By Steve Elling
MARANA, Ariz. -- They are perhaps the three most pointedly honest guys manning the television towers these days, and for the second straight year, they were placed in a semi-circle and the leashes were removed.
When Johnny Miller, Brandel Chamblee and Nick Faldo get a whiff of blood in their nostrils, it makes for a darned good fireside chat, and that's exactly what transpired at times during the Golf Channel's occasional State of the Game program, staged on the network's Accenture Match Play set on Friday night.
As was the case last year, Tiger Woods was a huge talking point, beginning with Miller's recent magazine proclamation that he thought Woods would win 30-40 more events in his career and make it to 18 major victories, which would tie the record held by Jack Nicklaus.
Boy, did Miller back down quickly from that rosy proclamation. Woods was eliminated in the second round at the Accenture ths week as his putting woes continue to mount.
“That was a best-case scenario," Miller said. "I thought after watching him in Australia at the Presidents Cup, and also seeing him perform the way he did at Sherwood and watching him putt pretty good in both places -– and he hit it unbelievably good, very graceful. I was thinking, wow, this second career could be really good. He could win 30 or 40 tournaments, and he could win two, three or four majors.
“The bottom line is, I don’t think he’s going even tie his record, a best-case scenario. So it’s a tough road to hoe. And like you say, he’s lost his mojo or psyche or power. He had power over everybody and he’s lost that.”
As promised before the session was staged, the trio weighed in on long putters, perhaps the most contentious debate in the game over the past two seasons.
“It’s called a golf swing, not a golf anchor," Faldo said. "The amateurs, for the enjoyment of the game, let them do whatever they like. But for professionals, I think we should start looking at all our rules, or quite a few on the equipment, like the size of the driver face.”
Wow, so Sir Nick wants to back down the horsepower and go for bifurcation -- two sets of rules -- too? Interesting. Suicidal for the game, but interesting.
“I am all for two sets of rules for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is eliminating the long putter in the professional ranks and allows –- to Nick’s point -– to provide a forum which allows you to actually control the motion of the putter without nerves or feel or touch actually affecting the motion," Chamblee said. "So they could make the game simultaneously more interesting at the professional level, more interesting for us to call it and more fun for the recreational golfer if they would do this.”
Chamblee threw caution to the desert wind. If not into a cholla.
"So they could make the game simultaneously more interesting at the professional level, more interesting for us to call it and more fun for the recreational golfer if they would do this," he said. "The average golfer hits the ball 195 yards; they need bigger heads; they need spring effect; they need long putters. You want to grow the game? Let them have fun and do it."
The group was hardly singing praises for the new PGA Tour proposal, seemingly a done deal to be green-lighted next month by the tour Policy Board, to blow up Q-school in its current form, have a wraparound season starting in the fall, and meld the Nationwide Tour and Q-school into a joint qualifying process.
"Frankly I think it's quite sad," Chamblee said. "Every year there's one or two examples of a guy coming out of school or making it through Q-school and having a huge effect. Case in point, Y.E. Yang was the last guy to get his tour card in 2008 and won a PGA Championship in 2009."
Frankly, while the proposal has some merits, the move is being made mostly for financial reasons. Which makes everybody shudder to a degree. It could slow the number of international players coming to the States, because no established player will want to spend a year as a veritable intern/apprentice on the Nationwide Tour first.
"Another case in point, Sang-moon Bae, he's here, he's playing," Chamblee said. "Now, tip your cap to him, he came over and went to Q-school [last fall]. But would he have come over and gone to Q-school if he knew that it would necessitate a year in the minor leagues [Nationwide] before he could get out and play the PGA Tour?
"He won the Japanese money list last year, that's millions of dollars last year and won his national championship in Korea. Is he going to forego all that to come over here and play the Nationwide Tour? He is a big part of golf, now; and a big part of this tournament, now. You're talking about eliminating an opportunity for players that don't even have a vote on the issue.
"I understand what the PGA Tour is trying to do, acquiesce to the demands of a sponsor, but personally I think it's short-sighted."
Amen and hallelujah, brother Brandel.
They also tossed a few observations around about the LPGA, including some less-than-flattering aspersions about the work ethic of the American players, who have definitely lost their grip on the top rung of the LPGA ladder. At last season's Solheim Cup, the players on the U.S. team had amassed, what, three victories between them over 2011?
South Florida's Lexi Thompson, the latest teen prodigy, might help in that regard. She already has a couple of wins.
"The last United States lady to be player of the year was Beth Daniel, 1994," Chamblee said. "They are getting out-worked by Lorena Ochoa, Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, they are getting out-worked."
We tend to agree, but I'm not on the panel. So, continue ...
"If Lexi Thompson can avoid pitfalls, she has all of the talent to be just as good, if not better, than Beth Daniel was, which is saying a lot because that’s a talented woman,” Chamblee said.