BRANDEL CHAMBLEE

Golf World (UK) - - CONTENTS -

John Huggan goes head to head with the game’s most di­vi­sive TV an­a­lyst.

After 15 years on the PGA Tour and with a sin­gle vic­tory to his name, Brandel Chamblee re­tired in 2003, rein­vent­ing him­self as a Golf Chan­nel an­a­lyst. Now the di­vi­sive Amer­i­can spends his days pick­ing the game, and its stars, apart and do­ing his damn­d­est not to re­peat any­thing you’ve al­ready heard...

JH Let’s start in the mid­dle rather than the be­gin­ning or end. How did you tran­si­tion from play­ing the tour to do­ing what you do now?

BC Not par­tic­u­larly grace­fully. I tried to do both at the same time in 2003. I only had con­di­tional sta­tus that year. I thought if I played well enough I’d keep my card any­way. But I soon re­alised I couldn’t do ei­ther job that well when I was try­ing to do both. For one thing, I was new to tele­vi­sion so I was on a huge learn­ing curve. But they kept ask­ing me back.

At first, of course, I in­dig­nantly turned down tele­vi­sion when I was asked. I was like, “I’m a golfer, why would you ask me to do that?” But I soon re­alised after do­ing it a few times – es­pe­cially when I wasn’t play­ing that well – that there was a fresh chal­lenge there for me. I got a buzz do­ing it and the next thing you know I was a TV guy. I think it was for­mer Mas­ters cham­pion Jackie Burke who said, ‘Once you go up into that booth you never come down.’ And he was right. He’s right about a lot of things.

Any­way, here I am. I prob­a­bly haven’t played 10 rounds of golf in any year for the last 14. Un­til re­cently. JH Okay, so what does it say un­der ‘oc­cu­pa­tion’ in your pass­port these days? BC (Laughs) ‘TV an­a­lyst’. Or ‘com­men­ta­tor’. What it does not say is ‘pro­fes­sional golfer’. But I’m go­ing to try and play pro golf again and see how good I can get. It’s odd. It’s like I have two full-time jobs at the mo­ment. And I have cal­luses on my hands for the first time since 2002.

JH How good a player were you? BC I was an ex­cep­tional am­a­teur golfer. I was prob­a­bly a bet­ter golfer in col­lege than I was dur­ing my 15 years on tour. I was a good tour player though. Most don’t last 15 years. Peo­ple for­get that. Qual­i­fy­ing for the tour is the eas­i­est part – and the qual­i­fy­ing is hard as hell.

I was a longish hit­ter and es­pe­cially good with the long irons. But when I got on tour I think the best I ever was in driv­ing dis­tance was 49th. I lost some of that zip. And with­out power, you have to be so pre­cise, be­cause ev­ery era has been pow­er­prej­u­diced.

JH If you look back on it all, any re­grets? BC Not re­ally. I had a very nice ca­reer. I made mil­lions play­ing golf, I trav­elled around the world and I achieved what I call my ‘Grand Slam’. I played in the Open at St An­drews, the PGA at Winged Foot, the US Open at Peb­ble Beach and the Mas­ters. I had a heck­uva time.

If I had to do it over, I would keep my own coun­sel a bit more. It wasn’t as easy back then. Teach­ers could make their way onto the range and con­vince you that they had a panacea for ev­ery flaw. Now, tour play­ers are much bet­ter equipped. The most dan­ger­ous place on tour is still the range though. A tour player can end his ca­reer on the range by lis­ten­ing to the wrong in­for­ma­tion. And it is pot luck.

There are sev­eral teach­ers who I have great re­spect for. But there are some who have ‘graced’ the range, got a fol­low­ing and ru­ined ca­reers. And they have never been held ac­count­able. Teach­ing is the only job where you’re only judged by your suc­cesses.

Teach­ers only get talked about when their play­ers are go­ing well. But that coach is also work­ing with five play­ers who lost their cards, so where is the av­er­age? Not enough play­ers stop to con­sider that.

What you have to re­mem­ber is that teach­ers only learn from play­ers, not the other way round. They get all their stuff from tour play­ers. The rea­son ev­ery­one uses the Fos­bury Flop in high jump­ing is be­cause Dick Fos­bury fig­ured it out by him­self. Coaches tried to get him to stop and told him not to do it. Ath­letes orig­i­nate; teach­ers copy. That’s why I’d rather sit and watch a great player than lis­ten to a great teacher.

Ev­ery sin­gle teacher is guess­ing. If they are be­hind you on a range and talk­ing to you, you need to know that.

JH Let’s talk a bit more about you. What is your phi­los­o­phy re the job you do now?

BC The chal­lenge in my job is to be dif­fer­ent. By the time I get on the air at the end of the day, just about every­thing that could be said about the golf has been said. I watch it all day. And I’m at the end with the job of say­ing what has not al­ready been said. I have to come up with stuff that no-one else has and make it in­ter­est­ing for the au­di­ence. I find that to be in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult. Which is why I don’t take my eyes off the TV all day.

I can’t stand it when peo­ple talk around me when I’m watch­ing. It drives me nuts. I sit in si­lence. What the com­men­ta­tor says is im­por­tant to me. If he says some­thing great I will re­fer to it that night and give him credit. But, what­ever he says, I need to say some­thing else. I need all the in­for­ma­tion so that I can come up with two or three in­ter­est­ing themes. And then make it mem­o­rable. Turns of phrase are so im­por­tant. They are what make things mem­o­rable. That’s my job.

But I’m not re­ally a jour­nal­ist. We are border­line PR agents. We are sell­ing play­ers and sell­ing the idea of great­ness. And that is ex­cit­ing. It’s not ex­cit­ing to say that, when a guy wins an event, it may be the last one he ever wins. Or that he got lucky. Or that, many times, win­ning a ma­jor cham­pi­onship is a death sen­tence for a ca­reer. We never say that. We al­ways say win­ning a ma­jor is a launch­ing pad, or that it will open the flood­gates. There is ro­mance to what we do – and a bit of PR.

JH How do you re­act to crit­i­cism? BC I should be able to take crit­i­cism and com­pli­ments and be un­af­fected by both. That is my goal. One guy might say I’m the great­est com­men­ta­tor ever. And an­other might think I’m the worst. Be­liev­ing ei­ther one isn’t go­ing to help me. I have one job to do and I am con­stantly re­flect­ing on how I can do it bet­ter.

JH I get stick, as you do, but nei­ther of us is truly “con­tro­ver­sial”. We are only con­tro­ver­sial rel­a­tive to other peo­ple who do what we do. Golf is way too cosy...

BC (Laughs) I guess that is true. Golfers are the only ath­letes that are never crit­i­cised. In ev­ery other sport you have a coach who will be in your face if you make a mis­take. But golfers don’t have coaches like that. Golfers are lauded, es­pe­cially if you make the tour. If you do that, you have been good enough all the way and so lauded by peo­ple in the me­dia. And by peo­ple ev­ery­where. JH They are told how spe­cial they are for a long time.

BC A long time. It’s very easy to be­lieve that. So when you get on tour and Johnny Miller says you choked, it’s like “how dare you?” It’s “Don’t you know who I am – how dare you talk to me like that.” Even when you did choke.

I also try to be un­pre­dictable. I hate to be pre­dictable. I try to come at a player from ev­ery di­rec­tion. I’ll talk about his weak­ness one night, then his strength the next night. I’ll talk about his swing one night, then his chip­ping the next night. I guar­an­tee I’ve done 5,000 Tiger Woods break­downs. I did one last night I’ve never done be­fore. I’m al­ways try­ing to be dif­fer­ent. JH What did you make of what Phil Mick­el­son did at Shin­necock?

BC I thought it was Phil be­ing Phil. He thinks he is the smartest guy in ev­ery room he walks into. So that was just Phil try­ing to show his un­der­stand­ing of the rules is su­pe­rior to ev­ery­one else’s. But he was cheeky about it.

JH Is there not some­thing to the the­ory that he just can’t stand the USGA? Or that he blames them for at least two of the US Opens he didn’t win?

BC If he had said, “I lost my mind,” most peo­ple would have got that. But he should read his­tory. Jack Nick­laus putted off the first green at Winged Foot in 1974. But Jack is not vin­dic­tive about the USGA.

The prob­lem is that when you make as much money as Phil has made, you live in an echo cham­ber where ev­ery­one tells you how amaz­ing you are. And you are not held ac­count­able for things you say or things you do. You are never told that you need to grow up.

Phil’s got a lit­tle Machi­avel­lian thread run­ning through him and at Shin­necock, I do be­lieve that hit­ting a mov­ing ball is some­thing he had long con­sid­ered. He knew he could take a two-shot penalty. JH Should he have been dis­qual­i­fied? BC I’ve talked to rules of­fi­cials. And they would have walked him off the golf course. But the next time a gov­ern­ing body does the right thing in deal­ing with a su­per­star might be the first. He should have been dis­qual­i­fied. If this wasn’t a se­ri­ous breach of the rules, I don’t know what is. He used it for a spe­cific rea­son to avoid a shot, to avoid stress, to avoid hit­ting a shot he may have had to hit four or five times.

I’ve talked to lawyers and read them the rule. There is lawyer-speak in there, wig­gle room. I’ve talked to golfers. And not one time has any of them said any­thing other than he should have been dis­qual­i­fied.

So what do I think of Phil? I think this

was his worst mo­ment. There is no cor­re­spond­ing video of any player of his stature at any point in the his­tory of the game do­ing any­thing like that – at that par­tic­u­lar stage in his ca­reer. He’s an el­der states­man. He’s been around a long time. So he has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to up­hold the in­tegrity and tra­di­tions and his­tory of the game. And he didn’t do it.

JH Do we take the Ry­der Cup too se­ri­ously? BC I think so. Jack Nick­laus knew what the Ry­der Cup should be. It’s about ca­ma­raderie. Jack giv­ing that putt to Tony Jack­lin in 1969 summed up what that watch was about. There had al­most been fist fights be­tween play­ers ear­lier that week. Ken Still and Dave Hill were al­most fight­ing with Bernard Gal­lacher and Brian Huggett. It was not real pretty from a fan per­spec­tive or a player per­spec­tive.

Which is why Jack stepped up. He clearly felt like giv­ing that putt was what the event needed to re-es­tab­lish its equi­lib­rium. Sam Snead was the US cap­tain and he was fu­ri­ous. That was Jack’s first Ry­der Cup and he has al­ways said that the Ry­der Cup is only used as a mea­sure of a player, if that player is a lesser player. If you need it to fill in gaps. “Oh, by the way, he played on five Ry­der Cup teams.”

That works per­fectly for the Ian Poul­ters of the world. Which is fine. Mak­ing the team is a fine ac­com­plish­ment. I cer­tainly never did it. But if you’re a great player – and this was Tiger’s point – your record doesn’t re­ally mat­ter. Tiger’s point when peo­ple were try­ing to tell him that Jack took the Ry­der Cup se­ri­ously – which he didn’t – was sim­ple. He asked the room if they knew Jack’s Ry­der Cup record. No one did, be­cause no one cared. Least of all Jack. So Tiger didn’t say he’s the great­est player ever. But he has to know that he is. And he also knows that Ry­der Cup records don’t ac­tu­ally mat­ter.

JH All I ever want from a Ry­der Cup is that it be close. Be­cause then it is

won­der­ful to watch.

BC It’s great the­atre. And that’s maybe why we take it so se­ri­ously.

JH The weird thing is that play­ers fall apart to an ex­tent we don’t see any­where else. I al­ways go back to Jay Haas at Oak Hill in 1995. He could barely stand up, never mind hit the ball on the 18th hole.

BC I once did an in­ter­view with Arnold Palmer. I asked him about the Ry­der Cup. And he started cry­ing. It was hard for him to talk about it with­out cry­ing. When he was in­tro­duced on the first tee as rep­re­sent­ing the United States of Amer­ica he got emo­tional. Now I’ve never rep­re­sented my coun­try in a team event. But I imag­ine I’d be that way too.

JH The team thing is a pow­er­ful thing. BC Yeah, when­ever you have a part­ner you never want to let him down. If I play my butt off and we win, I get more ex­cited by that than by win­ning my­self.

JH Equally, one of the hard­est things in golf is to play four­somes with some­one who is play­ing bet­ter than you are.

BC Yes, I get that. Play­ing the sec­ondary role is al­ways hard. But back to the Ry­der Cup. The fans have got­ten a bit more bel­liger­ent. The matches are red meat to the lions. And the last one (in the US) was dis­taste­ful. In gen­eral, the Euro­peans seem to have fun with it, as we just saw at Golf Na­tional. The Eu­ro­pean fans are not as hate­ful.

JH All the re­ally bad stuff has hap­pened in Amer­ica.

BC Yeah. But if there are 40,000 spec­ta­tors out there and 100 hooli­gans, the mi­nor­ity low­ers the nar­ra­tive. It’s un­for­tu­nate. I wish there was a no-tol­er­ance pol­icy and we could get them out of there. Things would be very dif­fer­ent if Au­gusta Na­tional ran the Ry­der Cup. That’s what we need. It’s get­ting out of hand. So we need some­one to come in there and say, “You kids stop slap­ping each other.”

I thought Ser­gio had the best line at Hazel­tine. “I def­i­nitely know I haven’t won a ma­jor.” That’s so funny. That was him at his best. And the Euro­peans in gen­eral seem to have a more ap­pro­pri­ate sense of the mo­ment. For them the Ry­der Cup is about the team, but also about fun. And that comes across sin­cerely, as it did for the most part at Le Golf Na­tional.

I’ve heard sto­ries from Ry­der Cups where the US won. The Euro­peans still come and party af­ter­wards. I look at so many of those guys and think I would like to have a beer with them.

‘ If there are 40,000 spec­ta­tors out there and 100 hooli­gans, the mi­nor­ity low­ers the nar­ra­tive..’

JH It is a bit of a myth that the Euro­peans all get along of course. There’s been plenty of stuff go­ing on be­hind the scenes over the years.

BC Of course. I’ve heard them too. But for the most part they are great guys. Lee West­wood is a par­tic­u­lar favourite of mine. Jose Maria Olaz­a­bal is as fine a man as you could ever meet. Paul McGin­ley is a proper man who knows ex­actly how to be­have. We should all as­pire to be that kind of per­son.

JH How close are we to a world tour? BC I’ve thought about it. We’re edg­ing to­wards it. But there has to be some cat­a­clysmic event to make it hap­pen. Like the PGA Tour buy­ing the Eu­ro­pean Tour. Who knows if that is the right thing to do though? Or they could com­bine and stop play­ing op­po­site to one an­other. That would mean a lot of pol­i­tics. And egos. Bot­tom line is I’m not sure play­ers from the US would want to hop on a plane and go to, say, Ger­many.

It’s al­ready hap­pened in the women’s game. Asia is huge on the LPGA Tour. And they have Eu­ro­pean events too. They would have been crazy not to take ad­van­tage of those mar­kets. I’ve heard that the Asian LPGA play­ers have en­dorse­ment deals com­men­su­rate with the male play­ers. The TV rat­ings for LPGA events in Asia are the same as the men’s. So the en­dorse­ment money is the same. The mar­ket val­ues them equally. But hey, I thought you were go­ing to ask me about rolling the ball back? I ab­so­lutely want to have that dis­cus­sion.

JH Go for it. BC I want to have that dis­cus­sion with zealots like you (laughs). I’ve thought about this a lot. I agree that play­ers hit­ting the ball nine miles is a prob­lem in the pro game. But there’s a rea­son why I’m op­posed to rolling the ball back or chang­ing the equip­ment. In good faith the equip­ment com­pa­nies have op­er­ated within the pa­ram­e­ters of the rules. So to sud­denly change would rob them of their in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty. I just don’t be­lieve in that. At all. So the prob­lem can be elim­i­nated. But it would come at a cost. JH But those com­pa­nies also got into the busi­ness know­ing who makes the rules. And it shouldn’t be them.

BC That’s true. But along the way they have abided by the rules. So the prob­lem can be elim­i­nated by rolling the ball back and chang­ing the equip­ment. But solv­ing the prob­lem is an­other mat­ter al­to­gether.

I look at ar­chi­tec­tural de­signs and won­der when was the last time there was any orig­i­nal­ity. There hasn’t been any. We still talk about Tilling­hast or Seth Raynor as if they lived yes­ter­day. There are no pot bunkers in the United States. Maybe one, at Pine Val­ley.

JH I’ve been in that bunker. BC Me too. Did you putt out of it?

JH No. BC If you ever get into it again, take a put­ter and hit it up the face. It will come out just per­fectly. Any­way, there are three dif­fer­ent ar­chi­tec­tural ideas I have which will help solve the prob­lem of dis­tance.

You have pot bunkers here in Great Bri­tain. In the mid­dle of the fair­ways, maybe 350 yards off the tee, those things would make play­ers think about blast­ing away. There is one on the third hole at St An­drews. You can’t see it from the tee but you know it’s there. Even if you have played the hole a few times you still won­der where it is ex­actly. And it plays big­ger than its size. They all do. So if we have ac­cor­dion to­pog­ra­phy or choco­late-drop mounds out there – or pot bunkers – we can hold the guy who can hit 350 yards ac­count­able. Right now, that guy op­er­ates with im­punity. He flies bunkers that ev­ery­one else has to work around. But he can be held ac­count­able by ar­chi­tec­tural de­sign, ob­sta­cles if you like. We have to give him some­thing to think about.

That’s one way. Now, I love the old cour­ses. But we think of them as works of art and we are wrong to do so. I think they are works in progress. They al­ways have been. St An­drews wasn’t al­ways 18-holes. And it was never as long as it is now. Shin­necock Hills was once 4,000 yards and now it’s not. Au­gusta is not what it was ei­ther.

JH But we are ac­tu­ally leav­ing the cour­ses now. They are out of room. Look at the Old Course dur­ing an Open. BC That’s what you say the golf course is. But the course is wher­ever the tees and the greens are. JH BC

So you’re okay tee­ing up on the Road Hole from a field across the road?

I am OK with that. Cour­ses evolve. The one thing that has ob­so­leted cour­ses more than any­thing else is the Stimp­me­ter. That is one piece of equip­ment ev­ery­one wants to get rid of. Ev­ery su­per­in­ten­dent and ev­ery tour player. We can all agree to do that. Imag­ine Shin­necock Hills with greens run­ning at nine on the Stimp­me­ter. Or, once we get rid of the darned thing, just imag­ine Shin­necock with greens that are ap­pro­pri­ate. Ap­pro­pri­ate speed for the de­sign.

JH If you look at film of the Mas­ters in the 1970s, the play­ers are ab­so­lutely ham­mer­ing putts.

BC That’s right. That makes these great de­signs more in­ter­est­ing. Be­cause you can put the holes in places you just can’t put them in these days.

JH But doesn’t there have to be more to evo­lu­tion than just mak­ing cour­ses longer?

BC I agree. Be­cause what is about to hap­pen is go­ing to eclipse what you al­ready think. There are 94 guys on the web.com Tour av­er­ag­ing more than 300 yards from the tee. The next gen­er­a­tion is com­ing. There is a guy called Nor­man Jones from Ore­gon. He swings the club at 133mph. Cameron Champ swings at 130mph. So it is com­ing. Look at Ryan Fox on the Eu­ro­pean Tour. He re­minds me of John Daly. But longer. I watched the (two-hole) play-off for the Irish Open. Ryan hit his drives 380 yards both times. How Rus­sell Knox beat him was amaz­ing.

Any­way, I’m not en­tirely op­posed to rolling back the ball. Or fix the clubs, if that is what ev­ery­one agrees to do. JH It’s only for the pros. No­body wants the am­a­teurs to find the game even harder. Al­though does it re­ally mat­ter to the vast ma­jor­ity? Whis­per this. If you have bad tech­nique it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter what clubs and balls you are us­ing.

BC (Laughs) That’s true. My best friend has bad tech­nique and the clubs don’t help him. Last night I was with a guy from a man­u­fac­turer and he was telling my friend that he needs what­ever new driver they have out. I laughed. First, no he doesn’t need it. And sec­ond, it isn’t go­ing to help him.

But this could hap­pen. Imag­ine if guys get on the first tee at Au­gusta and fly it over the bunker. So they are chip­ping to the green. Then they hit driver, 8-iron to

‘Bot­tom line is I’m not sure US play­ers would want to hop on a plane and go to, say, Ger­many.’

the sec­ond. They then hit 3-wood onto the third green. Then they fly it over the bunker on the fifth. Then they drive it right in front of the sev­enth green. Then they hit 7-iron to the eighth. Then they drive it over the cor­ner at the ninth. That’s com­ing. And that’s not com­ing be­cause of the ball and the equip­ment. The line in the sand has al­ready been drawn.

JH The ball only gets the fo­cus be­cause it is the easy fix. BC I get that.

JH And would it make any dif­fer­ence to what balls peo­ple buy? It wouldn’t to me.

BC Yes, but Titleist’s ar­gu­ment is that they’re sit­ting on a flush. And the other guys in the game have shit hands. But those guys want to shuf­fle the deck be­cause Titleist is the bet­ter poker player. To which Titleist’s re­sponse is that you are as­sum­ing I am still go­ing to beat you. But I’m still sit­ting on a flush. I don’t want to reshuf­fle the deck. The other guys have noth­ing to lose.

JH The amaz­ing thing about Tiger is that he dom­i­nated the way he did at a time when it had never been more dif­fi­cult to dom­i­nate. The av­er­age player was closer to him than he had any right to be.

BC He played the ‘bladi­est’ blades you can play. And the ‘spin­ni­est’ ball. I al­most think he dom­i­nated be­cause he did that. He was pow­er­ful enough to do that. Back in the day Tiger av­er­aged 298 from the tee. Daly was 299. But the next guy, Davis Love, was at 288. That is huge. The av­er­age was about 263 or 264.

The game has some prob­lems be­cause these huge guys are com­ing. They are about to do things that are go­ing to make what has al­ready hap­pened pale.

JH I think the R&A are mak­ing noises be­cause they are some­what wor­ried about the next Open at St An­drews.

BC They should be. I had 121 yards to the (par-5) 5th green there the other day. It’s a shame to see what is go­ing on there. The only hole that can still hold its own is the 17th. But some day soon some­one is go­ing to drive al­most onto that green. That may be the tip­ping point. There has to be one of those. Al­most ev­ery hole on the course is a flick to the top guys.

I re­mem­ber watch­ing the Open there in 2015 with Ken Schofield. I called what we were see­ing “gross”. And the pin po­si­tions are get­ting ridicu­lous. And the speed of the greens. When they had to stop play in 2015 it had more to do with the greens be­ing too fast than the strength of the wind. It was a mess.

Chamblee and his Golf Chan­nel col­leagues at The Open. Chamblee went from fac­ing ques­tions as a Tour pro to an­swer­ing them.

He di­vides opin­ion, but Chamblee con­stantly seeks to im­prove. Chamblee qual­i­fied for this year’s Se­nior Open on the Old Course.

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