Ryder Cup: TV anchor expects Scots scrutiny

David Livingstone, right, with English golfer David Howell, left, and US coach Butch Harmon. Picture: Contributed
David Livingstone, right, with English golfer David Howell, left, and US coach Butch Harmon. Picture: Contributed
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DAVID Livingstone has a sore throat, which is not ideal. The last thing he needs, just days before of his tenth Ryder Cup, the first to be held in his homeland since 1973, is to be let down by the most important tool of his trade. A television presenter without his voice is about as much use as a golfer without his clubs.

Just back from another trip to the United States, Livingstone thinks air conditioning was to blame, or maybe a temperature drop in either Denver or Atlanta – yes, somebody has to do it – but the good news is that he is over the worst. “A couple of days back in Scotland’s fresh air, and I’m nearly there,” he says.

Which comes as a relief, not just for Livingstone, but for Sky Sports, who have grown to depend on him as the anchor of their international golf programming, whether it be on the PGA Tour, the European Tour or their subscriber-grabbing live coverage of the biennial showdown between Europe and USA.

At home in Newton Mearns last week, Livingstone was readying himself for the big one. Hosting Sky’s broadcast of a Ryder Cup in his own country is as good as it is likely to get for the Scot, who admits that “the ultimate experience” will also be the ultimate challenge.

“The pressure is on,” he says. “You know how the Scottish public is. The scrutiny is quite severe when you are one of their own. So I’ll have to be on the ball. In a foreign land, there can be a fact wrong or a slip of the tongue, and it is overlooked. In the Ryder Cup, I don’t think the viewers are so forgiving. If I make any mistakes about the area around Gleneagles, or about Scottish golf, I’ll really be exposed.”

Livingstone was brought up in Renfrew, part of a working-class family that was more interested in football than golf. At one stage, he played for Drumchapel Amateurs, albeit not so well as his brother, Colin, who also made a few appearances for Arbroath.

Aware very quickly that there were no job prospects on the field, he studied journalism at Edinburgh College of Commerce before serving an apprenticeship in newspapers, starting his broadcasting career with STV and later joining BSB, whose merger with Sky Sports started the satellite revolution.

His big break was getting the golf gig. Initially a football reporter who delivered bulletins from the likes of Mansfield and Crewe’s Gresty Road, Livingstone suddenly found himself at Sawgrass and Oakmont. His first Ryder Cup, at Oak Hill Country Club, New York, in 1995, is still his favourite.

In those days, Sky’s working conditions were “almost primitive”, but they have come a long way since then, transforming golf coverage with a comprehensive and innovative approach that has funded the European Tour’s growth into new markets, such as Asia.

“Sky has quite clearly changed the landscape of European golf,” says Livingstone. “Although there is a time difference, we can show these events live through the night, as well as on weekdays, and it allows the Tour to establish a commercial enterprise beyond Europe.”

By covering tournaments every week, in conjunction with European Tour Productions, there is a level of expertise and commitment beyond other broadcasters. Livingstone describes it as a “really close” partnership. Others, who prefer their journalists to be independent, might describe it as unhealthy.

“That’s a fair point,” he says. “I think we have been critical at times, but we do it in a different kind of way. We don’t sit on the sidelines and carp. If you’re going to criticise, do it from a position of honesty, with fact-based information. From time to time, you’ll hear our commentators being critical of a Tour policy, or the way they handle things, but standing on the sidelines and just being negative is not what we do.”

There have been embarrassing moments. When Livingston was presenting the 1998 French Open trophy to Sam Torrance, he inexplicably referred to the winner as “Frank”. And, in an early interview with Greg Norman, the Australian berated him for asking the wrong question. “I was only teaching you a little bit about live TV,” said Norman later.

Twenty years on, Livingstone is an old hand. The continued presence of a journalist at the heart of Sky’s coverage is a refreshing throwback to Steve Ryder and the days before studios were the preserve only of celebrities and former players.

“I like the idea that journalism still has a role, not just because I am one, but because there are situations where your natural curiosity helps you through. On the first day of the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor when the weather came in, we had to keep going for seven hours and 43 minutes without any golf whatsoever. To be given that amount of time to ask all the questions I had inside me... I really enjoyed it.”

This year, on a channel dedicated to the event, Livingstone will oil the wheels of a production that includes the commentary of Ewen Murray, as well as the punditry of Butch Harmon, Darren Clarke and Colin Montgomerie, who has reinvented himself as a staple of the Sky package.

“He’s a real trouper,” says Livingstone. “He stays in the same hotel as we do, he travels on the same flights and he sits in the back of our rental car. Outside of the Ryder Cup, I don’t think he’s ever been part of a team. I think he really enjoys the camaraderie. I’m always kidding him about the past. Whenever he criticises a player’s bad behaviour, we just raise our eyebrows.”

How Montgomerie, so often the only Scot in Europe’s team, must wish he was playing this week. Instead, it will be Stephen Gallacher flying the saltire, in front of his ain folk no less. Livingstone thinks it is just another one of many factors that stack up in favour of the home side.

“I would always, for safety’s sake, tip the Americans, in the hope that I’m wrong, but this time, I just can’t see any other way than Europe. When you look at the recent form of the key European players and the recent form of the Americans, well, Tom Watson is going to have to pull something really special out of the hat.”

Sky Sports will ‘Bring The Noise’ from the 2014 Ryder Cup exclusively live on TV, mobile, online and via NOW TV including the Week Pass.