Of all the Golf TV commentators currently operating on both sides of the Atlantic, Wayne “Radar” Riley stands apart from the rest.
The 5ft 10ins Aussie, easily identified by his distinctive broad-brimmed hat with comms equipment attached to his, let’s say “muscular” frame, strolls the fairways with Sky Sports microphone in hand and delivers the goods to the masses in unique style.
Radar – nicknamed after one of the memorable characters of the Seventies TV series MASH – calls it as he sees it when the pros are in the thick of the Tour action.
His perspective stretches beyond the restricted boundaries of ‘normal’ golf commentary.
Not for Radar the bland “he’s got a 7-iron, 180 yards to the pin” followed by “superb” or “he won’t be happy with that” type of straightforward, factual, but boring delivery we hear too often.
The Aussie ex-Tour pro gets to the heart of the challenge facing the golfer, and adds his own twist to the descriptive mix, all presented with passion and outside-the-box insights.
He likes to take the viewer into the heart of the situation facing the professional.
Take this, for example, at the recent Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, describing the situation facing Pádraig Harrington on the par-3, 5th at Galgorm Castle in round one.
“For Harrington, over the back of this par-3 green, it’s downhill all the way. It’s just a matter of where he wants to land it. I don’t think he’ll flirt with the fringe. He’ll eliminate the fringe, open the clubface up a little. It doesn’t move a lot down there, so he might just fancy this one. That’s how good the lie is…”
And Pádraig duly delivered a nice, delicate chip just as Radar described which came within a hair’s breadth of dropping into the cup.
Harrington played alongside eventual tournament winner John Catlin from the USA, and Radar was getting enthused about the American’s performance.
On the 16th at Galgorm, Catlin had a birdie chance from six feet.
Radar exuded confidence… “Catlin knows the line. It’s just outside left, dying it in Harrington style, or it’s left edge with pace.
“I like hanging it out just a little outside the left edge and dying it in. He’s handy with the putter. He grabs the putter. His eyes just open wide as if to go ‘I’m just ready to putt’…
We, the viewers, are drawn in by Radar’s endorsement of Catlin’s quality on the greens, but Catlin rolls the ball four feet past the hole.
Radar goes: “Ooof, I do that all the time. He’s just a beautiful putter and all of a sudden he does that on me…” as if Catlin has let him down. But it’s all done tongue in cheek.
Then there’s the whimsical observation, such as when the camera captured a herd of cattle chewing the cud alongside the golf course at Galgorm Castle.
A tailor made – excuse the pun – opportunity for Radar.
“Some beautiful cows over there. Fit, they are. Plenty of green grass to chew on…” and then quickly, he shifts his attention back to the golf: “Ok, Harrington, pumped one in there with a 6-iron, pulled it a little, to the heart of it…”
The driver is, of course, “The Chief” in Radar’s lexicon. I love that.
It marks out the driver as different, special, the one that every golfer from Rory McIlroy to the humble hacker, wants to wield perfectly every time – and for which millions of handicap golfers are prepared to pay hundreds of euro in the hope of gaining that extra 20 or 30 yards that we believe will transform our game.
When Radar mentions “The Chief” you can feel a frisson of excited anticipation rise in the gut.
This was his description of Thomas Pieters’ decision to hit driver off the fairway for second shot on the long par-5,10th hole, in the Scottish Open on Friday.
“Out with the chief, trying to crunch on one and release it out into a stiff breeze. Tight fairways. This’ll test him. How are you swinging it?..”
As it happened, Pieters’ was swinging it pretty good.
He struck the ball well, sending it booming through the air on a medium trajectory before landing in light rough, pin high on the left side of the green.
Above all, Radar, 58 years young, distils the knowledge of a lifetime in golf into a 20 or 30 second burst of verbosity that cuts through so much of the bullshit that passes for golf analysis.
He is nobody’s fool and calls the scenarios as he sees them, good, bad, and indifferent.
For example, Radar wasn’t offering sympathy for England’s Matt Wallace who found himself in the unfortunate position of playing on his own in round two of the Travelers Championship at the TPC River Highlands last June.
Covid-19 was the culprit when Wallace’s playing partners, Denny McCarthy and Bud Cauley withdrew on the Friday morning.
McCarthy tested positive, Cauley tested negative but did not feel well, and opted out.
That left Wallace with a decision: he could withdraw or play on his own. He chose the latter option but as he retained his starting time, he was a one-ball in the midst of three-balls.
He and his caddie tested negative and they set off on their own with a scorer walking alongside them but at a distance.
Not a great experience for the Englishman who admitted to a feeling of frustration, and afterwards wondered if the Tour would have asked Rory McIlroy or Dustin Johnson to play alone in the same circumstances.
He thought the Tour could have asked a player from the group ahead or behind to join him.
Radar was having none of it.
“He’s (Wallace) a visitor on the PGA Tour. He hasn’t won over there yet. Don’t upset the applecart right now because one day you might be asking for an invite.
“So, do you really want to upset the Americans? Don’t.
“Just go away, play your golf, play in a one-ball. You’ve done the right thing.
“But don’t come off, shoot plus-two and start whinging and whining. It’s not the way forward.”
Radar had to find his own way forward when his playing career began winding down around the turn of the Millennium.
The Sydney-born, blunt-speaking Australian had plied his trade as a pro from 1977 until 2002 when he effectively retired.
During that time he won four times on the PGA Tour of Australasia, including the 1991 Australian Open.
Riley qualified via Q-School for the European Tour in 1984 and went on to play 425 events on that circuit, winning twice – the 1995 Scottish Open and the 1996 Portuguese Open.
As he said, he “always had something to say” and in his early years on Tour was a “character”, dubbed at times, “The Wild Colonial Boy” by golf journalists.
Perhaps it was an over-simplification but nobody could ever accuse the man from Down Under of lacking confidence.
This was Radar’s assessment after round three of the 1995 Scottish Open at Carnoustie when he held a five shot lead and was booked to play the final 18 holes alongside the formidable Nick Faldo:
“I probably should say ‘wow, I’m playing with Faldo tomorrow’ but if I did I should be selling ice cream! Of course I’m going to win. Wouldn’t you, with a five shot lead?” he predicted.
Well, credit to Radar, he got the job done. Colin Montgomerie, then Europe’s number one, and Faldo led the challenge but neither chaser could reel him in.
The late, lamented Peter Corrigan of The Independent, put it beautifully in his report when he wrote:
“Before Wayne Riley made his lone bid for glory in the Scottish Open yesterday, the last Australian to have so many chasing him was Ned Kelly.
“But Riley stayed on the straight and narrow of Carnoustie’s fairways to keep his pursuers panting in his wake and register his first win in Europe.”
Radar’s second and last win in Europe was at Aroeira in the ’96 Portuguese Open.
He opened with 65, but still commented on the quality of the greens after round one, saying “the greens were as if the Grand National had just been run there,” a view endorsed by many of his playing colleagues.
That opinion might not have endeared him to the greens staff or the host club, but Radar did not care. He carried on to win the tournament.
Given his surname, there’s got to be Irish heritage in Riley’s family. He is not on record as delving into his ancestry, but Ireland and its golf courses occupy a special place in Radar’s heart.
We were reminded of that during the Irish Open when Sky presented a chart of past multiple winners of the Championship, including Seve Ballesteros, Colin Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer.
Radar was out on the course with the Harrington group when that list was flashed on the screen.
Paul McGinley, who was on commentary that afternoon, began to reminisce about the halcyon days at Portmarnock and John O’Leary’s 1982 victory, and then Radar chimed chimed in, saying, : “One of the great links is Portmarnock.
“I had the pleasure once to play the last 36 holes in the Irish Open with the great Seve Ballesteros. I’ll never forget it. (Brief pause, then) …
As the conversation continued Dominic Hollier from the commentary box said to Radar: “Look at that list, you’d like to be on that list wouldn’t you?….
No equivocation in the reply from Radar. “I should have been on that Irish Open winners list…Monty, Monty did it to me…”
The Aussie did indeed have a tilt at the title twice.
Portmarnock 1986 under the Carrolls sponsorship evolved into a daunting target set by Seve Ballesteros, who led by five shots after 54 holes.
Radar was in second place on level par and played alongside the mercurial Spaniard in the final round.
As events transpired, both men shot 74. Seve won the title and Riley finished tied fourth.
Radar was not helped by the frenzy of the enthusiastic and huge galleries that followed their match, and dropped a shot on each of the last three holes.
He told reporters afterwards: “At the last three the gallery went crazy. I thought I had a chance up to that but spectators began getting in my way and running across in their excitement. I had to ask several to move away and I couldn’t keep my concentration.
“But this is a great course and a great tournament and I have enjoyed it.”
Fast forward to 1996 at Druids Glen where the Murphy’s Irish Open took place on the County Wicklow course that had opened the previous year.
Monty fended off the chasing pack by the narrowest of margins to shoot 68 and finish one ahead of Radar (66 in last round) and England’s Andrew Oldcorn who were tied for second place.
Close, but no cigar for Radar who nevertheless loved playing the Irish Open.
He made his first appearance in the tournament in 1985 and his last in 2001.
Radar also featured in the Smurfit European Open at The K Club, the West of Ireland Golf Classic, and the North West of Ireland Open in this country.
He admits he was a streaky putter and was happy to embrace the long putters when they came on the market. That implement extended his career, and he continued playing until, by 2002, his on-course career was virtually over.
As one door closed, another opened via Australian TV. Radar’s horizons broadened considerably when he got an opportunity to do some commentary work at golf tournaments.
From there he graduated to Sky in 2005, and the rest is history.
Radar became an integral part of the Sky Sports team which covers golf in comprehensive and expert fashion with our own Paul McGinley a regular contributor.
He’s always ready to poke fun at himself as he showed when appearing in an Elvis costume at TPC Southwind in Memphis at the 2019 FedEx-St Jude Invitational, and a Bear costume for a review of the famous “Bear Trap” at PGA National in 2017.
Zany, eccentric, loquacious, straight-talking, witty, and an expert analyst of golf shots and golfers, that’s Radar – and that’s what makes him a great asset to the Sky golf team and to televised golf for millions of viewers worldwide.