Michael Vaughan was never going to turn down an invitation to the Masters.
Well you wouldn't, would you? Not with all those sun-dappled Georgia lawns to gaze upon, those peach cobblers to scoff in the restaurant and those A-listers to rub shoulders with in the shadow of the famous Augusta clubhouse.
And certainly not when the invitation came from the BBC. The Beeb doesn't skimp on occasions like these, and it's fair to assume that Vaughan enjoyed a few comforts while he was doing his Augusta shift for the Corporation. In a commercial environment where every media organisation on earth is cutting its cloth to fit these straitened times, Auntie's skirts are still reassuringly voluminous for those who gather in their folds.
Loading article content
Vaughan's qualification for being part of the BBC team at the year's first major rested upon his ability to hit a ball around a field with a stick. Fair enough, you might think, except that the balls and sticks employed by Masters competitors to navigate their way around the lush environs of Augusta National Golf Course are very different to those Vaughan used when he swatted away the best efforts of the Australian bowling attack as he led England to a famous Ashes victory back in 2005.
But in the la-la land of BBC thinking, this was not a problem of any consequence. Which is probably the kind of mindset you slip into when you're funded and fattened by the gloriously convenient paradox that is the licence-payers' apparent willingness to pay more and more money to allow the Corporation to make fewer and fewer programmes that anyone but a halfwit would actually want to watch.
So while the rest of us meeja types are watching the pennies like more parsimonious versions of Scrooge, the state broadcaster happily widdles its money – well, our money actually – up the wall with the sort of profligacy that would make a Greek finance minister look like a paragon of prudence and fiscal responsibility.
Of course, the BBC is famously coy about how much it actually pays its so-called stars, so let's just assume that they made it worth Vaughan's while to get himself along to Augusta earlier this month. In fact, let's be so bold as to assume that they paid more than the £1.55 I stumped up for a 6ft length of 2 x 1 at B&Q the other day. In which light, they clearly got a raw deal, as I'd wager that my plank would have made a better job of the Masters than their one.
Vaughan's role was to interview players shortly after they had completed their rounds. I've done the gig myself, and it's fair to say that a little knowledge and experience can come in handy. There are some top golfers who remain friendly, approachable and fair-minded even in the aftermath of a rotten round, while there are others – not all of them called Colin Montgomerie – who you would hesitate to approach without the sort of thermal protection sported by those fellows who spend their days shovelling pig-iron into blast furnaces.
Vaughan's rabbit-in-headlights style was lighting up Twitter long before the Masters reached its conclusion, but he signed off with a spectacular flourish when he put a question to Tiger Woods. "C'mon, Tiger, who's winning this?" he said. "You've won it three times." Woods looked mystified. "Eh, four actually," he replied. Small wonder that Peter Dawson, the avuncular chief executive of the R&A, raised a wry eyebrow when he was questioned about the Corporation's celeb-centric coverage. "It does seem rather unusual," said Dawson, a man whose gift for understatement is matched only by his appreciation of its power.
With their right to cover the Open beyond 2016 now being questioned, there's little doubt that the BBC will respond to Dawson's shot across their bows by rediscovering some Reithian values, and possibly even some people who know what they're talking about, in time for this year's event at Lytham. But as refreshing as it will be to see a few presenters who have some familiarity with the sport and know one end of a microphone from the other, don't be fooled into thinking that a fundamental change has taken place.
For as soon as the Claret Jug is handed over, the Corporation will turn its attention to the Olympics. And if you think Vaughan was a bit wooden then, brace yourself for the whole timber-yard of washed-up former athletes who will fill our screens in August.
Vaughan's all-too-public meltdowns might persuade BBC executives to send some of them out for a spot of training in the presentation arts, but not for a minute do I suspect they will deviate an inch from the sort of pass-the-sickbag, jingoistic canoodling between presenters and competitors that has become their depressing norm at athletic events.
The BBC began this Olympic year with a radio documentary that recalled some great British performances at recent games. It was beautifully done, full of fascinating insight, detail and human interest. However, it also included the Corporation's commentaries form these moments of triumph. Almost every one had been ruined by a supposedly neutral expert summariser shrieking support for the British competitor.
This cringing fawn-fest makes bad enough viewing and listening, but sycophantic chumminess fails every journalistic test as well. It was the sort of approach that once saw Sally Gunnell voted the second most pitiful TV pundit on the nation's screens, second only to the conspicuously dreadful Ian Wright. Yet Ms Gunnell at least had the dignity to walk away, admitting that presenting wasn't her strong suit. Would that a few others would follow her lead.