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My Shot: Brandel Chamblee

Continued (page 2 of 4)

MY DAD would drop me off at the course with $5, and I'd come home with $10. My mom would say, "I don't want you gambling, ever." I'd look over at my dad, and he'd say, "That's right," and then he'd wink. He knew gambling was the only way to duplicate a tournament situation, and he didn't even play golf. So I gambled, undeterred, from a young age.

. . .

I WAS STILL a teenager when I won a Dallas city tournament. The next week, I was at Cedar Crest, a great muny that hosted the 1927 PGA Championship. An old man, a guy in his 70s, came up to me. "I followed you around at the City last week. You must think you're pretty good. I'll tell you what, I'll play you nine holes, $100 a hole, and I'll use just three clubs. You get to use two clubs. We on?" I accepted. When I got home I told my dad I needed $900. I told him about the old man's proposition. He said, "I'm going to give you the $900, but I'm telling you right now, you're going to get beat." Now I had to decide which two clubs to use. After practicing all week I decided on an 8-iron and a putter. Using a Top-Flite golf ball, I could blade it 250 yards on the hardpan fairways, hit flops and all the stuff in between. I'm good to go. The day of the match, the old man showed up with a wedge, putter and a 7-iron bent to 2-iron loft--attached to a driver shaft. A crowd of about 200 people, all of them his friends, were watching. The first hole, he hit that 7-iron 260 yards down the middle. I instantly got a sinking feeling. Long story short, I shot 38 for nine holes--the best nine I'd ever played in my life--and lost $300. When we finished, the old man said, "How about we play the back nine, and I let you add another club?" Of course I wanted no part of that. When I got home, my dad thought it was hilarious. A week later, I found out that the old man--his name was Nate--had for years traveled with Titanic Thompson playing in golf gambling games, preying on cocky locals like me.

. . .

brandel chamblee

Chamblee as a member of the University of Texas golf
team in 1984. Photo: Golf Digest Resource Center.

ONE TIME I had a difficult experience with a certain club pro. I asked my dad what I should do, and he said, "Nothing. Life will take care of people like that." Some time later, this club pro heard there was a slow group at the course where he was working. He took a cart out and told them to speed up, and he didn't do it nicely. They didn't play faster, so he went out a second time and told them that if they didn't speed up he was going to throw them off the course. Bad move. One of the players said, "We happen to own the course. You're not throwing us out; we're throwing you out. You're fired." What comes around, goes around. Life took care of him.

. . .

OVER DINNER with Jack Nicklaus at the '82 British Open at Troon, I asked Jack who was the best driver he ever saw. His answer was Dave Thomas, a barrel-chested Englishman who finished second twice in the Open Championship, including a runner-up to Jack in 1966. Dave could drive it 350 with the old ball and was string-straight. We didn't hear more of Dave, who might have been the greatest ball-striker in British golf history, because he never won the Open and of course didn't play much in America. The reason he didn't win was because he had the yips on short wedge shots, which is a terrible kind of yips to have. What Dave did--and it's an inspired idea, really--was play around it. At the 1967 Ryder Cup at Champions in Houston, Dave was paired in the alternate shot with Tony Jacklin. They plotted the course carefully and arranged the order so that Dave would never be faced with a 30-yard wedge shot. And darned if it didn't work. They beat Doug Sanders and Gay Brewer.

. . .

I'VE WATCHED golfers try to copy Ben Hogan's golf swing my whole life. The results are almost never good, and it's often disastrous. If you copy Hogan's flattish plane and his weak grip but don't cup your wrist and adopt his body motion--which was distinctive and which he didn't cover all that well in Five Lessons--you're going to be in a world of hurt.

. . .

IT'S INTERESTING that teachers are in love with Hogan's golf swing but utterly ignore Nicklaus' golf swing. Jack's swing is viewed as kind of an anomaly. His greatness is always attributed to his demeanor, concentration, nerve, competitiveness, his ability to make putts. That's a disservice to Jack and the players who could benefit by copying him. Jack had the greatest footwork of any player who ever lived. His fundamentals were fantastic. His mechanics were superb. Have you seen pictures of Jack at the top of his backswing? He was phenomenal. He had nuances in his swing, but what great player didn't? It strikes me as odd that teachers will hold Hogan's swing--or even a method based on theory--as the one to copy, rather than the swing that won 20 majors.

. . .

THE PHILOSOPHY of playing golf from the ground up--footwork, basically--died with Nicklaus. It's rarely taught or even talked about, which is almost tragic because so many secrets of a good golf swing are embodied there. Instructors will point out what the feet are doing, but it's always in the context of it being a result of a good swing rather than a cause of one. Balance, rhythm, power and timing all stem from good footwork.

. . .

A FRIEND of mine badgered me to get him a lesson with Harvey Penick. Dr. McMahon was 75 years old and often shot his age, but he badly wanted the lesson with Harvey. I helped arrange it, and when the afternoon came, Harvey asked Dr. McMahon to hit three balls. Doc did this, and Harvey said, "Hit three more." Doc hit three more. Harvey paused for a minute, then said, "Dr. McMahon, you can beat 99 percent of the golfers in this world, and that's as good as you need to be." And he walked away.

. . .

THE ACADEMIC approach to teaching today would have appalled Harvey. I know it appalls me. The other day someone was telling me about "the new laws of ball flight," which insinuated that the laws of physics have changed. The findings were supported, he said, by the output of one of those $30,000 launch monitors. I listened, and it turns out these "new laws" were semantics for things we already knew. The organic approach to teaching will always be far superior, in my view. No teacher is more in demand than Butch Harmon, and he doesn't use one of those godforsaken things. Butch knows that approach isn't expeditious, it isn't economical, and it isn't right.

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