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Hanging Tough
Brandel Chamblee
March 05, 2001
The author, still recovering from a family tragedy, took a giant step forward by making the playoff at the Nissan Open
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March 05, 2001

Hanging Tough

The author, still recovering from a family tragedy, took a giant step forward by making the playoff at the Nissan Open

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I'll remember at least three things about the six-man playoff at last week's Nissan Open: It was cold, it was rainy and it was over quickly. Before I could tap in my par putt on the first extra hole, Robert Allenby had won the tournament with one of the greatest birdies I've ever seen. He striped a drive and a three-wood on Riviera Country Club's tough 18th hole, just as I had. Except my shot, which was going right at the flag, stuck in the soggy left fringe while his skipped to within six feet. I rolled my putt close for a sure par. Robert made a great putt to win. A 3 in those conditions was unreal. I couldn't feel bad. I shook his hand when he went by his locker afterward and told him, "You stud!"

Officially, I tied for second. Unofficially, I would call this my comeback. Last year had been a nightmare for my family, and this year I hadn't even made a cut. For the Chamblees, the only highlight of 2001 had been the birthday party we held at our Scottsdale, Ariz., home in January for our four-year-old son, Brandel Jr. It was a pirate-themed party, and every kid received a hat, an eye patch, a sword and a stuffed parrot to put on his shoulder. Forty kids with plastic swords had lawsuit written all over it, but the only incident was when Kirk Triplett's son, Sam, swung a bat at the pi�ata and hit his twin, Conor, in the face on his follow-through.

My wife, Karen, and I went all out. We hired two guys who dressed as pirates and put on an amazing animal show. They had talking birds, birds that rode a horse as it jumped over a dog, a dog who jumped over the horse, and dogs who rode in radio-controlled cars. The showstopper was a poodle who climbed on a bike and pedaled around my yard. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it.

We also had a treasure hunt. I buried the treasure in the bunker that's next to the practice green in my backyard and gave the kids a clue as to where to find the treasure maps I had also hidden. The maps eventually led them to the bunker, where 40 children splashed around in the sand until they had uncovered the chest filled with jewels. (Memo to IRS: The jewels weren't real.) It was sheer chaos, and it was wonderful. "That was a great party," one of my friends said, "but now all our kids are going to want a birthday party just like that. Thanks a lot." I suggested to Karen that perhaps we had gone a little overboard. "He's our only child," she said firmly. "I want to celebrate his life after everything that has happened."

Little B (that's what we call Brandel Jr.) wasn't an only child last August. I recorded on video his visit to the hospital to meet his newborn brother, Braeden Joseph Chamblee. Karen was concerned that Little B would be jealous about being replaced as the center of attention, since he had been the king of our house for 3� years. So she bought a present for Braeden to give Little B and had B get a present to give Braeden. That was a special moment. I'll never forget Little B leaving the hospital half-singing, "I love my brother, I love my brother," and excitedly telling me how he was going to teach Braeden to play tennis and golf and baseball and lots of other things. "Daddy," he said, "I'll share my toys with Braeden." You know that Bible story about it being easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven? Getting a three-year-old to share his toys ranks with the camel. At that moment, I was pretty damn proud.

Karen's physician had had a talk with us after Little B was born. "I won't deliver your next baby," she had warned Karen. "You need to go to a high-risk birth doctor because the next time, you could the." Karen has a genetic condition that can cause her uterus to rupture during pregnancy and prevents her from carrying a baby to term. Brandel Jr. had been one month premature.

That was enough for me. I told Karen, "I'll adopt, but I won't risk you." Karen fought me for two years. Every weekend she'd say, "I want to get pregnant." I'd say, "Didn't you hear that lady say you might die?" Karen knew the risks. How can you say no to a woman like that? How can you say no to your wife and think you're going to win? I finally gave in. I hoped her doctor was simply overreacting. As it turned out, she was right on the money.

Sean Murphy, a Tour player who lives in our area and is a good friend, isn't usually speechless. When he called to congratulate me on Braeden's birth, I had to tell him that Braeden had died after nine days and that, in fact, his wake would be held that very night. What can you say at a time like that? Not much. But that night Murph showed up. Everybody at the wake was talking and grieving and crying. Then Murph held up his arms for quiet.

"When I talked to Brandel today, I was calling to congratulate him," said Murph. "I didn't know Braeden had passed away. At first I was mad. I thought, God, how can you do this to my buddy? Then, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Braeden is exactly where everybody in this room wants to be. That's what we have ahead of us. That's our goal. We have to live our lives right so we can get there to see Braeden."

I believe that may have been the best recovery I've ever seen.

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