Pierce: Is golf less dull if Michael Phelps swings a club?
Golf Channel • World’s greatest swimmer is not world’s greatest golfer — not by a long shot.
Published: February 26, 2013 11:36PM
Updated: February 26, 2013 11:37PM
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Scott D. Pierce

Golf is so boring that The Golf Channel needs to bring in an Olympic swimmer to get people to watch.

OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But it’s entirely possible that the most buzz The Golf Channel has ever gotten surrounds the appearance of Michael Phelps on “The Haney Project.”

Part of that is because the folks at NBC Sports are making a push. (Both are part of the Comcast conglomerate.) Part of it is because, well, this is freakin’ Michael Phelps, who has 22 Olympic medals at home.

The premise of the show is pretty simple. Hank Haney, a professional golf instructor whose clients included Tiger Woods and Mark O’Meara, works with an amateur in an attempt to improve his game. And it’s filmed for an eight-episode TV series.

(New episodes premiere Mondays at 7 and 10 p.m., with frequent repeats throughout the week.)

“Obviously, Michael is an incredible athlete,” Haney said. “And as most unbelievable athletes see, translating it into golf is a little bit harder than it looks.”

“The Haney Project” is the ultimate in feel-good TV because anyone who’s ever struggled on the golf course can feel good that a world-class athlete like Phelps struggles, too.

“This is the most humbling sport,” Phelps said. “I’m used to being able to pick up something and, I don’t want to say, it coming naturally, but it comes a lot easier than what golf has come thus far.”

He said he can — and has — played basketball, lacrosse, baseball and soccer “and be fine. I feel like I can participate in a lot of other sports. But I think in the sport of golf, there are so many different levels. I have friends who play as scratch golfers, and for me it would be exciting to be able to get down to where I could compete with them.”

The first three seasons of the show featured Haney working with Charles Barkley, Ray Romano and Rush Limbaugh, respectively. Season 4 saw Haney working with four celebrities — Mario Batali, Adam Levine, Sugar Ray Leonard and Angie Everhart.

Not a bad bunch of stars. Bigger names than a whole lot of high-profile reality shows. But, unless you’re a regular Golf Channel viewer, chances are the show didn’t catch your attention.

Golf Channel is available in about 85 million homes, but its programming averaged just 95,000 viewers in 2012. KUTV-Channel 2 averages more viewers than that for its 10 p.m. newscasts, and it’s available in about 84 million fewer homes.

The hope is that getting Phelps on board will help boost the cable network’s numbers. After all, 219.4 million people watched the 2012 Summer Olympics. The Golf Channel would be thrilled to get 0.5 percent of that.

And even if sitting down and watching a golf tournament on TV isn’t your idea of entertainment, “The Haney Project” just might be. Sure, it’s a golf show, but it’s also a comedy. Let’s just say that Phelps isn’t going to be joining the PGA anytime soon.

“I guarantee you, we will have you laughing each part of the show, every single episode you ever watch,” Phelps said. “You may be crying because you’re laughing so hard. We have been laughing every step of the way.”

But his golf game did improve.

“I have learned a lot,” Phelps said. “You can see from the very first shot that I took to the very last.”

Scott D. Pierce covers TV for The Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.