Talking A Good Game
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Most new analysts can master posture. It is the main requirement that presents the ultimate challenge: You must have something compelling to say.
McCarley and Solomon have seen plenty of would-be analysts in many sports, including major stars, miss the cut. "You've got to have an opinion. You can't say, 'I'm not sure,' " Solomon says. " 'I'm not sure' doesn't make for interesting TV."
Chamblee has emerged as Golf Channel's most important player when it comes to interesting TV. After a 14-year career which included one PGA Tour title, he made the transition to the Golf Channel in 2004. He separated himself by voicing blunt opinions backed by an endless stream of facts, virtually all of which he researches himself.
Then Chamblee digs in and dares someone to take him on. He has a strong, almost bulldog, mentality when making his point. McCarley says, "He probably should have been a trial attorney."
In a sport where analysts often tread lightly, Chamblee's content and presentation are unique. "You have to realize you're not speaking to the golf professionals," Chamblee says. "That's a small audience. There are 50 million golfers. You're trying to explain to them why something happened. Not only is this a job, it's a responsibility. It's a responsibility to not state the obvious. It's to enlighten the viewer."
His outspoken views haven't always made him a favorite among members of his former fraternity. Flesch, though, gives Chamblee high marks for not dodging his critics.
"One of the things about Brandel that gives me the ultimate respect is that if he throws out an opinion, the very next day he's on the practice tee," Flesch says. "He's accessible. If you have a problem, you can find him. I can't say that for other analysts out there."
Chamblee has shown you don't have to be a major winner to become a major TV golf presence. His insightful commentary is firmly in the tradition of former role players or backups in other sports who had to study their games hard to persevere on the field or court before bringing their smarts and savvy to successful broadcasting careers.
Having not reached the competitive pinnacle is a reality for many of the golf analysts who don't speak from experience when critiquing big stars in the biggest events. Flesch admits he can't talk about feeling the pressure of being the leader on the 72nd hole of a major because "I've never walked in those shoes," and believes the playing achievements of announcers Nick Faldo and Johnny Miller "add weight to their analysis." The gap is even more profound for analysts like Rymer and Isenhour, who contended but never won on the PGA Tour. What kind of credibility do they have in assessing someone like Tiger Woods in a major?
"From my standpoint, I know what Tiger Woods is doing because I was trying to do the same thing," Isenhour contends. "It made me more aware of what goes into making Tiger Woods, maybe even more than he's aware of himself. I couldn't do it, and it was frustrating. But I also came to understand what the best players were doing. I come at it from that perspective."
Rymer jokes that he has his "Ph.D in golf." However, he doesn't pretend to be something he's not. "I'm not going to make statements I'm not qualified to make," he says. "I'm not going to try to get inside a major champion's head. I'll talk about how I'd feel if I was in that situation. I try to be really honest about that. I understand my place in the game. I don't want to walk in a locker room and have Tiger Woods say, 'Why did you talk about that? You never did that.' "
Begay understands that if he doesn't offer honest appraisals of his former peers, he won't have a TV job for long. But he isn't reckless. "Players don't like to get criticized. I know that," he says. "I always follow a simple rule: I won't say something on TV that I wouldn't tell them to their face."
The odds of marquee stars stepping into an analyst's seat on a regular basis in the future seem remote. Besides the long-term option of the Champions Tour, those players likely won't have the financial incentive to go into TV. "Fred Couples isn't coming in five hours early to prep for a show," Rymer says.
Rymer does, rising at 3 a.m. to do Golf Channel's "Morning Drive." While the network won't disclose financial figures, according to sources, salaries are in six figures for analysts such as Rymer and Isenhour, with outside opportunities to supplement their income with appearances thanks to their TV exposure. Chamblee's endorsements likely put him well beyond the $1 million mark.
For these analysts it is a way to make a nice living and stay connected to the game. Current players with similar career paths might be tempted to follow suit this fall. The elimination of Q school means some players will have only the Web.com Tour if they want to continue playing. It won't be an enticing option for pros who have spent years on the PGA Tour.
"That's a brand-new decision point," says McCarley, who expects his phone to start ringing with new prospects.
Some of them, no doubt, will have reached a fork in their professional lives as Isenhour did. He missed a putt on the 72nd hole of the 2007 Honda Classic that would have put him in a playoff. The following week, his back flared up. He was never the same and soon off the tour.
"I never envisioned something like this," Isenhour says of his second act. "I guess everything happens for a reason."
Being an analyst has given him a golf education unavailable before becoming a paid observer. As with other players-turned-announcers -- Jim Colbert, for one, credited TV work as an essential prelude to a superb senior record that eclipsed his PGA Tour career -- he now can see what he was lacking as a golfer. "Would I have been a better player? Absolutely," Isenhour says of the knowledge he has gleaned. "The best players don't have situational confidence. They have unshakable day-to-day confidence in their abilities. Bad shots don't make them change their golf swing or approach. I let situations determine my confidence."
Unlike Flesch, Isenhour, 45, isn't counting the days until he is eligible for the Champions Tour. He is very content to make a living talking about golf. "My golf now is beer and cigars," he says. "My attitude is that when I hit a bad shot, it doesn't bother me at all. I like it that way."
Not that all the second-guessing stops. Television has been Rymer's life for 15 years, much longer than he played professionally, yet some things endure.
"I can't imagine a job more rewarding, but also a job that kicks you in the butt as much as TV," Rymer says. "And doing live TV, everyone you work with cares about it so much -- you're motivated to be good. It's like a round of golf. If you shoot a 65, you think it should have been 64. You never achieve perfection. You always think you can do better."
In other words, despite trading a lob wedge for a lavalier mic and sunscreen for face powder, the game remains the same.