Men in Blazers Expands to Golf, Adds Show From The Open in Scotland (Exclusive)

Men in Blazers at Carnoustie - Publicity - P 2018
Courtesy of NBC Golf

Roger Bennett and Michael Davies talk Tiger Woods, the U.S. women's national soccer team's pay equity battle and their most popular guest.

Roger Bennett and Michael Davies — the football mad Men in Blazers — will expand their brand to golf with a five-day series on NBCSN from The Open, the game’s oldest major, which this year returns to Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland. The duo contributed to NBC's coverage of last year's tournament, but this year, they will get their own regular show, which will air July 18-22 after play finishes.

“The show from The Open is a natural extension for The Men in Blazers, who have built a devoted following among NBCSN viewers with their unique style of commentary and wide range of guests from the worlds of sports and entertainment," says Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports Group. Carnoustie Golf Links, one of the oldest courses in the world, hosted its first Open in 1930. NBC and Golf Channel will devote 180 hours to the event — including 50 hours of live tournament coverage — beginning Tuesday and running through July 22.

Bennett and Davies' Men In Blazers soccer podcast originated on Bill Simmons’ ESPN site Grantland, and in 2014 became a highly watchable weekly show on NBCSN, which carries the Premiere League. They already have taped a segment on the "Carnoustie diaspora,” as Bennett puts it, including its role in evangelizing the game of golf — the game was first played there in the 16th century — and the famed (who knew?) Carnoustie bridie (meat pie). 

Both men have deep connections to golf. Davies has played at Carnoustie, so has his grandfather, who was quite a good golfer, he says. "It was one of the highlights of his life," says Davies. "Many of the great American courses were populated by golf pros, course designers, instructors from Carnoustie. It really is the course and the club that took the game out of Scotland and around the world. So we’re excited to tell that story."

Adds Bennett: "You can really trace the development of the modern game of golf back to Carnoustie. In many ways Carnoustie is the source of the river. And our fans will say it will be nice for them to see us to cover a sport that we actually know something about for a change."

The Hollywood Reporter talked further with Bennett and Davies, below.

What can viewers expect from a Men in Blazers golf?

Michael Davies The Men in Blazers show that we made for Premiere League is sort of a formula for us. It’s a formula based on our limited capability to make television. And so we’re going to be in a very cramped space and we are going to be reporting — and I use that in pencil, inside inverted commas, in italics or however you want to use the word reporting — on everything that happens each day. Some of it [will be] from a golf perspective, some of it from a narrative, storyline character perspective, and some of it from the comedic perspective. We find sports incredibly serious and incredibly engaging but also incredibly funny. And what Rog and I essentially try to do with everything is make each other laugh. And golf makes us both laugh. It’s going to be a lot like our TV show about football, except it’s going to be about The Open.

Roger Bennett Both of us being from the United Kingdom, The Open just looms so large in our formative experiences, watching legends try and tame nature, that’s ultimately what we like about golf, watching humanity battle nature. Nature always wins that battle, especially at Carnoustie. There will be great moments of athletic fearlessness, there will be unbelievable failures. There will be life. There will be death. There will be fear. There will be loathing. I’ll be there, so there will be lots of self-loathing. And it will be wrapped up in polyester leisurewear. So what could be better?

Davies It’s nice for us to go anywhere in the world where we are joined by literally thousands of men wearing blazers.

Will Tiger Woods ever win another major?

Davies He’s still a contender. The amazing thing about golf is that these tournaments are wide open. Different people tend to win every single major every year. It’s remarkable that we had repeat winner at the U.S. Open. [Brooks Koepka won his second consecutive U.S. Open title this year at Shinnecock, making him that tournament’s first repeat winner in 29 years.] You’re now looking at this new generation of young golfers like Koepka and DJ [Dustin Johnson]; they’re hitting the ball even further with less club. They have tremendous short games, killer instincts. So Tiger is coming back as a more senior golfer trying to compete with these younger guys who can outdrive him, and mentally they’ve got that toughness that Tiger was dominant with at his peak.

Bennett Americans always need their POV on any sport. For the World Cup, it’s Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. For the NBA, it’s LeBron [James] and Steph Curry. For the NFL, it’s Tom Brady. Tiger is the John Snow of golf. He’s the everything. He is the one globally universally recognized human being. It’s the one instantly grabbable, accessible POV for every single sports fan and golf curious fan. It’s like Tiger first and golf second. To be candid, I’m only doing this for the golf sweaters. But for your average American, Tiger is everything.

Who are the on-air golf analysts who have had the most influence on you?

Davies Mike Tirico [NBC’s lead sportscaster, who came to the network in 2016 after a long career at ESPN] has been a fantastic friend to Men in Blazers. He’s been a guest on our show multiple times. We actually started a religion called Tiricoism; he is the high priest of Tiricoism. He briefly had his Wikipedia page changed by one of our fans, referring to that as his religion. So we’re massive Mike Tirico fans. We grew up watching and listening to the commentary of Peter Alliss [on the BBC]. To some extent, there’s a lot of influence of Peter Alliss on Men in Blazers because he talked about so much more than just the golf. The characters, storylines; he brought these people alive. He brought the locations and the tournaments alive.

Bennett I only watch for Tirico, to be candid. He has got superpowers. Not just the power of precision and backtiming going into the break, of which he is a Jedi master. But just the way he is able to fill time and space, the way he is able to be omnipresent. One of the reasons we’re going to Carnoustie is the opportunity to work with him again.

Your book Encyclopedia Blazertannica is on the New York Times best-seller list. I read somewhere that you are both fans of encyclopedias…

Davies We grew up with the Pears’ Cyclopedia, that was a one-volume encyclopedia that we both had in our houses. And this was basically the internet, you could find out about anything in the world. I read the Pears’ Cyclopedia cover to cover multiple times. It was pretty quickly when we decided that we were going to do a book that we would write it in encyclopedia form.

Bennett When we were growing up pre-internet, we all had this little encyclopedia, and no matter what the problem or question — What was the 52nd country in the commonwealth? Who was the 11th apostle? Who won the World Cup in 1930? — you could run to that little book on the bookshelf. It had the answers to everything. We were always fascinated by authority. And to write a book for the American curious soccer fan, knowing the World Cup was coming up…every World Cup while we’ve been here [in America] has grown the game we love in the country we love. And we wanted to write a book that would be a companion for the World Cup.

Are you disappointed that the U.S. men didn’t make it?

Bennett What? We didn’t know this! We’re still going to win it. 

Davies Spoiler alert.

Bennett America is the most ingenious country. If you can put a man on the moon and Starbucks on every street corner, I still think that the U.S. will find a way to win the World Cup in Russia this summer.

Davies Although, Roger, your other point was that if Russia could win the U.S. election, there’s no reason that the U.S. can’t win the World Cup in Russia.

Bennett We’re ingenious. The World Cup is doing unbelievably well, in large part thanks to our friends at Telemundo [which has U.S. Spanish-language rights], even without the U.S. It’s a great symbol of the growth of the sport since the 1994 World Cup [which was held in the U.S.]. We’re not in this World Cup, but something more seismic happened in that we were awarded the 2026 World Cup. [Canada, Mexico and the U.S. will jointly host the 2026 tournament; the announcement came as President Donald Trump's trade policies continue to strain relations with the U.S.' neighbors.] That is far bigger for the sport in the long term. I made a [10-part] podcast about the day the U.S. lost to Iran in 1998 called American Fiasco. In 1999, the U.S. women bailed us out, they won the World Cup, charmed America again. And in the same way — please, God — the U.S. women in 2019 will go to the World Cup and bail the U.S. men out by winning it all.

And yet, they had to file a complaint with the EEOC a few years ago to get equal pay.

Davies I think everything that the U.S. women’s national team — those players, their coach — have achieved, both on the field and in terms of the respect that they’ve been given and ultimately their equal pay, is just richly deserved and we back them 1,000 percent.

Bennett More than 1,000 percent — 1,000 percent seems a little low. They’ve grown the game in this country. The Premiere League has been an incredible driver, the men’s World Cup has been an incredible driver, EA Sports FIFA video game and its widespread popularity is the silent hand that’s grown the game. But between the American men and the American women, it’s the American women who have been one of the most remarkable drivers of the game in this country. 

Davies They’ve created their own completion by raising the standard of the women’s game around the word. They’ve really been so influential in growing the sport.

Who are the guests you still want to get on your show?

Bennett Frida Kahlo or Philip Larkin.

Davies Roger always says that when we first started doing the podcast, he imagined doing it for Billy Beane. 

Bennett We were trying to work out who our dream audience was. And I had just read that Billy, who I had always respected deeply, was falling in love with football. And that was really our target audience. Could we speak with enough passion and borderline intelligence and value-added for an audience of Americans who are falling in love with the sport? After about six months of podcasting, and I had never mentioned him, I got a text from Billy Beane. It said, "Hi, it’s Billy Beane. I really love your show. I cannot believe you have on all these baseball players and you’ve never had me on." Now he comes on all the time.

Davies From a Hollywood perspective, [Sony studio chief] Tom Rothman is a big fan of Men in Blazers and a big fan of Premiere League football and we’re working on a date to have Tom on. 

Bennett I can tell you who the most popular guest we have on is, and we’ve been lucky enough to have him on every year — John Oliver. I know we pretend we’re sub-optimal, but we actually prepare for this craft, very hard. We work like maniacs. He wanders in and drops half an hour of insight and wisdom off the cuff that is so much better than anything we could ever dream of.