Chamblee: Clarifying view from analyst's chair

By Brandel ChambleeOctober 4, 2015, 9:45 pm

In my first year as a commentator I received some impassioned advice about how I should approach the job. It was 2003 and I was still playing a few events on the PGA Tour. During the third round at Colonial I was walking off the ninth tee with a five-time Tour winner whom I had known as long as I had played golf. We were talking about the people in the profession I was joining. 

“I hate Johnny Miller,” my fellow Tour player said. “Whatever you do, don’t be like him.”

“Why do you hate him?” I asked.

“Because he thinks he knows everything.”

This opinion was nothing new on Tour. A lot of players took issue with Johnny Miller and his candid – some would say caustic – comments about their games. He had even caused blood to boil within my own family.

In 1999, I was in fourth place going into the last round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. When I went to the water-fraught, par-5 sixth hole, I was just one shot off the lead. I hooked my tee shot into the drink, and Johnny said that the pressure of the hole and being close to the lead caused me to get quick, which led to the hook. Watching at home, my father seethed. I finished in a six-way tie for fifth.

As I was driving from Orlando to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., for The Players Championship, I called my father. He was still steamed at Johnny for presuming to know what had caused my disastrous drive.

“He said you choked, Brandel,” my dad said, but before he could go on I interrupted him. “I did choke,” I said. “Johnny was right.”

Whoever is sitting in the analyst’s chair on a TV broadcast – be it Johnny Miller for NBC, or me for tournaments shown on Golf Channel – has a difficult, often thankless job. We have to know something about every player in the field. We have to know when they’ve changed coaches, managers, world ranking, swings, shot shape, clubs and caddies. We have to know the course, weather, hole locations and breaks of the greens. And we have to be ready for every conceivable situation that a player might face from Thursday to Sunday and be able to spit all of that out in 10- to 30-second sound bites.

Before I go on, let me make this clear: I am not complaining about the demands of my job. It’s a great job. But it’s often misunderstood and I’d like to clear up some of the biggest misconceptions.

The “what” – what club, what coach, what hole, what shot – is easy. The hard part is trying to understand and communicate WHY a player hit a particular shot, won or lost an event, changed coaches, plays a hole well or poorly, etc. Anybody can tell you WHAT happened: He hit 70 percent of the fairways today. But to explain WHY someone hit 70 percent of the fairways, when the day before he hit only 50 percent, or why he had 25 putts when he averages 29, or why he had five top-10 finishes last year when the year before he had just two, well, you have to do more than read or listen; you have to think, perhaps even guess a little and then give your opinion. Hopefully this opinion survives a collision with the evidence, but as an opinion, it’s still open to debate. 

Johnny Miller is the king of saying why something happened. This infuriates many players and viewers, but what the players don’t get is that Johnny is not commentating for them. He is talking to millions of viewers. As a colleague is quick to say when confronted by an irate Tour player, “I had your job for 20 years; you haven’t had mine for two minutes.”

I have now been doing TV for 13 years and I could write a book about all the mistakes I’ve made.

Early on I was calling a tournament in Las Vegas and all the players had pink ribbons on their hats for Breast Cancer Awareness. As the camera zoomed in on one of the hats, I was supposed to talk about the significance of the ribbon. I said, “The pink ribbon is to bring attention to Breast Awareness Month.” Now, the word CANCER is fairly important to that phrase. I was unaware I had left the word out and had no idea why my producer was yelling in my ear.

Misspeaking is one thing and, depending on the faux pas, usually forgivable. Being flippant, on the other hand, is almost inexcusable.

During my PGA Tour career, I played a lot of golf with Dillard Pruitt. He had this big lateral shift off the ball and almost no hip turn, but he could hit the ball as straight as anyone I had ever seen. I once saw him win a bet by hitting a particular mower strip in the middle of a fairway.

I always teased him that he was a “rock and blocker,” and I would imitate his swing to make him laugh. Fast-forward to a Live From segment on Golf Central from the PGA Championship one year. We were running a piece on the great teacher Jimmy Ballard, who is famous for teaching a lateral shift off the ball and then back into impact. As we came out of the piece, I had maybe 30 seconds to button it up and said something about Jimmy teaching a rock-and-block golf swing.

The next day, I heard through the grapevine that Rocco Mediate and Jimmy Ballard were upset with my description of their philosophy. It killed me because I respect both of them greatly and believe there is validity to their ideas. If I upset someone because I differ with them, or because I have an opinion about their golf game, that is one thing, but to not give my full consideration to the time allotted for someone’s story is just wrong.

People often ask me how I make it through the long weeks of major championships when we are up at 5 a.m. and don’t get done until late at night. I always say, “segment-by-segment,” which is basically from commercial to commercial.

Each segment of a studio show has a talking point, and I dive in and try to tell the audience something they don’t know, which almost always involves me giving my opinion

The host might ask me, “Why doesn’t Charles Howell win more golf tournaments?” I hate questions like this because I really like Charles Howell and I don’t want to say anything to upset him or his family, but I have to give my opinion, so I try as hard as I can to give an educated opinion and to be fair. Then five minutes later I might be asked another question: “Brandel, how come Tiger changed his swing in 2010 and is this swing as good as his 2008 swing?”

I can’t just say “he changed his swing to get better”; why would anybody change to get worse? I have to look at this new swing and compare it with the previous one and to the one before that and then do countless hours of research and give my opinion. This involves some guessing, obviously, but I am paid to guess to some extent in every opinion I give. And then a few minutes later I am asked to give another opinion.

When I played the Tour I worked hard. Maybe not Vijay Singh hard, but not far off. What I liked almost as much as practicing was the camaraderie of the Tour. What I do now is a long way from the levity of being in the company of 155 men with a common interest, but one thing hasn’t changed: I work every bit as hard now as I did then. It might look easy to sit in an analyst’s chair and be critical, but nothing could be further from the truth. 

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”