By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
Joe Buck is back in golf at another major, this time the PGA Championship with ESPN. He’ll be sharing his space with the likes of Fred Couples and Charles Barkley, and Peyton and Eli Manning will be sure to drop in.
Buck is leading what amounts to a “ManningCast” next week at Southern Hills.
ESPN, which has the weekday rights to the PGA Championship with extended coverage on ESPN+, says the alternate telecast will be produced in collaboration with Peyton Manning’s Omaha Productions.
Buck, who previously led U.S. Open coverage when it was on Fox Sports from 2015 through 2019, will host the show with Michael Collins of ESPN. The Mannings will be guests at some point during the tournament, and other guests include Couples and Barkley, Troy Aikman, Josh Allen and actor Jon Hamm.
The ManningCast got strong reviews during “Monday Night Football” last year.
“We loved doing ‘Monday Night Football’ with ESPN and the entire Omaha team has been looking forward to producing alternate telecasts that celebrate other sports,” Peyton Manning said. “As one of golf’s majors, the PGA Championship is a perfect place to do our first one for golf and we look forward to working with Joe, Michael and everyone in ESPN’s golf team.”
The alternate telecast will be shown for four hours a day during all four rounds. It will air from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT on Thursday and Friday during the final hour of live coverage on ESPN+ and then move to ESPN2 for the last three hours (as coverage moves to ESPN). On the weekend, Buck & Co. will be on from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on ESPN (live coverage is on ESPN+) and then switch to ESPN+ as live coverage shifts to ESPN until 1 p.m.
CBS Sports has the final six hours of the weekend telecast.
The ManningCast earlier this year extended its deal with “Monday Night Football” to add a fourth year through 2024. ESPN is in the third year of an 11-year agreement to televise the PGA Championship.
The Wells Fargo Championship had its weakest field since the tournament began in 2003, with Max Homa getting 44 points for winning, down from 60 a year ago.
Was it the one-time move to the TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm because the traditional site, Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, is hosting the Presidents Cup later this year?
Or are players still trying to figure out a schedule with the PGA Championship now in its third year of being played in May?
Until this year, the fewest ranking points awarded the Wells Fargo winner was 50 on three occasions: 2014 (one year after the greens were a weather-related wreck); 2017 (held at Eagle Point because the PGA was at Quail Hollow) and 2019 (the first year of the PGA Championship moving to May).
The Wells Fargo winner received 60 points last year, and perhaps that was about location — the PGA Championship was at Kiawah Island, about 225 miles from Quail.
Next year the PGA Championship is at Oak Hill in Rochester, New York.
The last two weeks on the PGA Tour featured only one player from the top 15 — Jon Rahm in the Mexico Open (he won) and Rory McIlroy at Wells Fargo (fifth place). Both will have played only once between majors.
The PGA Championship is next week, and the AT&T Byron Nelson has four of the top 10 players and six of the top 15, starting with world No. 1 and Masters champion Scottie Scheffler (who is from Dallas).
Meanwhile, none of the top 15 players in the world will have played more than two times during the five weeks between majors. Brooks Koepka and Hideki Matsuyama are playing the AT&T Byron Nelson this week, their first competition since the Masters.
It will be telling to see what kind of field Wells Fargo attracts next year at Quail Hollow, and whether the less-than-stellar field was more about TPC Potomac or more about May.
US OPEN UPDATE
Now that the PGA Championship field is set, exemptions for the U.S. Open are closing in. Any player among the top 60 in the world ranking after the PGA Championship will not have to go through qualifying.
That made for a small consolation prize for Keegan Bradley after his runner-up finish in the Wells Fargo Championship. Bradley moved up 20 spots to No. 44 and is a lock to stay in the top 60 and avoid qualifying.
Among those outside the top 60 and running out of time are Lee Westwood (No. 64) and Bubba Watson (No. 66). Watson has played in every U.S. Open since 2011.
The top 60 from the June 6 world ranking — Monday of U.S. Open week — also are exempt.
PATH TO LPGA
The LPGA Tour no longer will allow college players to retain their amateur status and compete in the final stage of tour qualifying.
The LPGA in 2018 allowed college players to compete in Q-Series — eight rounds over two weeks — and if they earned LPGA cards, to wait until July to take up membership. That allowed them to finish college or the spring semester. Jennifer Kupcho and Maria Fassi were two examples of that.
Starting this year, college players can still go through the early stages of Q-school, but they would have to turn pro if they make it to the Q-Series and try to earn a card.
Ricki Lasky, the chief tour business and operations officer for the LPGA, said it was all about a level playing field. The LPGA reached its decision after input from LPGA players and the college community.
Players who already have turned pro don’t have another semester of college to fall back on if they don’t make it, a freedom that college players might have.
Key to the decision is allowing college players in the early stages. Anyone making it to the final stage (Q-Series) is assured of Epson Tour status. That would allow them to compete on the developmental circuit and start earning money toward an LPGA card.
“Ensuring all competitors have made the same choice to be a professional player elevates the Q-Series competition and creates the most appropriate options for athletes at different stages of their careers,” Lasky said.
Kevin Kisner and his wife, Brittany, have received the Augusta University President’s Award for philanthropic support to the Children’s Hospital of Georgia. They pledged $5.3 million to help establish a center for pediatric development, behavioral health and wellness. … S.H. Kim has earned enough Korn Ferry Tour points to assure the 23-year-old South Korean will have a PGA Tour card next season. Carl Yuan of China is the only other player to have reached that level this year. … The Constellation Furyk & Friends tournament made its PGA Tour Champions debut by raising $1.7 million for local charities. … Wells Fargo Championship winner Max Homa is the first player to win a regular PGA Tour event twice on different courses since Brandt Snedeker in the Wyndham Championship in 2007 at Forest Oaks and in 2018 at Sedgefield. Homa won at Quail Hollow in 2019 and TPC Potomac this year. … Ludvig Aberg of Texas Tech, Sam Bennett of Texas A&M and Eugenio Chacarra of Oklahoma State are the three finalists for the Ben Hogan Award that goes to the nation’s top college golfer. The winner will be announced May 23 and receive an exemption the following year to the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial.
STAT OF THE WEEK
The last five major champions at Southern Hills are in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
“I just feel if I keep putting myself in these positions, hopefully I’ll convert one of them.” — Keegan Bradley, who has failed to convert his last four 54-hole leads on the PGA Tour.
More AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports