Shane Bacon (USGA/Ben Solomon)
When you work in golf, the pull to play golf is strong. It also requires some creativity and quite a bit of timing. Shane Bacon is a case study in that.
Once the USGA’s summer golf circuit ramps up, Bacon is somewhat tethered. He’s a big part of Fox’s coverage, having done everything from play-by-play coverage to player interviews to booth work since he came on in 2015. Bacon can play the game as well as he can talk about it, and even though every other U.S. Open local qualifying attempt had come up short in the more than 10-year span since he turned professional after college, Bacon caught fire in this year’s effort.
He had a 3-under 68 to take the last sectional-qualifying spot out of Phoenix (Ariz.) Country Club, his home course. He was carrying his own bag.
Bacon was also already scheduled to host FS1’s U.S. Open sectional coverage on June 3, the day when 10 of 12 sectionals go off. Luckily, there was a one-off sectional on May 20 in Dallas, but it started less than 24 hours after Bacon finished his duties in the booth at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.
For a shot at the Pebble Beach, you make it work.
Bacon, a journeyman lefty with a +2.5 handicap, sprinted out the door in his jacket and tie once the broadcast wrapped at Pine Needles in Southern Pines, N.C., and drove straight to the Raleigh, N.C., airport. He took a good-luck phone call from Fox producer Mark Loomis on the drive.
Bacon on the job (USGA/Darren Carroll)
“I had probably 30 minutes to work with in terms of construction or an accident,” he said.
He flew to Dallas and made his 8:10 a.m. tee time on Bent Tree Country Club, a course he had never seen. The afternoon round was at Northwood Club, another layout he’d never seen.
Unfamiliarity can be a blessing sometimes. Bacon references a par 5 during the opening nine at Bent Tree. After a good drive, he and caddie Rusty Reynolds (“My best buddy in the world,”) wavered between hitting 3-wood or 2-iron into the green. They agreed on the 3-wood, which Bacon tugged a little left. When he arrived at his ball, he discovered an out-of-bounds area roughly two yards right of the green.
“Really glad I didn’t know that was there,” he said.
Bacon estimates that lack of practice rounds probably cost him two or three shots per round. Still, he opened with 73 and followed with 77 in a swirling Texas wind. He holed a 65-footer – with two feet of break – for a closing birdie.
“It was my Nicklaus moment,” he said.
At 9 over, he was 13 shots from earning the last of the 10 available spots.
Throughout his golf life, Bacon estimates he has tried U.S. Open local qualifying seven or eight times. He played well enough once to hang around most of a day waiting to see if he made a playoff (he didn’t), but otherwise had never sniffed sectionals.
Bacon might have the most interesting resume in golf media. He bounced around the mini-tours after graduating from the University of Arizona in 2006. He caddied at St. Andrews and on the LPGA. He podcasts, tweets and talks golf. His career is the definition of grassroots.
Bacon is also a newly reinstated amateur, which opens up a world of possibilities.
Seeking reinstatement is something he wishes he’d done sooner. To the hopeful pros out there, Bacon has this message: “When the realization hits you that you’re not going to be a pro, just get your amateur status back as quick as possible.”
Few sports have active crossover between the booth and the playing field, so had Bacon reached the U.S. Open, it would have been unprecedented. Even with as many golf experiences as he has, grinding through sectionals brought some revelations that will enhance his work for Fox.
Bacon was paired with Martin Laird, a Scotsman with three PGA Tour titles, for the 36-hole sectional. Despite playing with other professionals from time to time, even PGA Tour players, Bacon had never really seen a man grinding in his element from this vantage point.
“Being right there, hearing them talk, just the confident nature of the caddie to the player – both being pros – was something I really found amazing,” Bacon said. “It was something that being out there now, I’ll be paying a little bit more attention to. Getting to see those guys up close, getting to see the shots they hit, the way they prep – being in that world first-hand was priceless for me as a broadcaster.”
Over the course of this week-long dream, Bacon got more support from his Fox co-workers and social media at large than he was expecting, which says a lot for how much he downplayed the significance of the whole thing.
“I guess it was a bigger deal than I thought it was to be a part of this.”