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Interview: Hazel Irvine

BBC sports presenter and golf fan talks to Golfmagic

Posted: 23 May 2008
by Bob Warters

hazel irvine
Hazel Irvine at Stoke Park this week

As one of BBC Sport's most versatile and experienced broadcasters, Hazel Irvine is the face of snooker, ski-ing and athletics. She will also be covering her sixth successive Olympics in Beijing.

But what many may not realise is that she has presented golf for 16 years and in July will again front the corporation's coverage of the Ricoh British Women's Open at Sunningdale. Hazel is also a keen golfer since her time as a graduate studying history of art at St Andrews University.

Golfmagic caught up with the popular presenter as a guest of Golfbreaks.com's 10th anniversary golf day at Stoke Park this week.

hazel irvine
Hazel Irvine's stylish swing

Compare presenting golf and snooker - the differences and similarities.

Snooker and golf are very similar as sports in being what I'd call 'still ball' games. They both involve rhythm and habitual action which seems to pull you through in moments of tension and that's the fascinating thing for me.

A lot of the guys in golf (and snooker) and the women golfers, too have honed their game until, technically, they are virtually perfect. They'll say that they have to tweak their games - and they do - but for me what's really fascinating is that they are into the realms of the mind.

How you control the technical aspect and how your brain copes with the pressure is what that engages me. When it comes down to the nitty gritty.

We see it in golf and we see it particularly during the 17 days of the world snooker championships in Sheffield. At the end of the tournament these guys are absolutely punch drunk. It's a case of last man standing, who's will is stronger and who can control their functions. It's tiring for the presenters and analysts, too.

Talk about some of the people in golf and snooker who really fascinate you

You have those who are gregarious and express themselves and those who internalise all their emotions.

hazel irvine
Hazel receives a Sport relief cheque from Ian Poulter

In golf there's Ian Poulter. I love talking to Ian who is unfailingly honest in his assessment of his own game. I really appreciate that. For me he's one of the best characters in the game, not just because of the way he dresses but because he is brutally honest and because you know you are going to get a fantastically truthful and sometimes self-critical answer to your questions.

Other golfers are quieter and much prefer to keep their emotions to themselves, which sometimes means it can be like pulling teeth but you have to respect that some people don't want to expose all their emotions to everyone after a round or a snooker session. They want to think about it rationally and then come back the next day.

In snooker, Stephen Hendry is someone who thinks deeply about the game and has fantastically high standards of himself. If he gets something wrong you can see how much it hurts him because he's used to being perfect.

I love his approach to the game because he's so professional in every aspect of the game, even around the practice table.

You seem to enjoy working with some real characters in the snooker coverage - many of whom are also keen golfers.

Absolutely. With John Parrot you never fail to hear him around the Crucible Theatre (which hosts the World Championships) without hearing his laughter first. He's a funny, funny man but I'll tell you what he's a bull of a competitor.

hazelirvine
Hazel interviews, and is dwarfed by, Ernie Els at last year's World Matchplay

He didn't become a great champion for nothing and he didn't get there by laughing. When you get into the back end of a championship, John goes into serious mode and really gets into his analysis. And that's when he comes out with some really fascinating stuff because that's when he reaches back into his own career and puts himself into the situation that guys are experiencing.

Steve (Davies), on the other hand, has a dry sense of humour, so the two work off each other perfectly. But Steve has become almost a national gurning champion because he expresses himself a lot more with his facial expressions.

He used to be poker-faced at the table and was once known as the Romford Robot. But nothing could be further from that now.

You work with some golfing legends as analysts. How have they helped you?

Gosh! Peter Alliss, Sam Torrance and Ken Brown are fantastically helpful. I'm always learning from them and learning when I listen to their delivery, their knowledge and their expertise. All of them have different personalities and bring something different to the broadcast. That's why I think we work well together as a team.

As a student, what do you remember about St Andrews and how women were treated as golfers?

It's a long time ago but I was around a 12 handicapper and played for the University. Women golfers were treated very well. We used to take guests round the halls of residence and play golf for at least six weeks of the year. It was marvellous. Today, my handicap's around 16-18 and I still love to play when I can.

Women's professional golf...how has it developed in your opinion?

Women's pro golf is brilliant. I have presented the Women's Open for 16 years and remember Pattie Sheehan winning that first one when it was cut short because of the weather.

I have marvelled at women's golf - its development and its profile over the last few years. It's so healthy. If you look at the phenomenal achievements of Annika Sorenstam and in Lorena Ochoa, it's fantastic that you've got someone who is genuinely reaching similar heights to Tiger Woods.

I mean, they don't text each other about their latest major wins for nothing! They know one another well and regard themselves as equals. They respect each other's ability.

I think women's golf has developed beyond all measure in the years I've been presenting it and it's fantastic to see a new generation of players coming into the game, including Ochoa and Paul Creamer, exciting young women who are so passionate about their sport and with a touch of elegance about them. They're bringing golf to a whole new audience, rather like Tiger did but in their own way. They are attracting attention for terrific reasons.

hazel irvine
Hazel receives her sports presenter of the year award from British cyclist Victoria Pendleton

You will be presenting the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond and then the Open Championship from Royal Birkdale. How do you prepare for a broadcast?

I try to keep up with everything that happens on the major Tours around the world. I subscribe to a couple of golf magazines and get a lot of information online. I also make a few phone calls, talk to people, just trying to keep up with my research on indivduals so that when I do get to talk to them, I kind of have a grasp of how their season is going or anything particularly interesting within it. They expect you to know that and you should.

Do you get nervous?

Of course, but you have to channel the adrenalin, just as I have recently for 17 days presenting in Sheffield. It's very tiring and like a marathon of the mind. I'd just come back from the US Masters golf so it was a very long run and by the end of it everyone was just about on their knees.

Have you played Augusta National?

No. I never have, simply because the flights we take to get back haven't allowed me to even go into the ballot for a chance to play it on the Monday after the final round. But sometime in the future I'd love to play it.

Do you get a chance to play with famous golfers?

Occasionally we get to play in a pro-am before an event and I've have played a couple pro-ams with Katrina Matthew and Laura [Davies] who is one of my favourite people.

Hazel Irvine celebrates her 43rd birthday on bank holiday Monday (May 26). She was recipient of the 2006 Royal Television Society award for the best sports presenter, is chairman of the West of Scotland Institute of Sport and honorary president of Dumbarton Foot Club Supporters Association. She also works in media trainer and is an after-dinner speaker.


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I've always regarded Hazel Irvine as the consummate professional as a sports presenter, allowing the analysts to court controversy or otherwise on whatever subject, be it golf, football, snooker or athletics. Whom else do you rate and whom do you deliver the ultimate rebuke of turning the sound off?

Posted: 23/05/2008 at 12:41

Lineker - Least

Aliss - favourite

Must admit i quite like some of the US commentators aswell, Faldo as he always refers to his point of view and that Feherty has me in stitches.

Posted: 23/05/2008 at 12:47

Lineker? Mmm - somewhow I knew that was coming! ED

Posted: 23/05/2008 at 12:50

Likes - Feherty and McCord, Ken Brown, Howard Clark, Richard Boxhall, Peter Aliss, Wayne Grady

Dislike - Lineker, Torrance, Ewan Murray

Posted: 23/05/2008 at 13:14

Don't mind Linekar myself. He was awful when he started out, but he has at least achieved a level where I don't fly into a rage when I see him. Have always enjoyed Alliss and Brown too. One person on the Beeb who I do find disappointing is Sam Torrance. When he started out a few years ago I thought he would be good fun, but he doesn't seem to make much of an effort. 

Anyone remember when Van de Velde was on a few years ago?

Couldn't cope with him - the sleazy french prick spent the entire day telling us how great/wonderful  'Toma' Levet was, and genuinely seemed to believe we were witnessing something amazing as the journeyman's journeyman spluttered towards another missed cut/Top 50 finish!


Posted: 23/05/2008 at 13:24

Can we please add Andrew Coltart to the list of dis-likes... He is currently top of that list for me! Put your chest away man!!

Posted: 23/05/2008 at 13:25

like - Peter Aliss, Jeff Stelling, Claire Balding, Des

dislike - Hazel Irvine, Ray Stubbs, Mark Saggers

Posted: 23/05/2008 at 13:33

Bob

Totally agree with you about Hazel Irvine-intelligent, knowledgeable, attractive and charming, ditto for the gorgeous Di Stewart,

Of the men Robert Lee, Mark Roe, Tony Johnstone and particularly Ronan Rafferty are all excellent. I also very much enjoy the all too infrequent contributions from Butch Harmon! I totally disagree with KeefT. Jean van de Velde is as charming as are most French pro golfers and comes across very well!

Ewan Murray, Bruce Critchley and Gary Lineker are OK, Coltart is a pain as is Sam*Mr Wonderful" Torrance and I have to say Alliss is becoming a real bore and definitely well past his best. Cant abide Feherty AT ANY PRICE!!

Posted: 23/05/2008 at 14:10

The Lady presenter from Sentanta, Sentanta attept to jump on the lady presenter band wagon and how to get it totally wrong!

Posted: 23/05/2008 at 14:29

Di Stewart...swoon! Can't remember a word she says but lovely to look at!

Posted: 23/05/2008 at 14:32

Sarah Stirk/Di Stewert !! Oh Yes! (Can't make my mind up which one I 'Like' more?)

Gary lineker/Scott Cranfield !! Oh No! (Cant make my mind up wich one I hate more?)

Posted: 23/05/2008 at 14:33

Dislike - Scott Cranfield, Gary Lineker, Wayne Grady, Peter Aliss, Nick Faldo and McCord

Like - Ewan Murray, Sam Torrance, Hazel Irvine, Sarah Stirk, David Feherty, Ken Brown, Howard Clark and Coltart.

Agree that Coltart has an appearance well suited for radio but I do like some of his digs, particularly at Ben Crane.

Posted: 23/05/2008 at 14:44

Al's List (with the odd exceptions!!!!) JOKE COMING!!!!

Hate : All the English Folk!!!! (plus Yanks and Aussies)

Like : All the Scots!!!! (plus sundry Celts!)


(Howard Clark is a Yorkshireman, so nearly Scottish!)


Cue the abuse!

Posted: 23/05/2008 at 14:52

Totally agree about Di, she makes watching Golf Night worth while.  Its amusing when they have guest golfers on and you catch them taking a sneaky peak when they think no one is watching .  Linekar is just boring.

Are there people out there that you'd like to see commentate but you havent?

Posted: 23/05/2008 at 16:58

Aliss, Barnseý (Brian), Roe-ey, Feherty, McCord, Walker (Mickey), Azinger.

----

Livingstone, Cringely, Tilghman (pretty lady - dull as dishwater), any yank commentator who does golf as a filler when really they're basketball/baseball/football commentators & try to pseudo-liven things up in a "stat-tastic" manner!

Posted: 23/05/2008 at 17:15

I pretty much think they are all irritating gits that add nothing to the pictures. The only one I have enjoyed listening to was when Brad Faxon (current tour player) who was doing some commentary earlier in teh year while recovering from an operation. Incisive, knowledgable, you got a real feeling that he was opening your eyes as to how the players were thinking and their strategies, i.e. adding to the telecast.

Oh, and worst, spilt for choice, tempted to say "all of them" but I spose its hard to beat the football twat Lineker. And that Coltart bloke is mega annoying.

Posted: 23/05/2008 at 18:58

Creo

Och, mon you are a hard one!

Does not the sight of yon Di Stewart set your pulses -or something else racing?

Coltart cannot help being irritating,he was born that way. Lineker commenting on football is excellent. Why does he spoil his image by coming to a game where he comes across like a fish out of water. 

Posted: 23/05/2008 at 19:10

Was it just me, or was there something rather creepy about Steve Ryder when he used to front the Beeb' Masters coverage? Never much cared for Alex Hay either. Prefer Hazel to Crispman, but who doesn't?

Ken Brown is probably my favourite, just because his wit is so dry, and because he survived epitomising an era of British non-achievement on the course with such good humour. Alliss is Alliss - like Stonehenge, he's a national monument, and should have a big fence put round him while we work out how he got there; but by golly he's got a certain ancient magic.

On radio - which is where, as someone too tight to pay for TV beyond the licence fee, I experience most golf  - I rather preferred Tony Adamson to Iain Carter, who seems rather too intellectually lightweight and excitable for my taste, but Jay Townsend is surely the one American worth listening to in any medium.

Posted: 23/05/2008 at 20:25

Who was the american fella doing the coverage on Amen Corner for the Masters? He was absolutely brilliant and knew his stuff about every single player coming through - only went off air once for a p*ss break in 4 days too!!

Posted: 23/05/2008 at 21:11

DEC

I remember "Around with Allis" when I was a lad and because of that Peter's voice has nostalgia for me. Ken Brown is OK with me too. I'd like to hear Bruce Forsyth do commentary.

Wayne Grady cocked up a few rules bits and bobs in the Masters this year and I didn't like that especially as the general public think the golf commentators know what they are talking about rules-wise and many don't.

Posted: 23/05/2008 at 21:25

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