Mic’d Up: High-profile LPGA pros are moonlighting as TV reporters at this week’s CME Group Tour Championship
Maria Fassi and Jessica Korda didn't qualify to play in the CME Group Tour Championship, but will be walking inside the ropes this week as TV reporters for ESPN+ streaming coverage of the LPGA season finale.
NAPLES, Fla. — While 60 LPGA players are in the field at this week's CME Group Tour Championship, 62 will be walking the course during the LPGA Tour's final event of the 2023 season. Maria Fassi and Jessica Korda, who are not playing at Tiburon Golf Club, will be on-air talents doing on-course reporting and interviews for ESPN+'s 30 hours of featured groups coverage.
The opportunity came together quickly. Only two weeks ago, after the end of the Toto Japan Classic and shortly after Fassi talked with fellow tour members that she would want to do TV after her playing career, she got a text from Matt Chmura, the LPGA's Chief Marketing, Communications and Brand Officer. He asked if Fassi would be interested in commentating if she didn't play her way to the Tour Championship.
"I was like, ‘yeah, why not?’" Fassi said. "Let's give it a shot."
Fassi finished 76th on the CME points list to miss being eligible for the CME, this pivoting to work with Korda, who has been away from the tour most of the year and announced her pregnancy in August. The players will work alongside Chantel McCade as reporters at Tiburon Golf Club. It's a full-circle moment for McCabe, from commenting on Fassi's play during featured group coverage at last year's Walmart NW Arkansas Championship to working alongside her this week.
McCabe had an initial call with both Fassi and Korda to begin preparing them for the intricate nuances of a TV broadcast beyond simply commentating, from calling a taped shot, to battling static in your ear while your producer is asking you to talk, to the logistics of where they can and cannot walk following their groups.
That education continued through Wednesday, as the group has already encountered unexpected hurdles. Tiburon shut down Wednesday due to heavy rains, preventing the trio from charting the course in person. While Korda has played at the CME 10 times in her career, giving her plenty of course knowledge to lean on during the broadcast, Fassi only played once in 2020, and McCabe has never walked all 18 holes. McCabe explained the best way for the pair to prepare would usually be to talk with a player or caddie who has plenty of experience at Tiburon, but even that didn't pan out. One of the players McCabe was closest to slept in past noon and ended up not meeting her in person.
Before meeting with Fassi and Korda on Wednesday, McCabe also sent them a reminder email of key points they've discussed. At the top of the list was the need to bring snacks to eat while working their eight-hour days.
Despite limited preparation time for Korda and Fassi, they've already become quick studies. McCabe came away quite impressed at the level of detail in their questions and feeling their understanding is ahead of where she was when beginning her broadcasting career.
"They know the game," McCabe said. "They just got to get kind of comfortable with the flow in the order of how things work and reacting. They're ready."
With Fassi's only on-air experience being a couple of 15-minute segments of sitting in the booth and calling a few shots during LPGA telecasts and no practice rehearsal ahead of the CME, she studiously searched for advice on the best way to commentate. Fassi reached out to Angela Stanford, who expanded her own on-air commentating role with Golf Channel this year, as well as fellow Arkansas Razorback and former Golf Channel reporter Lisa Cornwell. She continued seeking perspectives through Wednesday, as after Fassi walked into the CME media center, she chatted with current Golf Channel reporter Amy Rogers on any tips she might have.
Fassi's broad search for advice even went back to family and friends, discussing what they do and do not like in TV broadcasts for her to bring a fresh approach. While Fassi recalled specific advice from each person she talked to, the most important one was simpler said than done- just be herself.
"Remember you're the expert, that's why you're the one calling the shots," Fassi said.
Being an active player while commentating continues a change in trends from the past. Morgan Pressel worked on-air for a few years before pivoting full-time to broadcasting in 2022. Mel Reid worked as a pre- and post-game analyst at the U.S. Women's Open at Pebble Beach in July, and at the Netflix Cup on Tuesday, current PGA Tour player Joel Dahmen served his usual sense of humor under the watchful eye of the Vegas sphere.
Their current playing perspective provides a different angle than the standard path of retiring and then becoming a broadcaster that golf has followed for so long. Fassi is already taking advantage of being close to her peers and aware of their day-to-day feelings on tour. She has approached some of the players about interesting facts she knows about their personal lives and whether or not they would be comfortable with that going on air.
"I think it's honestly going to be a little bit easier maybe for them to open up about different things," Fassi said. "For them to feel like they're talking to a friend and not a legend."
The potential for more player commentary could be on the horizon on 2024 as on Thursday the LPGA and ESPN announced a two-year partnership deal to add ESPN+ streaming coverage from eight LPGA events starting next year.
The Featured Groups broadcast starts with the Andrea Lee/Madelene Sagstrom pairing at 7:45 a.m. ET, the first group off at CME. Korda and Fassi will have plenty of on-air time for fans interested in seeing more from Tiburon, as the stream is the only way to watch the action until Golf Channel's coverage begins on Peacock at 2 p.m. ET. Over that window, it's possible Jessica might call her sister's action, as the Nelly Korda/Yuka Saso 11:15 a.m. is the fourth and final featured group of Thursday's broadcast, a fitting first for incorporating active players into on-air roles.
"I know that those nerves are going to be there for them and I'm excited," McCabe said, "I get a front row seat to it."