Yes, Brandel Chamblee is Wrong. But here’s WHY.

Brandel Chamblee gets a bad rep in a lot of places, and some go so far as to call him the Skip Bayless of golf – making hot takes simply for the goal of getting others riled up and talking about him. I am not here to make that claim. Chamblee has a lot of interesting things to say and does a good job both of standing up for himself and admitting when he’s wrong (usually).

I’m also not here to defend Chamblee, because some of his opinions make no sense and he delivers them all with a smug sense of superiority and condescension.

But again, most of the time he actually stands out because he THINKS about the game of golf and doesn’t just regurgitate the same content as everyone else. But every now and then, I have to question what’s going on with Mr. Chamblee, and his discussion about Tiger Woods is why we’re here. You may recall hearing that Chamblee has stated that Tiger Woods should have won 10 more majors than he has. Which is … quite a statement. Here’s the quote itself:

“If you extrapolate his win percentage from when he decided to change his golf swing in ’97 to when he started winning in ’99. Do the same thing from 2003 to 2005 and then do the same thing yet again from 2010 to 2012. And you start to think of the majors he would have won then, I can’t think of another player in the world that you could have so definitively said left 10 majors, minimum, on the table.”

Brandel Chamblee, SUBPAR Podcast, courtesy of Golf Magazine.

I heard this and thought, “Yeah…why DID Tiger change his golf swing when he was playing so well?” and I didn’t think about it again. Which, I suspect, is playing right into Chamblee’s hands. Because randomly, this came up again and I started to think about it. And when I did, my thoughts were, “Wait … what the FUCK is he talking about?”

So what we’re gonna do here is break this down. Specifically, using the periods Chamblee highlighted above (1997-1999, 2003-2005 and 2010-2012) and see where Tiger left these majors on the table.

(Spoiler Alert: He didn’t.)

During those three periods of time (and I’m taking the full years for each), Tiger Woods won 28 events out of 160 that he entered, for a winning percentage of 17.5%. Included in this are four majors wins out of 34 majors entered for a Majors Winning % of 11.8%.

So, first thing – during this time that Brandel is upset about, Tiger Woods won more majors than players like Vijay Singh, Hale Irwin, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Johnny Miller, Greg Norman, Curtis Strange, Ben Crenshaw and MANY, MANY more have won in their careers. That’s incredible. But it’s worth setting that frame – the time where Tiger apparently frittered away his major potential, he still won FOUR of them.

Tiger has 15 of these. Brandel thinks he should have a LOT more. Harrumph.

But I get it – his point is that Tiger set a bar even higher than that. To be clear, here is what we’re talking about. This shows his career wins and %, and major wins and % (which are included in his career stats). It’s broken out by his total career, his Prime years (2000-2002 and 2006-2009) and the period above where Chamblee is upset about. To be clear, there’s no BAD period included here. Because, you know, Tiger Woods:

Tiger Tiger Woods Y’AllAll Wins% of Tournaments EnteredMajors% of Majors Entered
Career Total8123.6%1518.5%
Prime Years4439.6%1142.3%
Swing Change Years2817.5%411.8%

The argument that Chamblee is trying to make – I think – is that without those swing changes, Tiger should have been winning at the rate in that “Prime Years” row – meaning he should have won at almost a 40% rate of all events, and 42% in majors for what, 15 years straight? That total dominance for that long has never been done by anyone in any sport, ever. Within this period of time, Tiger was out with some of his notable injuries. One reason he made these swing changes was to reduce the strain on his body. It’s literally crazy to say that because Tiger won at an absurdly high rate for a few years that had he not done X, he should have been able to do that for a much, much longer period of time.

So, that’s one massive problem with the argument. It’s just unprecedented, even by the greats in their own sports. But here’s the other…it ignores ALL the other golfers in the PGA who DID win during those times. Here’s a list of all the players that won majors who aren’t named Tiger Woods during the “Swing Change Years”:

  • Phil Mickelson (3)
  • Ernie Els (3)
  • Vijay Singh (2)
  • Mark O’Meara (2)
  • Rory McIlroy (2*)
  • Retief Goosen (2)
  • Davis Love III
  • Justin Leonard
  • Jim Furyk
  • Webb Simpson
  • Bubba Watson
  • Jose Maria Olazabal
  • Martin Kaymer
  • Graeme McDowell
  • Lee Janzen
  • Louis Oosthuizen

There were 34 majors Tiger played in during those years. He won 4 of them, meaning there were 30 out there left for others. The above list is 23 majors. In fairness, one of the Rory victories is in the 2011 U.S. Open, which Tiger didn’t compete in, so if you want to make that 22/30, I’m okay with that. I mean, those are great golfers (in their own right!). Arguing that Tiger should have won more suggests that all or most of these guys aren’t as great as we think, and that they hold major victories that belong, in some weird way, to Eldrick Tont Woods.

OK, fair disclosure. That’s not the whole list. The remaining eight majors were won by these guys:

  • Paul Lawrie
  • Shaun Micheel
  • Ben Curtis
  • Charl Schwartzel
  • Keegan Bradley
  • Michael Campbell
  • Todd Hamilton
  • Mike Weir

I mean, that’s not an inspiring list. But here’s the thing – those guys WON. And they were competing against not just Tiger but mostly all the guys in the first list! Sometimes random dudes win tournaments, even majors. All these guys beat the best – whoever that was – and are true major winners. If Tiger let these slip away, so did every other PGA player during these periods.

This is really just about bad math.

All of this leaves the question open – did Tiger leave some championships on the table by messing with his swing? I personally cannot say that he did. To me, injuries are what slowed his pace down, not his desire to tweak. But it’s all part of the same thing, right? The desire for perfection – not greatness, not being really-really-good, but PERFECTION, is what makes Tiger Woods who he is. Knowing that there’s room for improvement and ignoring it is not how this guy ticks. Should he have tried training like a Navy Seal? What about all the injuries to his knees and back? Those are much likelier candidates for why he couldn’t keep up the truly insane pace he was at during his apex predator phase.

So, YES, if you take Tiger’s winning percentage during his prime years and apply it against his entire career, he would actually have about 35 majors. He has 15, so in some ways Chamblee is being “conservative” by saying he should have ten more (which would take him to 25).

But it doesn’t mean it’s a reasonable argument. In fact, It’s nonsense.

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