Phil Mickelson became Brandel Chamblee’s primary target. Here’s why

Brandel Chamblee explained how he feels about Phil Mickelson.

Brandel Chamblee has made his feelings on LIV clear.

Mark Hannan

“The world will tell you what to do. Golf will tell you what to do. Life will tell you what to do — if you listen.”

I’d been listening to Brandel Chamblee for over an hour by this point. We’d met in a banquet room at Grayhawk Golf Club, near his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., to discuss his life, his career in golf, the pro game’s current state of affairs and how he talks about that state of affairs on television. And now we’d arrived at the matter of the two Phils — Philosophy and Phil Mickelson — at the heart of the issue.

Chamblee certainly doesn’t have a 100% approval rating among golf fans, but he’s inarguably one of TV’s most thoughtful, rigorously prepared analysts and has been at the center of the conversation since the beginnings of Saudi Arabia’s investment in golf. I wondered how he thinks about the outspoken leaders of each league, nominally Rory McIlroy for the PGA Tour and Phil Mickelson for LIV, and their respective approaches to LIV’s arrival. McIlroy rejected it. Mickelson embraced it. But was Mickelson’s embrace just an embrace of the new way of the world? Is there an inevitability towards massive Saudi investment throughout sports, and Mickelson recognizes that early?

Chamblee had a pretty simple answer: No.

“Rory, I would say his opposition to LIV is based upon a conscience and his character,” Chamblee said. In his view, McIlroy was listening to himself and to the universe. As for Mickelson? “I just don’t think Phil was listening. He was like, how can I make as much money as I can? How can I get mine? And how can I, as profoundly as I can, denigrate the PGA Tour?

Chamblee and Mickelson have had their public spats; the latest came via Twitter, when Mickelson objected to Chamblee’s commentary, saying he was “softer now than he was as a player” and Chamblee fired back that Mickelson was “too soft to come on [Live From] and debate.” But Chamblee’s objections are deeper than trading barbs on social media.

Golf has been growing for several years now, both in the world at large and on the professional level. But Chamblee worries that since the introduction of Saudi money to the game in 2019, pro golf has tilted — “perhaps catastrophically,” he added — towards greed. He views Saudi investment in golf as a means of sportswashing, laundering the country’s poor human rights record through athletics. If American institutions like the PGA Tour can be bought without “real evidence of reform,” that makes the Tour complicit. He laments the agreement struck on June 6th between the PGA Tour and the Saudi Public Investment Fund. And he thinks Mickelson is to blame.

“I realize it was a tough dilemma that the Tour was in, but they wouldn’t have been in the dilemma if if it wasn’t for Phil,” he said. There were other players that mattered, of course. Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau and Talor Gooch. The commissioner, Greg Norman. But other than Tiger Woods, Mickelson is the winningest major champion still playing. He’s a golfing icon. Few others would command the same cachet in architecting the vision for a new league that would attempt to serve as alternative to the Tour.

“Phil was the only one that could really make a difference,” Chamblee said. “He was the only one. And he was he was not motivated by altruistic thoughts. He was moved and motivated by greed and that tilted the game in that direction. And so when I think about the dilemma that the Tour was in, it wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for Phil.

“That’s why I think Phil should be removed from the Hall of Fame. I don’t think he has any business being in the Hall of Fame. He’s caused irreparable damage to the game. And if the [PGA] Tour’s philanthropic aspect dies, the autopsy should read LIV. It should read Phil.”

As for that on-air debate? Chamblee doesn’t think it’s likely to happen. He invited Mickelson onto Golf Channel’s Live From set at the U.S. Open, but Mickelson passed, citing his schedule. He also said he had no interest in Golf Channel profiting off his appearance. Mickelson provided an alternative — why don’t the two go on Piers Morgan and discuss things there? — but the date he provided conflicted with Chamblee’s work at the U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach. Since then, attempts through intermediaries haven’t gained any traction. Chamblee says he knows why.

“Look, Phil is in an indefensible position morally,” he said. There’s nothing Phil could say to me about LIV that would have any merit. What he’s doing is morally indefensible and he knows it. And people that are close to him know it. And he knows that. So what Phil is doing is trying to sell a lie — and nobody sounds more insincere or stupid when they’re trying to sell a lie.

“And that’s what he’s trying to do. And that’s what [Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman] is trying to do. And that’s what LIV’s trying to do. They’re trying to sell a lie. And I’m not buying it.”

You can read the rest of the interview here, listen to the whole thing on the Drop Zone Podcast on Apple Podcasts or Spotify or check out Chamblee’s thoughts on LIV in the video below.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/ The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.