News & Opinion

Brandel Chamblee sidesteps PGA’s firing squad

NBC Sports chief Pete Bevacqua stands behind his outspoken Golf Channel analyst, which is a change from how he handled the Ted Bishop dustup 5½ years ago as the PGA of America’s boss

Brandel Chamblee can be a lightning rod as seemingly the only analyst with an opinion on Golf Channel.

In his position, Chamblee often will walk up to the line and venture a look at an issue from the other side. That is the nature of his television persona. At times, Chamblee will cross that line on TV, but it seems that the former touring pro gets in more trouble when he offers his opinions via the written word.

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

Be it a 2013 story on the Golf Magazine website when he made critical remarks about Tiger Woods, suggesting that Woods cheated, or when he said in a recent Golfweek article that golf teachers “are being exposed for their idiocy” with the advent of video lessons and that instructors are being “bitch-slapped by reality.”

Clearly, a line was crossed by Chamblee, who apologized in both instances (“Brandel Chamblee apologizes for slap at teaching pros,” March 27).

I asked my daughter, a 28-year-old attorney in Washington, whether she took offense at Chamblee’s language. She said it would matter in what context it was used.

Of course, most of the population would not do such a careful analysis of the phrase and its tenor or context and move right to sentencing. That’s the way of the modern world. With the pent-up frustration from dealing in recent weeks with the coronavirus pandemic, that position might even be understandable.

If we get past Chamblee’s apparent lack of couth, let’s look at the bigger picture. Chamblee attacked not only those individuals who come out week to week on the PGA Tour and other circuits to work with players but an entire cottage industry, with the PGA of America in the crosshairs.

The PGA of America is proud of the 27,000-plus professionals in its organization, many of whom make their living spreading the gospel of spine angle and head position to golfers young and old, male and female.

Golf would be in a pickle if we had to rely on the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy to help the rest of us struggling to get the ball airborne or hit it straight.

Last week, I was contacted via phone and text by golf-industry insiders who were enormously upset by Chamblee’s remarks and wanted to see him fired. According to the same sources, the PGA of America took up the issue internally and then made a call to Pete Bevacqua, the head of sports at NBC/Golf Channel.

Pete Bevacqua, leads NBC Sports Group, which includes Golf Channel
Pete Bevacqua, the former chief executive of the PGA of America, leads NBC Sports Group, which includes Golf Channel.

Those sources said that Bevacqua, the former chief executive of the PGA of America, listened politely to the concerns. When he was asked by the PGA to discipline Chamblee, Bevacqua pointed out that the analyst already had apologized via Twitter. That was the end of it. According to a source, Chamblee reached out directly to Suzy Whaley, the PGA’s president, to apologize. The PGA was unwilling to confirm any such discussion.

As an aside, Bevacqua is the same man who 5½ years earlier orchestrated the removal of PGA of America president Ted Bishop, an occasional Morning Read contributor, after he tweeted the phrase “li’l girl” in a digital dustup with English golfer Ian Poulter, a frequent American adversary in the Ryder Cup.

I’m not saying “bitch-slapped” and “li’l girl” are the same but will choose to leave any level of offensiveness up to the reader.

Though NBC and Golf Channel executives seem unwilling to take further action, I suggest that they should be more transparent.

The discussions at Golf Channel’s headquarters in Orlando, Fla., must have been heated. The last thing the channel that covers golf 24/7 wants to do is offend the PGA of America, with which the network is under contract to air the Ryder Cup.

At the same time, Golf Channel should explain that the reason why Chamblee is on the air is to voice his opinions to golf fans. Sometimes those opinions make viewers uncomfortable, but those thoughts often provoke additional discussion.

When Chamblee called out Brooks Koepka for the four-time major champion’s naked photo shoot in ESPN The Magazine’s 2019 Body Issue, Chamblee made legitimate points about Koepka’s having radically bulked up his body before a major championship. It wasn’t necessarily that the move was right or wrong, but his opinions were thought-provoking.

Since a bit of a firestorm ensued, I interviewed Chamblee on the Sunday of the PGA Championship, primarily about those comments. Again, he was straightforward and also made some logical points.

To some golf fans, Chamblee might cross the line. To me, he continues to make us think.

I appreciate those types of comments.

Crossing the line often can be uncomfortable. I have done it plenty of times, but if you are doing it for a legitimate reason, to get a better reaction or calling out a clear issue that needs to be addressed, then you live with it. That’s the job of a commentator or opinion writer.

To make volatile comments just to elicit a response because it’s a slow news day and add the pejorative “bitch” as a bid for attention would be a mistake.

In this instance, Chamblee said something that should not cost him his job but ought to give him pause before the next offensive comment crosses his lips.

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