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Golf Magazine Interview: Brandel Chamblee

Brandel Chamblee, GOLF Magazine Interview
Ben Van Hook
"I'm one of six very opinionated children. I like to stir the pot."

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Brandel Chamblee wasn't on his high school debate team. "Heck, I grew up on a debate team," says the Irving, Texas, native. "I'm one of six very opinionated children. I like to stir the pot." Pot-stirring is what the former Tour winner, 48, does best as a Golf Channel analyst, a post he's held since 2004. Chamblee's pointed candor, egghead humor, and allergy to cliches make him the most underrated TV commentator in golf, if not the best. To make sense of a bizarre 2010 Tour season that saw Tiger Woods go winless and a guy named Louis bring the Old Course to its kilt-covered knees, we asked Chamblee the Big Questions: Is Tiger washed up? Who is golf's next great player? And will Chamblee, who says he's been courted by CBS and NBC, jump to a major network? Watch your backs, Nick and Johnny. Heeeere's Brandel!

You've become known for frank, pointed criticism. You must hear, 'Who does Chamblee think he is? He only won once. Johnny Miller won 25 times.'
I understand that argument. But I know golf, I know major pressure, and I don't think you need multiple wins to make observations and add to the audience's understanding. Hey, players get upset with you. But I like what Johnny said: "When you're between the ropes, you're mine."

Do you think you're underrated as a broadcaster?
I don't think so. I think I'm rated just the right amount. I've had people say, "You suck!" And I've had people say, "You are the greatest broadcaster in the history of sport." You can't let your ego be too affected by either. I read a lot. There's a story of a general in ancient Greece who won countless battles, who was considered god-like. He always had a subordinate walking behind him, saying, "You're just a man." That's a great lesson for life, whether they love you or hate you. But I can tell you who is underrated: [NBC's] Dottie Pepper has a way of saying so much in so few words.

Golf Channel is less visible than CBS or NBC. If another network offered you a big job, would you take the call?
Sure, I'd take the call. In fact, I've taken those calls [from NBC and CBS]. But Golf Channel is a major network. I love it here.

When you look back on 2010, what moment stands out?
There are two. The shot of the year belonged to Phil Mickelson. His 6-iron on No. 13 at the Masters was perhaps the greatest shot in major history. That shot and scene had everything. It's the Masters. Tiger's in the picture. Lee Westwood, the best player in the world at that point, is leading. And the most gambling, charismatic player in the world has trees, pine needles and a downhill-sidehill lie over Rae's Creek to a firm, nasty Augusta National green, from a spot where everyone else is laying up. And his caddie is trying to talk him out of it! And he pulls it off.

The other moment was Tiger's sorry attempt at an eagle putt on the 54th hole at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He hit that incredible 3-wood from behind the tree to about 20 feet — a classic Tiger, fall-out-of-your-chair moment. There's no way he misses that putt any other year. It showed us that the magic was gone.

Will the old Tiger be back in 2011?
I don't think Tiger will ever play the way we've seen him. He used to be surrounded by awe. Now he plays in a completely different environment. At [PGA Championship site] Whistling Straits, I heard people heckle him all day long. Loud, rude comments. "Hey, where's Rachel?" He looks oblivious to it, but he hears it. It's unsettling. It will follow him around for the rest of his career like a bad odor. Tiger feeds off of fan energy, and the fans haven't forgiven him. The curtain has been pulled back in Oz. He's not the Wizard anymore.

You've criticized Tiger's swing under Hank Haney. Will Woods's swing improve under Sean Foley?
Not if Tiger's goal is winning more majors. Tiger's new swing changes are designed to help him trap the ball and hit it lower. I just don't get it. You have to hit the ball high in majors. Hitting it high made Nicklaus and Watson champions. In 2000 and 2001 under Butch Harmon, Tiger hit sky bombs off the tee. In my opinion, Tiger ruined the greatest swing and the greatest physique in golf history.

You mean he's too muscled up?
Tiger's body was perfect for golf. He was lean, sinewy, quick. He's turned himself into an NFL linebacker — but why? In golf, you don't have to lift a car over your head. You swing an 11-ounce club.

If Tiger calls Butch Harmon and says, 'Let's get the band back together,' does Woods break Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major wins?
If Tiger makes that phone call, yes, he breaks the record. If he doesn't make that call, there's only a minute chance. To win majors, you need control of your shots. And Tiger's lost that control. He's lost intimidation. He's lost his clear mind. And in 2010, he lost his magic with the putter. He used to be Superman. Now he's just another good player.

What words of advice would you offer Tiger, who is still trying to get back in the good graces of the fans?
It would be how to deal with people, the media. I mean, Jim Nantz had strong words about Tiger this year, and when you upset Jim Nantz, you have gone off the reservation! [Laughs] I would sit him down and show him clips of interviews he's done. I would tell him, "See the way you handled this? Terrible! Give human answers." His relationship with the media is contentious. It's like a marriage gone bad. You can feel the tension in the media tent. He doesn't seem to understand that if he's more civil, more human with the press, they would tell his story in a more forgiving light, and that would help him with fans. Alex Miceli [Chamblee's Golf Channel colleague] had a telling exchange with Tiger this year. Tiger had been slumping. Alex meant to say, "Tiger, you went from being the best player in the world to really stinking it up," but he was nervous — Tiger makes the media very nervous — and [Alex] kind of choked, bumbled it and said, "Tiger, you went from the best player in the world to the worst player." And Tiger said, "I know one thing; I could still beat you."

That's not exactly a graceful, Arnie-type answer.
Not at all. Tiger should have showed civility, humility. He should have said, "I hear you, Alex. I'm stinking it up. This is a tough game, even for me. But I'm so lucky to be out here doing this for a living." But he never has that human moment. We love his golf, but we don't like him. He stiff-arms the media and by extension the fans. Look at [CBS commentator] Peter Kostis. Tiger's rude to Peter Kostis. He can't stand him because Kostis breaks down Tiger's swing. Tiger's attitude is, "How can you possibly know what I'm working on?" Well, Tiger, you won't tell us what you're working on. Look, what Tiger did in his personal life was reprehensible, but the reason nobody gave him a break is because nobody wanted to give him a break. They thought he was a jerk and that he deserved it. So I would tell Tiger that being more civil, humble and human would change the narrative and offer him a more forgiving environment. That would help his game. And it would help his legacy. I'm sure his legacy is important to him. Nobody wants to be remembered as a jerk.

Let's talk Mickelson. Will he finally become World No. 1 in 2011?
I'm worried, because I don't know anyone who has dealt with arthritis and gone on to be better for it. It robs you of mobility. You wake up every day with a different body. If his prognosis is as good as Phil said it was [at the PGA Championship], then I can see Phil and Tiger in a back-and-forth next year for No. 1. I hope so, because Phil is an absolute joy for golf. He's fun. He's accessible. He smiles when he plays. And his style is thrilling.

Do you really think Phil's swing on no. 13 at this year's Masters was one of the greatest swings in major history? Come on — it was a big moment, but shouldn't a Tour pro be able to hit a solid 6-iron from a clean lie? And everybody forgets that he missed the eagle putt.
What are the contenders? Nicklaus's 1-iron on 17 at the '72 U.S. Open? Maybe, but Jack wasn't standing on pine straw with a creek in front, do-or-die. As Phil stood over that shot, I thought, "If he pulls it off, he wins. If he doesn't, he loses. This is it." You know, Phil takes ridiculous chances. But it's his instinct. The places he hits some of his drives — narrow par-4s with O.B. right and left — makes me giggle. You'd think that anybody who takes such risks must hit it straighter than you can point, but even Phil can't tell you where it's going! I love it.

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