News & Opinion

It’s time for Chamblee to shut up and play

Brandel Chamblee has, if nothing else, an over-abundance of guts. Since 2003 – and much more in the past five years or so – he has been fearlessly analyzing the swings, games, attitudes and decisions of the best players in the game on Golf Channel.

Starting today, Chamblee will step into the breach as a player, something he hasn’t done since 2008. He is in the field for the Senior British Open at the Old Course at St. Andrews (tee times). He qualified for the senior major championship by shooting a 2-under 69 at Scotscraig Golf Club, only 17 miles from Carnoustie, where he held forth on the British Open for Golf Channel.

Now, he is fair game for the network’s analysts – and for PGA Tour players on the Twittersphere – to take their shots and evaluate Chamblee’s performance on the course rather than in the booth.

Chamblee has said that he has been looking at more opportunities as a player for some time.

“You get to play golf in a competitive environment with people I’ve known since I was 12 and 13 years old and rekindle some old friendships,” the 56-year-old Chamblee said in a story in the New York Post. “It just gives me a chance to compete again. I am going to keep at this and see how good I can get. I am trying to get in better shape physically and emotionally. I haven’t golfed competitively in 15 years. This would set me off on a nice path to get back into golf playing-wise. … It’s like rekindling an old love affair.”

Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee
Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee prepares for a show.

© GOLFFILE/KENNETH E. DENNIS
TV analyst Brandel Chamblee switches roles this week, moving to the other side of the microphone to compete in the Senior British Open at the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland.

But he maintains he’s not leaving TV.

“I love TV, and I am not going to stop doing it any time soon,” he said. “I really enjoy it, but golf has been my life and I’ve committed some effort to it. I think it’ll help me do what I do now. It’s pretty easy to sit in a chair and lose sight of just how difficult golf is and rage against that, try and rage against that. To go out there and hit these shots again, it gives you a great appreciation to just how athletic the game is today.”

Chamblee was a solid, if not spectacular player during his 15-year career on the PGA Tour, winning the 1998 Greater Vancouver Open. But it was not a distinguished start. In 1988, his first full year on Tour, he missed the cut in 19 of his 29 events and made a paltry $33,618. In the early 1990s, he was only marginally better, but in 1994, he finished third at the Honda Classic and made $161,018 for the year, ranking 111th on the money list.

He posted three runners-up finishes over the next two seasons, gradually improving in earnings. In 1998, Chamblee broke through with a victory at Vancouver, helping vault him to a career-high $755,936 in earnings, ranking 37th on Tour.

After a few respectable years, Chamblee had to face a decision with his 2003 results. He slipped to $126,092 in earnings and faced a trip through two stages of Q-School to regain his card. He had done some TV for ABC, and Golf Channel had offered him a full-time contract. After looking at his life on the road as a player and time spent away from his young children, he took the plunge and went to work for Golf Channel.

“I wanted to see what a normal life was like,” he told Sports Illustrated in 2003. “I wanted to be a real person.”

Since then, Chamblee has made his bones in TV by calling things exactly as he sees them, without a filter. It has made him a polarizing force on Golf Channel – viewers love him or hate him, with seemingly no middle ground. Some of the most compelling golf commentary on the air has come from disagreements between Chamblee and fellow analyst Frank Nobilo.

Phil Mickelson was quoted recently as saying Chamblee has “made his commentating career on denigrating others.”

And perhaps Chamblee’s interest in playing more tournament golf comes from Golf Channel’s push to muzzle its on-air talent. A former commentator who worked for several years for Golf Channel said his contract was not renewed because management is forbidding on-camera criticism of the PGA Tour, its players or its partners.

Or maybe Chamblee has been bitten again by the golf bug. "My game's pretty good,” he said. “When I've played, I've played some really good golf. I'm looking forward to it for a lot of different reasons. I want to try to get back into competitive golf, and I would love to have another week at St. Andrews."

No doubt that Golf Channel analysts this week will take it extraordinarily easy on Chamblee, who last played competitively in 2008 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

But wouldn’t it be fun to find out, for the guy who can really dish it out, how well he can take it?

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf