Forget about the Hatfields and McCoys. Golf has the Poulters and the Chamblees, each side digging in deep after Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee questioned, ahem, Poulter’s fortitude down the stretch of The Players on Sunday evening on site on the set. (Had they a chance to do it all again, perhaps the founders of Twitter would have more aptly named the app “Kerosene.”)
Poulter, who got into The Players only after fellow player Brian Gay had uncovered a points discrepancy as both players chased a card through medical extensions, had a terrific tournament, tying for second in a deep, deep field (48 of the world’s top 50 competed). The last thing he wanted to hear coming off four grueling days on that track is how he failed to play aggressively down the stretch on a golf course where disaster lurks around every corner on the way home.
Everyone has opinions, and the unofficial Gallup poll seems to tilt toward Poulter’s side in this riff against Chamblee. But could it be that both parties were right (at least partially so, in Chamblee’s case) on this one?
First things first: Chamblee’s comments need be heard in full context. One has to wonder if Poulter heard Chamblee’s full take, and didn’t just hear about this third-party. Chamblee’s take: Poulter’s seemingly conservative play on the 16th and 17th holes was not the stuff that makes one a lifetime hero at the 19th hole – the way, say, crazy-good finishes by Craig Perks (2002) and Rickie Fowler (6 under, last six holes) will live on in tournament lore. He was absolutely right about that.
Chamblee gets paid (quite handsomely) to offer his opinion on what he sees, and he is both an astute observer and dedicated student of the game. Clearly, he thought Poulter may have had an opening to increase pressure on a 21-year-old leader who one hole behind him and chose not to take it on. He voiced those thoughts.
Of course, the rich history of the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass if filled with those who did go for all and magnificently crashed. Len Mattiace (who made 8 at 17 in 1998) and Sean O’Hair (who made quad at 17 in 2007 as he chased Phil Mickelson) had chances to win and went for everything, each tumbling hard down the Sunday leaderboard. O’Hair’s gaffe moved him from second to 11th, a difference of $747,000).
Only Poulter really knows what shots he was trying to pull off (incidentally, the brave play from the trees for tap-in bogey at 18 truly was one for the ages). Poulter had 236 yards in at the par-5 16th, and would need to hit 4-iron from a downhill, iffy lie in the rough and run the shot through a small gap to the green. He placed the probability of pulling off such as shot as “1 in 20,” and knew there were other ways to make birdie. So he laid up, then followed by hitting a poor wedge by his standards that settled nearly 30 feet left of the hole.
But one also must factor in this: A month ago, after he came up one shot shy of where he needed to be at RBC Heritage and missed the cut at the Texas Open, Poulter was convinced he’d lost his Tour card. At 41, a father of four, he would no control of his schedule for the rest of the 2016-17 season, getting into second-tier events when he can, sometimes at the 11th hour.
A par-par-bogey finish at the Stadium Sunday was good enough to tie for second. Folks point to the stack of money Poulter earned ($924,000), but far more important were the Tour card he secured for 2017-18, the FedEx Cup points (he moved from 136th to 58th) and World Ranking points (he moved from 197th to 80th). At No. 80, he can more realistically set his sights on getting back into the top 50 again, and from there he can play anywhere he pleases. Not everyone needs a trophy to win.
Everybody views life differently from the kaleidoscope. Frankly, it would be scary if we didn’t. If Chamblee’s assigned mission is to spark a conversation, he certainly did that. As far as this writer is concerned, they both can take a bow.