Tom Keegan: Golf Channel candor great for the game

photo by: Associated Press

Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee broadcasts from the course during the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament in Orlando, Fla., Thursday, March 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

The 118th U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills featured a pair of controversies that not surprisingly were analyzed brilliantly by the Golf Channel, led by the man who consistently shines the brightest on a superstar panel.

Brandel Chamblee is to golf what Charles Barkley is to basketball: the best studio analyst in the history of his sport of expertise.

Their styles are different, the result the same: You listen, you hang on every word, learn something and feel like talking about the topic yourself.

Neither Chamblee nor Barkley filters the truth. They don’t couch what they say to soothe feelings. They never forget what they said because it’s easy to remember the truth.

Two controversies at the U.S. Open stole attention from back-to-back U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, a golfer summed up by Chamblee as “a mix of obscene talent and obscene power mixed with great touch.”

First, Phil Mickelson’s brazen violation of the rules and the tournament officials’ failure to punish him properly.

Second, the setup of the course, too difficult and therefore too sensitive to changes in weather so that it gave morning golfers a huge advantage over afternoon ones on Saturday.

If you haven’t seen what Mickelson did, find it on YouTube. He hit a putt too hard and knew it was going to run off the green and settle in an impossible spot behind a bunker. So he ran after the speeding ball and, while it was still moving, hit it back up the hill, knowing he would incur a two-stroke penalty but calculating that it actually would save him a stroke, possibly more.

The bizarre decision called to mind two other strange moments in U.S. Open history: Kirk Triplett sticking his putter in the ground to stop his ball from going down the hill at Olympic Club in 1998, and John Daly hitting a moving ball in 1999 at Pinehurst No. 2.

“No disrespect to Kirk Triplett or John Daly, but they did not then or ever hold the position in the game that Phil Mickelson holds,” Chamblee stated with genuine passion and without contrived volume. “He’s one of the best players of all time. He’s a keeper of the gate, so to speak. The traditions of the game (require you) to be considerate of your position in the game to uphold the values of the game.”

While criticizing Mickelson, Chamblee complimented the lefty’s standing in golf history by grouping him with some of the biggest names in men’s and women’s professional golf.

“Show me the corresponding video of Ben Hogan doing this, or Sam Snead, or Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus, or Tom Watson or Mickey Wright or Nancy Lopez or Cathy Whitworth. Show it to me,” Chamblee said. “It doesn’t exist. You know why it doesn’t exist? Because they understood their position in the game to uphold the traditions of the game.”

Chamblee referred to Mickelson stealing the limelight from the victorious European team by blasting team captain Watson’s decision not to play him and partner Keegan Bradley in an alternate-shot competition at the 2014 Ryder Cup.

A native of St. Louis who was ranked in the top 100 on the PGA tour money list for six consecutive years, Chamblee, 55, said, “This was Phil Mickelson disrespecting not only his position in the game, but disrespecting the game.”

New Zealand native Frank Nobilo, 59, a tour player from the same era as Chamblee, said he didn’t see the need to connect other acts from Mickelson’s past and said it was quite simple. Mickelson, Nobilo, said, should have been disqualified and added that, had Pat Perez done the same thing, that’s how the situation would have been handled.

Such Frank talk is good for the game of golf. Too few sports franchises and especially university athletic departments understand that muting criticism hurts their product in the long run, so officials go to great lengths to try to hide unpleasant truths.

It’s so refreshing to turn on the Golf Channel to hear the unvarnished truth.

It was needed Saturday when, Chamblee pointed out, the first five groups teeing off averaged 73.2 strokes and the last five averaged 76.7, when heavier winds and a harder course turned Shinnecock into a house of horrors.

“Look at the controversy at Chambers Bay and again here,” Chamblee said. “That’s two of the last three U.S. Opens the integrity (of the course setup) has been questioned. That doesn’t happen at any other majors, but it happens here. Why?”

Then he succinctly explained why in brilliant fashion with a compelling golf history lesson.

“Because the agronomy today, the success that they’ve had, is inconsistent with the architecture of the past,” Chamblee said. “They simply get greens too fast for the way they were designed.”

He then shared his message when talking at a meeting of golf superintendents a handful of years or so ago.

“I talked about how bad the stimpmeter has been for the game of golf,” he said of the tool that measures the speed of greens. “Almost universally, the superintendents agreed. They thought there’s too much pressure to keep the greens at a level that is inconsistent with the great designs of 100-some-odd years ago. We saw it again today, what happened in 2004 (the last time the U.S. Open was played at Shinnecock.)

“We’re 14 years down the road. They promised us it wouldn’t happen again. Well, it happened again. Promises didn’t hold water.”

And Chamblee and his mates were right there to hold those in power positions accountable. Bravo. Golf will be better for it.


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