Keeping Score

Koepka ought to thank Chamblee

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

No matter what happens between now and the end of time, the 2019 PGA Championship always will be remembered as one of the most astonishing tournaments in golf history. Talk about Hollywood scripts! A 56-year-old journeyman ex-tour pro, a man who bears at least a passing resemblance to Kevin Costner, no less, a guy who hasn’t played in a PGA Tour event since 2008 and managed just one victory when he did, accomplishes the unthinkable.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. Brandel Chamblee has won a major championship.

Just not for himself.

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Brandel Chamblee

It’s not every day that a silver-haired TV analyst can lay claim to one of the game’s most prestigious titles, but Chamblee might as well have wrapped his arms around the Wanamaker Trophy and carried it straight to the mantel above Brooks Koepka’s fireplace. Of course, Koepka already had possession of the Wanamaker by virtue of his riveting triumph at last year’s PGA, but hey, let’s not allow the facts to impede on a really good story.

Chamblee disses Koepka for losing a bunch of weight, then leaves him off his short list of the world’s top players. One of Koepka’s buddies sticks a clown’s nose on a picture of Chamblee and posts the photo on Twitter. Chuckle, chuckle? In this day and age, that amounts to a raging public feud, and Koepka, an embattled competitive soul who has been known to find motivation in a breadcrumb, nabs his fourth major in less than two years by building a 36-hole lead the size of Wyoming, even if the tournament was held in New York.

Can’t make this stuff up, folks.

Koepka is hardly the first athlete to forge a lack of respect into a gigantic career. My short list of chip-on-the-shoulder molders doesn’t include Rodney Dangerfield or Chamblee, but it does contain Tom Brady, a sixth-round draft pick of the New England Patriots in 2000, and the mid-1960s version of the boxer known then as Cassius Clay. The line, “we overcame a ton of adversity this year” has emerged as one of the most valuable cliches in sports.

As soon as you hear that, you know somebody just won something really important.

And if importance floats your boat, Koepka’s rampage at Bethpage makes him just the fourth golfer ever to win four major titles in less than two years. Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods are the others. If you keep better company than that, I’d like a word with your golf historian.

Woods, of course, was once the ultimate master at applying his might over the slightest of slights. After listening to six years of trash talk from Stephen Ames, Woods met the Canadian touring pro in the first round of the 2006 WGC Match Play and must have been mistakenly told that the first tee was located right behind the woodshed.

It remains the most severe beating in tournament history.

“Nine and eight,” Tiger replied when asked if Ames’ comments had fueled his furnace.

Hogan wasn’t exactly Mr. Sunshine when it came to hanging with the fellas, but he found his incentive in the dirt, as in growing up dirt-poor after his father committed suicide when Ben was 9. Back then, verbal smackdowns generally weren’t used to demean someone’s ability or imply inferiority, but Hogan found his determination in some very dark places nonetheless.

He beat that Greyhound bus, although the match ended up much closer than 9 and 8, and rewrote a whole bunch of golf history after being written off. Hogan should have been the inaugural inductee into golf’s Chip on the Shoulder Hall of Fame, but an altar for such enshrinement was never actually completed. Maybe because most guys with something to prove never win one major, let alone four. Or nine. Or 15. Or 18.

OK, so Nicklaus was a nice guy who never bothered with a competitive grudge. Still, he was something far less than the recipient of massive public adulation when he barged onto the scene as Fat Jack and took down the lovable Arnold Palmer at the 1962 U.S. Open. Although Chamblee raised no objection to Nicklaus’ slimming down and beefing up his trophy case with golf’s finest hardware, it’s probably because Brandel was 6 or 7 at the time.

They don’t keep stats on the guys who lost the most weight and win the most majors, but maybe they should. Anyway, you’d think Koepka has one less thing to get revved up about, given this latest feat and all the subsequent hullabaloo, but don’t count on it. Champs who harbor a grudge generally don’t budge. Besides, when you’re piling up big titles like scoops of low-fat ice cream, you stick with what works.

Even after he’d begun to crumble Sunday afternoon, after his humongous lead had all but disappeared and every component of his game was in clear disarray, Koepka refused to play the part. No anger, no faraway stare of disbelief, not even a grimace to accompany the championship he was fumbling away just a few yards from the goal line.

Some guys dance in the end zone, some guys spike the football, and a precious few still flip the ball to the ref. Brooks Koepka is one of a precious few, no matter how he scores his touchdowns. And once he has taken a lengthy dip in the sea of tranquility, perhaps he should send Chamblee a thank-you note for his role in the accomplishment.

The clown’s nose is optional, but it would be a nice touch.

John Hawkins is a longtime sportswriter who spent 14 years covering the PGA Tour for Golf World magazine. From 2007 to 2011, he was a regular on Golf Channel’s “Grey Goose 19th Hole.” Email: johnhawkinsgolf@gmail.com


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