Brandel Chamblee can define “golf superstar.”
And Jon Rahm, winner of nine PGA Tour tournaments and another nine events worldwide, is not one, the longtime Golf Channel analyst said.
“He’s an amazing player, and he certainly has the ability and the talent to become a superstar, but superstar is rarefied air,” he said Saturday night on the network’s Golf Central show.
Of course, the thought of whether someone is a superstar is quite subjective, as is the definition of the label itself, and Chamblee was aware of both. Still, when the discussion started ahead of the Farmers Insurance Open final round, where Rahm was looking to win for the fifth time in seven events, and picked up after play, where the Spaniard shot a two-over 74 and tied for seventh, the former touring pro had his rationale.
How, then, did Chamblee define golf superstar?
In a word, sustainability.
“I can find all kinds of guys in the top three [in the world] who have ascended to the top three in professional golf that you wouldn’t qualify as a superstar,” Chamblee said on Golf Central. “It’s a subjective metric, and it hits upon your subjectivity. At least for me, what constitutes a superstar in any sport is a sustained level of dominance and dependability over a three-to-five-year period.
“And I’m talking about racking up multiple major championships, winning by wide margins. Jon Rahm has never won a golf tournament on the PGA Tour by more than three shots. Winning the Vardon Trophy. Winning the biggest tournaments at the biggest moments and handling it with a degree of dependability. His iron play is not the stuff of legend. It’s good, not great. And for him to go and blow fields away, and to win multiple major championships, his level of iron play — he is only ever led Strokes Gained: Approach one time in his career on the PGA Tour.”
Using those qualifiers, let’s look at Rahm, a former world No. 1 who is currently ranked third. After turning pro in 2016, he won in January of 2017, at the Farmers, by three strokes, and he’s won every year since (the 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge, in a playoff; the 2019 Zurich Classic, with partner Ryan Palmer, by three; the 2020 Memorial, by three; the 2020 BMW Championship, in a playoff; the 2021 U.S. Open, by one; last year’s Mexico Open, by one; this year’s Tournament of Champions, by two; and this year’s American Express, by one). Rahm’s also won the nine events internationally, including three DP World Tour Championships.
Then there’s the Vardon Trophy, which is given to the Tour player with the lowest scoring average in a season, and Rahm has earned the honor once, in 2020-21. (Starting with the 2016-17 season, Rahm has finished eighth (69.561), 20th (69.958), sixth (69.168), second (69.127), first (69.300) and 12th (69.755).) Finally, there’s the SG: Approach metric, and Rahm has finished 20th (.515), 96th (.047), 34th (.405), 54th (.283) eighth (.717) and 38th (.363).
Of course, you may have your own way to classify a superstar, and Chamblee’s co-host, Rich Lerner, was wondering if the analyst was confusing the label with ‘legend.’ Still, Chamblee stuck to it, and he argued that “it behooves us to talk about players as if they’re superstars.”
That being said, did he believe that Rahm could move to that level?
Yes, Chamblee said, but his recent form will have to be repeated.
“He’s played a lot of great golf, he’s got the potential to be one, but Tiger Woods was a superstar,” he said on Golf Central.
The segment then ended with Lerner asking Chamblee whether Max Homa, the winner on Saturday at the Farmers Insurance, could crack superstardom. To note, the 32-year-old has won six times, with five of the victories coming since February of 2021.
In his response, Chamblee looked more at Homa’s personality.
“You know, how many athletes come along who are proficient all the way through — whatever disciplines they need to be proficient in — who are really bright, really witty, have a sense of the moment and are humble?” Chamblee said on Golf Central. “I mean, that’s — look, I mean the nature of sport is you got to be arrogant, and that inner arrogance can creep out of you. And to see someone come along — I mean, you think about what he does on social media. I mean, the algorithms of social media love discord and bullying and they reward it. And he takes the social contagion of social media and turns it into a place of levity with his comedic wit. You know, he turns that cesspool and he turns it into a rose garden. And you just got to love that.
“So could he be a superstar? Yes, he could be, absolutely.”
Editor’s note: To listen to the Golf Central segment, please click here.