It is now 11 days since Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee’s 2013 PGA Tour “report card” appeared on the Golf.com website; the one in which he gave Tiger Woods an F for flouting, as in the rules of golf.
Eleven days, and no Golf Channel appearance by Chamblee, one of the network’s most recognized figures, to address the issue. Curious, isn’t it?
Those who have been residing on or about the planet Earth since the report card appeared will have noted the reaction, which has ranged from Woods’s agent Mark Steinberg hinting at legal action, to Chamblee first defending his stance to The Associated Press, then deciding to apologize on Twitter, to opinions on both sides — including the suggestion that if Woods played a less genteel sport than golf, he’d have heard much worse criticism than Chamblee’s, which played into the well-worn joke that the world No. 1′s given name shouldn’t be Tiger, but Cheetah.
In Chamblee’s defence, comparing Woods’s multiple instances of running afoul of the rules in 2013 to cheating on a fourth-grade math test — for which Chamblee’s teacher first gave him a mark of 100, then crossed it out and wrote ‘F’ beneath it — was probably intended to be subtle.
It didn’t make it, by a mile.
For one thing, Woods was voted the Tour’s player of the year, having won five tournaments when no one else won more than two. So on the face of it, giving him an F could only mean one thing: that Chamblee believed he knowingly broke the rules.
Without absolute proof — and the only proof could be what was in Woods’s head — that’s pretty much defamation of character, defined.
As Steinberg noted, there’s nothing worse someone can call a golfer than a cheater, because the whole fabric of the game is based on self-policing honesty.
If Chamblee had merely opined that Woods is not a very nice person — a “nasty piece of business” as a British colleague put it — he’d have been in the clear, because there is ample evidence to support it.
John Strege, who in 1997 authored Tiger, the first major biography of Woods (“A well-written family story,” said the Christian Science Monitor … “Chronicles the golfer’s achievements without losing sight of the human being,” said the Hartford Courant) long ago lost the rose-coloured glasses about his subject.
Now with Golf Digest, he has posted a pictorial ranking of The Tiger Enemy List (updated with Chamblee atop the leaderboard) on the magazine’s website. It numbers 17, but really only scratches the surface.
But the cheating suggestion really put Enemy No. 1 in a class by himself.\
So here he was, Brandel Chamblee, whose one PGA Tour victory in a respectable career was the 1998 Greater Vancouver Open — now a more-than-competent analyst, who’s prepared and articulate and as opinionated as TV can stand; often the only dissenting voice in a chorus of idol-worshipping babble — out a very long way on a very slender limb, forced to backpedal while trying not to totally abandon his position.
“I remember when we only talked about Tiger’s golf. I miss those days,” Chamblee wrote in his original post, after the anecdote about his math test. “He won five times and contended in majors and won the Vardon Trophy and … how shall we say this? … was a little cavalier with the rules.”
The rules controversies to which he referred:
– At the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship in January, Woods was penalized two strokes (and missed the cut by one) after taking an illegal free drop from knee-high foliage. He and playing partner Martin Kaymer thought he was entitled to relief from an embedded lie, but were mistaken.
– At the Masters in April, he took an illegal drop after his approach shot to the 15th green hit the flagstick and caromed back into the water. Woods signed an incorrect scorecard but was not disqualified, only penalized two strokes, because the rules committee had been made aware of the possible infraction but didn’t apprise Woods before he signed off on his score.
– At the BMW Championship in September, a double-bogey six at the first hole on Friday became an eight after high-def video determined that Woods’s ball moved in the rough while he was clearing debris around it, and he did not replace it in its original position. Woods stubbornly insisted the ball only “oscillated” even after he was shown video evidence by the Tour, and angrily accepted his two-stroke penalty.
“I don’t feel I’m the one that needs to justify the ‘F.’ The BMW video does it for me, followed by Tiger’s silence — until confronted — and then by his denials in the face of incontestable evidence to the contrary of his petitions,” Chamblee wrote in an email to the AP. “To say nothing of the fact that he was disrespecting his position in golf, the traditions of golf and his fellow competitors, in my opinion.”
– Additionally, at The Players Championship in May (which Woods went on to win), in an incident for which no penalty was assessed, he took what appeared to be an extraordinarily advantageous drop after hitting his tee shot into the water at the 14th hole. He and his playing partner, Casey Wittenberg, agreed on the spot where the ball last crossed land before getting wet, some 250 yards upfield, which is all that the rules require. But replays, and the original comments of the TV crew — Mark Rolfing immediately called it a “pop-up … the real issue is it didn’t cross much of the water hazard at all,” and Peter Jacobsen said, “You’re right, Mark, he’s going to have to drop ‘way back” — seemed to indicate that the drop may have been wrong by 150 yards or more. Johnny Miller continued to maintain grave doubts about the drop, calling it “really, really borderline,” but the other commentators quickly (one might say cravenly) changed their tune.
As has Chamblee. As you knew he would.
We may never learn where exactly the pressure came from — The Golf Channel, which needs to make nice with its meal ticket, or the PGA Tour, whose product is a Golf Channel staple, would be two excellent guesses. Likely the same voices that barked in Rolfing’s earpiece, and Jacobsen’s, at The Players.
Whatever the final straw was, Chamblee saw the light, and climbed down.
“My intention was to note Tiger’s rules infractions this year, but comparing that to cheating in grade school went too far,” he tweeted. “Golf is a gentleman’s game and I am not proud of this debate. I want to apologize to Tiger for this incited discourse.”
And that is how this is always going to end for the TV guys, and Brandel Chamblee is one of them, or was, when last seen.
He says no one made him apologize, but let’s take that with a grain of salt.
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