Brandel Chamblee: Jack Is the Best Ever

by Jeff Skinner

Brandel Chamblee has blossomed into one of the most interesting voices in golf.  His position on The Golf Channel has given him a very high profile among the golf media and he isn’t shy about voicing his opinion.

Chamblee also uses his resources at The Golf Channel as all of his editorials are chock full of facts and data that the Golf Channel research department has mined for him.

In Chamblee’s monthly column in Golf Magazine he states that Jack Nicklaus is the greatest of all time, and not Tiger Woods.  Now that’s an opinion shared by many, myself included, but Chamblee presents a very detailed argument backed up with some interesting data.

Chamblee’s nominees for the Greatest of All Time were narrowed to Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. “Let’s begin with Woods, who after winning his 14th major in gutsy fashion at Torrey Pines in 2008 was almost universally heralded as the Greatest of All Time. That hype was based on the assumption that Tiger would pass Jack’s total of 18 major wins, as if the case should be settled purely on that stat. It shouldn’t. Even if Tiger breaks Jack’s major record, I wouldn’t call Tiger the best of all time. He wasn’t even the best over a short time.

Tiger’s stretch from 1999 to 2002, when he won seven of 11 majors that he entered, is considered by many to be the finest golf ever played. But from 1923-’30, Jones also won seven of the 11 professional majors he played in, he was runner-up in three others, and his average finish was second. From 1948-’53, Hogan won eight of the 12 majors he played in, and he too averaged a second-place finish. Tiger’s average finish from the ’99 PGA to the ’02 U.S. Open? Seventh. So if the discussion is about the best golf ever played, even over a short span, Woods trails Jones and Hogan. And so does Nicklaus.”

Chamblee also states that the level of competition and a player’s longevity in the game need to be considered and that is where Jack tops Tiger and all the rest.  “Here, Nicklaus takes a bigger lead than Secretariat’s on the home stretch at Belmont. At various points, Jack faced Hogan, Snead, Palmer, Gary Player, Billy Casper, Lee Trevino, Ray Floyd, Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Johnny Miller, Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman. Collectively, this group won 65 majors and 447 PGA Tour titles. Jack’s competition was the greatest any player has ever faced. In his record 19 runner-up finishes in the majors, Nicklaus was edged four times by both Watson and Trevino, twice by Palmer, and once by Player, Miller, and Ballesteros.

Conversely, Woods has just six runner-up finishes in the majors, and he has never finished second in a major to Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson or Padraig Harrington, the players who’ve shined the brightest in the Tiger era. Yes, Tiger has won 14 majors, but in golf winning is neither everything nor the only thing. If you finish second in football, you’ve lost; in golf, you’ve beaten 150 other players. So while Jack is only four majors ahead of Tiger, he’s 13 runner-up finishes ahead—against much stiffer rivals. A player can only beat the competition he plays against, but that doesn’t change the fact that Jack dueled legends. Tiger dueled Bob May.

Centuries ago in the Coliseum, the Romans pitted various animals against one another, including dogs, leopards and elephants. The one match considered a fair fight was between a bear and a tiger. One would kill the other as often as he would be killed. The Romans knew an even bet when they saw one. But my money? It’s on the Bear.”

Chamblee is right on the money here as Jack took on all comers, including a king, a hawk, a black knight, and a shark among others and still reigned as the best.  Tiger may be the best of his generation but Jack Nicklaus still holds the title of the GOAT, the Greatest of All Time.



  1. I find the statements of Brandel Chamblee to be laughable at best. His assertion that Jack’s competition was more formidable than what Tiger has faced is a joke. His quote “Here, Nicklaus takes a bigger lead than Secretariat’s on the home stretch at Belmont. At various points, Jack faced Hogan, Snead, Palmer, Gary Player, Billy Casper, Lee Trevino, Ray Floyd, Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Johnny Miller, Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman” is naive for someone who is supposed to know something about golf. First Hogan and Snead where at the end of their careers and never won a major with Jack in it. They were over the hill. Seve and Greg were just starting their careers and Jack won one tournament when these guys were in their prime. That leaves 7 Americans and one South African that Jack had to beat to win his majors. Eight guys in total. Is it any wonder he won 18 majors and had a boat load of 2nds and 3rds? He had only a handful of players to beat at each major. He often said it himself that when he got to the majors most of the players of his day eleminated themselves. The fields that Tiger has faced through the 90’s, 00’s and now 10’s are infintely deeper and better. Do you think there may have been a reason Jack and Arnie and Tom and Johnny and Billy won one Ryder Cup after another with barely any competition? For the last 25 years there have been more excellent European, South African, Australian and Asian players then there was in the combined 50 years previous to that time. The Faldo’s, Langer’s Olazabel’s, Norman’s, Els, Price’s and I could go on have come on to the world scene of golf to make it harder than ever to win a major. The shallow fields that Jack played, who I do believe is one of the greatest of all time, made it possible for someone to dominate much easier than in todays game. All of todays athlete’s are better than they were in the 60’s or 70’s. Tell me which Olympic swimming or track and field records are held by someone in the 60’s or 70’s, rather than the 2000’s? Why wouldn’t this apply to golf? It does and it is obvious by looking at today’s golfers.

  2. Very well-stated Tim Stoltman.

    To your arguments I would add: Comparing 2nd-place finishes is frought with problems:

    1. Victories have to weigh much more heavily than Chamblee suggests, when compared to 2nd -lace. 2nd place is not “almost” as good as winning, even of you do finish ahead of 150 of your fellow losers.

    2. Jack had the habit of playing conservatively when he was in 2nd place. He now states he wished he had taken more risks when he was in that position. Tiger, on the other hand, has always tended to take a higher-risk strategy when he was on the back nine and not leading the tournament. The result is that he either won, or finished farther down in the pack. By Chamblee’s logic, Tiger is unfairly penalised for trying harder to win.

    3. Deeper fields in Tiger’s era make 2nd place much harder to attain before. I Jack’s day, when there were only a handful of elite golfers competing, there was a much greater chance he would snag a 2nd or 3rd on Sundays when he fell short. Nowadays, there is a swarm of extraordinarily skilled players poised to pass by Tiger when he, say, hits the flagstick on his approach at 15 at Augusta…

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