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So Long, PGA Tour Disturbed by the toll his travels have taken on his family life, the author decided to hang up his sticks after 18 years as a pro

Dec. 01, 2003
Dec. 01, 2003

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Dec. 1, 2003

So Long, PGA Tour Disturbed by the toll his travels have taken on his family life, the author decided to hang up his sticks after 18 years as a pro

The one thing you can expect from a six-year-old is honesty. In
fact, be ready for brutal honesty. I was reminded of this during
a recent two-week break from playing golf on the PGA Tour and
announcing golf for ABC, a dual role that had kept me from home
more than I had anticipated. I was driving my son Brandel Jr. (we
call him Little B) to school when he suddenly asked, "Daddy, do
you like golf?" Puzzled, I said, "Sure, I love golf." Little B
then asked, "Why? It takes you away from your kids." I tried to
explain about jobs and what I do for a living, and when that
didn't sink it,

This is an article from the Dec. 1, 2003 issue

I said, "Go look in your toy room. Golf is where all that stuff
comes from."

I thought I had scored with that remark--until a few days later
when we were sitting at the dinner table. I had helped Little B
build a boat for Boy Scouts, and he was excitedly talking about
racing it the next day. I had to tell him, "Sorry, B, I'm not
going to be here tomorrow when you get home from school. I've got
to go to a golf tournament." Little B didn't even look up from
his plate. "Well," he said, "thanks for stopping by."

I looked at my wife, Karen, with a shocked expression. My son
wasn't being cynical or malicious. He was being honest. I also
realized, sadly, that he was used to being disappointed by his
frequent-flier father. Little B's comment cut me to the bone.

It rained that day in Scottsdale, where we live, but cleared off
by evening. I sat on the back patio from midnight until 3 a.m.,
having a couple of Scotches, smoking a cigar and considering my
options while gazing into the dark Arizona sky. I had already
decided that playing on Tour and broadcasting didn't mix, and
initially was leaning toward refocusing on my playing career,
which would require considerable practice plus a trip through two
stages of qualifying school after my dismal 2003 season. I'm 41,
and as fortysomething players such as Jay Haas, Loren Roberts,
Kenny Perry and Bob Tway proved this year, that age can still be
prime time. However, I also had the unexpected offer of a
full-time job with the Golf Channel--where I got my start in
TV--which would allow me to be home more with Karen, Little B,
our one-year-old son, Brennen, and our three-month-old daughter,
Bergen. As I looked at the starry sky, the decision wasn't too
difficult.

The next day I found the Golf Channel contract where I'd left it
by the phone, and I asked Karen to come watch. "I need a witness
in case I'm later ruled insane," I told her. I felt strange as I
signed the contract and fed it into the fax machine. In essence I
was saying that I had given up golf. At the same time, ending my
playing career felt liberating. I was hanging up my spikes and
retiring from tournament competition not because I didn't love
golf, but because I loved my family more. I wasn't willing to be
a phone dad anymore or miss my kids' soccer games or recitals or
dinners together. Golf had been very, very good to me, but it
felt great to trot out this cliche: Stick a fork in me, I'm done.
I wanted to see what a normal life was like. I wanted to be a
real person.

Professional golfers have one thought that they can never shake:
I ought to be practicing. I've been home for two weeks now, and
guess what? It's amazing how much you can do around the house and
how much time you can spend with your kids when you don't have to
chisel out four or five hours a day to practice. My normal Sunday
routine used to be breakfast, playtime with the kids and church.
Then I'd go to the golf course and practice until dinner or
darkness, whichever came first. A couple of Sundays ago, as a
newly freed man, I dropped off Little B at a friend's birthday
party, ran a bunch of errands, then spent the afternoon at home.
I caught Karen looking at me at one point, beaming. "I can't
believe you're home," she said, answering my curious gaze.
"You're really home!"

Another reason my time as a golfer is up is that traveling with
more than one child is as relaxing as taking a bath with a cobra.
Take our family excursion last February to the Pebble Beach
Pro-Am ... please. The Monterey Peninsula is the Michelle
Pfeiffer of scenery, but we were unable to enjoy it. Brennen,
then barely five months old, somehow rolled off the hotel bed one
night, made a loud thump when he hit the floor and started
bawling. It was scary. Karen rushed him to the emergency room.
The doctors said he was probably O.K., unless he started to throw
up. Karen and Brennen got back to the room at about three in the
morning, but Brennen started throwing up the next day--we didn't
know it at the time, but there was a flu bug going around the
players' day-care center that week--so Karen rushed him back to
the ER for a full examination. Again, they got back at about 3
a.m. The next night Little B got violently ill and started
throwing up. Brennen was still throwing up. It was terrible.

Not surprisingly, I missed the cut. Still, I was determined to
enjoy the trip and take the family on a nice drive along the
coast. I figured the kids had 24-hour flu bugs. We stopped at the
Hearst Castle and had a picnic, but when we reached San Luis
Obispo, Karen got sick. That's when I realized two things: We
have to get home, and I'm next! I drove straight to Phoenix as
fast as the speed limit allowed--honest, officer--and sure
enough, we had barely made it home before I was doubled over a
toilet. The next day Karen looked at me and said, "I don't think
we're traveling as a family anymore." I second that motion.

My new gig means roughly 60 days on the road versus 180 as a
player. After Little B finishes first grade next spring, we might
even move--either to Florida, near the Golf Channel studio, or to
Texas, where I have a posse of relatives, including my parents.
Moving will be a tougher decision than giving up golf because
I've lived in Scottsdale for nearly 13 years and have created a
Disneyland for the kids in our backyard. My pal Andrew Magee says
there are only two man-made objects you can see from space--the
Great Wall of China and my playground. It's like a Nickelodeon
set. My yard is almost an acre. I have a sidewalk inside the
perimeter on which kids can ride skateboards, bikes or motorized
cars. I have a huge playground with tunnels and slides. There's a
putting green, a bunker and a large grass tee area, plus a pool
and a Jacuzzi. It took two years to get it the way I wanted it,
and if I say so myself, ChambleeWorld is a kids' paradise.

I'll miss playing golf, though I'll still tee it up a couple of
times a year when I can sneak into a field. I'll also miss all
the perks Tour players get--free clubs, shoes, clothes and balls.
They try all the new stuff first. I had my first taste of life as
a normal golfer this summer when I showed up at the Reno-Tahoe
Open without my lob wedge and had to go to a Nevada Bob's store
to get one. I found a 60-degree Cleveland model for only $100,
but I knew that over-the-counter clubs might not be as finely
calibrated as the ones the pros get, so I asked the clerk how
much loft the club had. He flipped over the head, pointed to the
engraved 60 and said, "Sixty degrees." I said, "I know what it
says, but can you measure it on a machine and tell me exactly
what the loft is because in about two hours I'm going to be 84
yards from the hole and need to know if this club is going to hit
it 84 yards." He looked at me as if I were crazy.

I'm reasonably happy with my pro career. I never lit up the Tour,
but I was fairly successful, earning more than $4 million over 18
years. I won the now defunct Greater Vancouver Open in 1998. I
played in the Masters in 1999 and was tied for the lead after the
first round with Jose Maria Olazabal, who went on to win. I'll
never forget walking up the 18th fairway at Muirfield in the 1987
British Open with Sam Torrance, who had been such a hero at the
'85 Ryder Cup that he got a standing ovation from tee to green.
When I dropped behind Sam as he approached the green, he turned
around and said, "What are you doing? Walk up here with me." I
said, "No, no, go ahead." But he replied, "Aw, f--- it. Walk
alongside me and pretend they're cheering for you." So I did, and
that's kind of how I view my career. I've always been as big a
fan of golf as I was a fan of playing golf. I felt privileged to
have had a front-row seat to watch the world's best golfers and,
on occasion, compete with them. It was great to be part of it all.

This summer I was shooting the breeze with Jim Furyk and Lee
Janzen in the clubhouse at Westchester. (They were talking about
how odd it is that the winner of the U.S. Open has to take care
of getting his name engraved on the trophy.) They asked how I had
played that day, and I said, "All right. I shot 72." Tiger Woods
was sitting at a nearby table, and he turned around and said,
"Pretty good for a TV announcer." He grinned and added, "What are
you, anyway: a golfer or a TV guy?" We all laughed. Well, it's
official now, Tiger. I guess I'm a TV guy. I view it as only a
part-time thing, though. My real job is to be a husband and
father of three. Pardon me for smiling, but in my opinion I have
the best damn job in the world.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY BOB MARTIN NEW FOCUS Chamblee will happily give up the Masters (opposite) to be with (from left) Brennen, Karen, Bergen and Little B.COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL BEING THERE Freed from the need to practice for hours every day, Chamblee now has time to spend at his son's games.

Torrance said, "Walk alongside me and pretend they're cheering
for you." So I did, and that's how I view my career.