These days, the observation that sports writers and pundits seem especially eager to make waves from time to time with controversial statements or positions is hardly revolutionary. But in general, golf has been immune to those sensationalist stories that, many people agree, have far more shock value than thoughtful substance.
On Tuesday, though, former PGA Tour player-turned golf pundit Brandel Chamblee changed all that, submitting a story to GOLF Magazine’s Golf.com that gives academic-style grades to a number of top professional golfers for the past PGA Tour season. Naturally, all of 2013’s major champions received grades of A or A+—or, in Jason Dufner’s case, an emphatic “A++” for not only his PGA Championship victory but his particularly attractive wife, Amanda. Nothing too controversial there.
With respect to top-ranked Tiger Woods, however, Chamblee went in a different direction. Instead of praising Woods’ five Tour wins this year, the winner of the 1998 Greater Vancouver Open focused on Woods’ three high-profile brushes with the Rules of Golf during the season: his improper (and quirkily non-disqualifying) drop at the Masters, another much-discussed drop at the PLAYERS Championship and a penalty he incurred when his ball moved while he removed a loose impediment at the BMW Championship. Chamblee gives Woods a grade of “F” because he, “how shall we say this…was a little cavalier with the rules.”
Above: Woods’ improper drop on the 15th hole in the second round of the Masters was one of the biggest golf stories of 2013.
Chamblee does a bit of semantic gymnastics here, but there is little doubt what he is getting at: Tiger Woods is—or, at least in 2013, has been—a cheater on the golf course.
The former standout University of Texas golfer has long been critical of many aspects of Woods’ career and life, from his changes in coaches to dressing Woods down in the wake of his 2009 personal scandal. But accusing one of the best players to ever pick up a golf club is an altogether different form of criticism. It may even be slander, if Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg’s comments Friday are to be taken seriously.
“I’m not one for hyperbole, but this is absolutely disgusting,” Steinberg said. “Calling him a cheater? I’ll be shocked, stunned if something is not done about this. Something has to be done.”
Mirroring Chamblee’s indirect articulation of his own opinion, the “something” Steinberg refers to is obviously legal action.
This is a level of media drama to which the golf is largely unaccustomed. Granted, Johnny Miller has said some silly things about other players (Craig Parry, anyone?), but is not remotely in Chamblee’s league after Tuesday’s article.
Other sports, though, have their fair share of media personalities, never to be confused with journalists , who are prone to overstatement that prompts a tornado of negative reaction. The best current example of this phenomenon is Skip Bayless, a former major newspaper sports columnist and current professional sports talking head for ESPN. After more than three decades as a print journalist, Bayless transitioned full-time to television work in 2007. He has scarcely looked back.
From an unsubstantiated allegation about Troy Aikman’s sexuality in a 1989 book to his current, seemingly unending and increasingly absurd defense of the greatness of Tim Tebow, Bayless is unafraid of making statements that seem less concerned with deep analysis than emotion and pot-stirring potential. And like Chamblee, Bayless has also been threatened, albeit indirectly, with legal action over comments he has made. In 2012, Bayless opined on New York Yankees great Derek Jeter injury-plagued season in a way that juxtaposed the specter of steroid use with the superstar shortstop. Jeter’s response contained similar allusions to potential legal action.
Does this episode mark a stepping-stone on golf’s journey toward more widespread relevance in the sports world? Does this constitute a partial removal of golf’s proper-to-a-fault stereotype? Will someone step up and become a Stephen A. Smith to Brandel Chamblee’s Skip Bayless?
In any case, there is little doubt what grade Chamblee will receive on his next Bayless Academy report card.
Related articles: Chamblee sticks to his ‘F’ for Tiger, then apologizes