know what. They got the press release that Whan was stepping down from his post just two hours before the show.
“It set the tone for having a rundown, and then all of a sudden that rundown is no good anymore because we’ve got breaking news,” said Hack.
“I looked at Shane and Damon and we were like, ‘Okay, this show’s going to write itself. It’s going to be what it’s going to be,’” said Hegarty, who started as a freelance production assistant with Golf Channel in August of 1999 and has been with the network in varying roles since.
The surprises didn’t stop there in the show’s debut week.
Former analyst Lisa Cornwell outlined allegations of mistreatment by network executives on an episode of the No Laying Up podcast the week the show debuted. In their second day together, Hack addressed the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony for Annika Sorenstam and Gary Player that occurred just blocks away from the United States Capitol after a mob stormed the building just 24 hours earlier. That Saturday, Justin Thomas used a homophobic slur that ultimately cost him a major endorsement.
Amidst the chaos, Golf Today thrived. With the friendly, familiar faces of Anna Whiteley and Jimmy Roberts hosting on Monday and Tuesday and Bacon and Hack steering the ship through the weekend, the network’s new show – which replaced Morning Drive when Golf channel relocated late last year from Orlando to NBC Sports’ headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut – has been a bright spot during a time of turmoil.
“It was invigorating. It was really a challenge for us to see what we could do,” said Hack of the wild first week. “At one point I called it TV boot camp and thought, ‘What will they throw at us next?’ You couldn’t make it up, it was like a magician pulling stuff out of a hat.”
“It was controlled chaos that turned out to be something I was very proud of with how nimble we were early on,” added Bacon.
“When you get a wild week like that with everybody both in front of and behind the camera executing at a high level, it’s fun. It’s exciting,” explained Hegarty, who thought the show exceeded expectations in the first week. “I don’t know what else we could have done differently.”
Courtesy of golf’s blossoming bromance
The off-air conversations between Bacon and Hack have largely centered around where the two will tee it up in their new northeast home when they’re not in studio.
“We’re free agents. It’s not on us to go find the club or the team,” joked Bacon. “We’re just trying to see if there’s potential interest.”
“They know where to find us!” Hack quickly added. “My email’s out there. Send a message on Instagram!” Bacon returned. “We’ve got no shame, we’re not too proud to beg,” Hack replied.
That’s the kind of repartee you can come to expect for two hours a day Wednesday-Sunday from Golf Channel’s blossoming bromance. It’s not forced. It’s not manipulated. It’s natural, and it’s carrying the show through its chaotic infancy.
“Damon is as good as anyone I’ve ever worked with in TV,” admitted Bacon, who previously worked for Fox and also co-hosts the Get a Grip podcast with PGA Tour player Max Homa. “It’s almost like a great punch out from the trees. It’s not a sexy golf shot, but it gets you back in play and Damon hits unbelievable punch shots back into play when I drive to a bad spot.”
“I said to my wife, ‘Gosh, he’s so good. He’s already made me better.’” Hack returned.
Bacon’s analogy aside, the two have actually worked together before on the course. In 2014 they paired up for Matt Ginella’s annual buddy trip, the Uncle Tony Invitational.
“Shane Bacon is a baller. He’s a player,” said Hack of his co-host. “He has college on his resume, mini tours, USGA qualifying, and he carried me all over Bandon Dunes on a very happy, watercolor memory week back in 2014 where we won the Uncle Tony Invitational.
“Just as he brings out my best TV, he brought out our best golf and we won because he freed me up.”
Compared to its early-morning predecessor, Hegarty wanted Golf Today to bring the same energy that Morning Drive brought to the network for years. Hack is more focused on the relationships, recalling how he used to have people tell him, “man you guys really like each other” on Morning Drive.
If you’ve seen a second of the show, you’ll know enthusiasm and camaraderie aren’t a problem for Bacon and Hack. In fact, the two like each other so much they even went car shopping together. (No word on the make or model, but they are buying American.)
“We have a chance to be even more spontaneous than we were on Morning Drive,” added Hack, who wants viewers to be not only be entertained but also informed. “We want to have some staples that people become used to, but it also gives us the chance to react and be spontaneous and fun where the viewer doesn’t always know where we’re going. I think that could be really captivating, as well.”
The Whan news is a prime example. The old show would have been over before the press release made it to their inboxes. With a later show, the two were able to interview Whan and analyze the news on-air. If Whan was Exhibit A, the tough timing of the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony was Exhibit B just a day later.
“When Damon came out hard on the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony, that was from the heart,” said Hegarty. “We sat there and talked about it and he was like, ‘I’m tired of this. I’m tired of this.’ It meant something to him and therefore it meant something to me and it meant something to the show. And it meant something to everyone who worked on it.”
How’s that for building relationships in your first week of work?
“I thought it was extremely powerful,” added Bacon. “Speaking in a sport that is pretty conservative and saying what he said, it’s taking a risk. Even if everyone in this building is behind you, there’s going to be people out there who are going to hate on you and rip you on social. So to sit there the second show and hear your partner, your buddy, step out of the comfort zone to say something like that, the most special moment for me from the first week was getting to hear it.”
And just like clockwork there they go, complimenting each other again.