If I am Tiger Woods — and a double check of my portfolio and golf swing confirms I’m not — I am ignoring an analyst named Brandel Chamblee. I am devoting my entire professional focus to why I haven’t won a major in 5 1/2 years. I am taking good care of myself, knowing I’m pushing 38. I am hanging out as much as possible with my two kids. I am preparing for the Sochi trip with my Olympic-ski-bunny girlfriend, knowing Russia in February is no place to work on my short game. I’m also nervous that all but two sponsors have abandoned me since my sex scandal, EA being the latest.
But I am not Tiger Woods. He is.
And he is taking out his life’s frustration on the wrong guy, looking like a power-wielding ogre in the process.
Whoever Brandel Chamblee is, he wrote an opinion piece for Golf magazine’s website (Golf.com) last month suggesting Woods has been a cheater this year. Though the word usage might be a tad strong, Woods can’t deny he was involved in four rules snafus and was punished three times with two-stroke penalties. In the piece, Chamblee, whose primary analyst position is with the Golf Channel, gave Woods an “F” grade for the year. He compared the rules violations to his own episode back in elementary school, when an original grade of “100” was crossed out and replaced with an “F” when a teacher realized Chamblee cheated on a math test.
Wrote Chamblee, a former pro who won once on the PGA Tour and once on the Web.com Tour, lost his PGA Tour card in 2003 and never finished higher than 18th in a major: “When I was in the fourth grade, I cheated on a math test and when I got the paper back it had ‘100’ written at the top, and just below the grade was this quote: `Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!’ It was an oft-quoted line from the epic poem `Marmion’ by Sir Walter Scott, and my teacher’s message was clear. Written once more beneath that quote was my grade of ‘100,’ but this time with a line drawn through it and beneath that an F. I never did ask my teacher how she knew I cheated and I certainly didn’t protest the grade. I knew I had done the wrong thing and my teacher the right, but I never forgot the way I felt when I read that quote.
“I remember when we only talked about Tiger’s golf. I miss those days. He won five times (in 2013) and contended in majors and won the Vardon Trophy and … how shall we say this … was a little cavalier with the rules.”
It’s called creative license, which we all use in the sports commentary business, as long as we’re not libeling or slandering someone. The line is fine, but as a journalist who never has been sued but certainly has been libeled and slandered, I can say Chamblee didn’t cross the line. Woods had issues at four tournaments. There is a problem here. Chamblee applied the criticism he deemed appropriate, though it should be said he also has been a relentless critic of Woods’ swing, which isn’t exactly a federal offense.
Tiger went berserk. While Chamblee’s comments were gentle compared to the global barrage of verbal and written assaults after his extramarital affairs were exposed, Woods instructed his agent, Mark Steinberg, to tell ESPN.com that he was considering legal action against Chamblee and the publication. “There’s nothing you can call a golfer worse than a cheater,” Steinberg told the site. “This is the most deplorable thing I have seen.”
The most deplorable thing he’s ever seen? Really? About Tiger Woods, who is approaching his fourth anniversary as a public dartboard? It’s certainly his right to complain and make a legal threat, but when Chamblee’s initial response to the Associated Press was to stand by his column, the story should have ended there. It didn’t — because Chamblee’s bosses at Golf magazine, owned by Sports Illustrated and intimidated by the Tiger Woods machine, forced him to back down and apologize. This is the problem with the golfing media, which fall under the category of corporate media and dip toes into the ethical conflicts within. They are too dependent on Woods for business interests and, thus, forced Chamblee to say he went too far. They jumped when the emperor threatened them, which is self-serving and not serving the public interest.
First, Chamblee used his Twitter feed to admit wrongdoing just four days after standing by his comments. “Golf is a gentleman’s game and I’m not proud of this debate. I want to apologize to Tiger for this incited discourse,” he wrote on his feed. “My intention was to note Tiger’s rules infractions this year, but comparing that to cheating in grade school went too far.”
Is that Chamblee coming to that conclusion? Or the bosses who are afraid of the Tiger Machine?
Then, the other night, he appeared with Golf Channel host Rich Lerner to issue what sounded like a borderline apology. Why? Maybe because a couple of days earlier, Woods said he had moved past the episode but was leaving it to the discretion of the Golf Channel. Rather than contact Chamblee privately and deal with it man to man, Woods wanted the world to know he was playing God and forcing the hand of the network. Next thing you knew, Chamblee was on the network saying this …
“In offering my assessment of Tiger to you, and specifically looking at the incidents in Abu Dhabi, Augusta, Ponte Vedra and Chicago, I said Tiger Woods was cavalier about the rules. I should have stopped right there,” Chamblee told Lerner on network air. “In comparing those incidents to my cheating episode in the fourth grade, I went too far. Cheating involves intent. I know what my intent was on that fourth-grade math test. But there’s no way I could know with 100 percent certainty what Tiger’s intent was in any of those situations. That was my mistake.”
Lerner asked Chamblee if he has a vendetta against Woods. A vendetta? For daring to criticize the man within the protected bubble of the golfing media? “Of course not,” Chamblee said. “My job as an analyst at Golf Channel requires me to analyze the golf and offer my opinions. I’d like to think I’m pretty good at it. Tiger Woods is the best player in the game by miles. Maybe the best player of all time. And over the years, I have said a lot of positive things about Tiger’s golf swing and his accomplishments, and at times I have been critical, but that’s my job. … I can be a bit forceful with my opinions. Some would say too forceful. That was obviously the case in this instance.”
No, Brandel, it was not forceful.
What was forced was the loosened editorial grip of Golf magazine, where Chamblee no longer works, having resigned from Golf.com. He says he’ll write for the Golf Channel’s website. There are hundreds of commentators that have left themselves far more vulnerable legally to Woods, but they don’t work within the structure of professional golf. Tiger decided to bully Chamblee because Golf.com and, to some degree, the Golf Channel let him. This is why I don’t work for such places. They do not cover golf; they are part of the promotion of golf. That also is the crux of the growing journalistic crisis at ESPN, which recently detached itself from an outstanding breakthrough documentary on concussions because the NFL — the network’s multi-billion-dollar business partner — made that demand.
Before long, sports media companies only will employ puppets spewing not the truth, but whatever’s good for business and their partners.
At least Chamblee still has a job analyzing golf. Bad news is, you probably won’t hear him criticize Tiger Woods again. The bully won, though I wouldn’t call it a major.