Exclusive: Patrick Reed's lawyer tried to silence Brandel Chamblee on 'cheating'

Exclusive: Patrick Reed's lawyer tried to silence Brandel Chamblee on 'cheating'

Golf

Exclusive: Patrick Reed's lawyer tried to silence Brandel Chamblee on 'cheating'

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Patrick Reed doesn’t only have his caddie wading in to defend his badly battered reputation — he’s sending in his lawyer too. Golfweek has exclusively obtained a cease and desist letter Reed had his attorney send to Brandel Chamblee demanding the Golf Channel analyst not repeat accusations that the former Masters champion cheated at the Hero World Challenge last month.

Chamblee has been a vocal critic of Reed’s hugely controversial actions at the Hero, where video showed him twice scooping sand from behind his ball on practice swings in a bunker, thereby improving his lie. Reed was penalized two strokes by rules officials but denied deliberately cheating, a brush-off that did little to alter the widespread belief that he did just that.

“The purpose of this letter is to obtain assurance that you will refrain from any further dissemination, publication or republication of false and defamatory statements concerning Mr. Reed, including any allegations that he ‘cheated’ at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas,” wrote Peter Ginsberg, a partner at the New York City law firm of Sullivan & Worcester.

Ginsberg, who previously represented Ray Rice and has sued the PGA Tour on behalf of Vijay Singh and Hank Haney, confirmed to Golfweek that he represents Reed and sent the letter.

The letter was dated and received by Chamblee on Dec. 13. It was sent on day two of the Presidents Cup, by which point Reed was already 0-for-2 and embroiled in a maelstrom of controversy over his conduct in the Bahamas a week earlier. Perhaps the man once known as Captain America was distracted by legal bluster 10,000 miles away.

Reed’s lawyer tersely noted that his client stated at the time there was no intent to change his lie or violate any rules. “Indeed, as you should know, and presumably do know but chose to ignore, if the PGA Tour believed that Mr. Reed had intentionally violated any rule, he would have been disqualified from the tournament rather than assessed a two-stroke penalty,” Ginsberg wrote. “Everyone involved agrees that Mr. Reed acted unintentionally, and the tape of the incident fully supports that conclusion.”

Ginsberg went on to cite a Dec. 9 appearance on Golf Channel in which Chamblee heavily criticized Reed’s conduct, including saying: “To defend what Patrick Reed did is defending cheating. It’s defending breaking the rules.”

Reached by Golfweek, Chamblee seemed unconcerned by the letter. “My first reaction was that someone is so pissed at Patrick Reed that they went back and watched all the nice things I said about him when he won the Masters and was demanding I cease and desist saying nice things,” he said. “As I read further and got to the sentence that the tape fully supported him, I wondered how did Patrick Reed find the only lawyer in the world who didn’t play golf?

“As I continued, I felt like I was reading Finnegans Wake,” Chamblee added, referencing James Joyce’s famously incomprehensible novel.

Ginsberg’s letter states that Chamblee implied Reed was also guilty of improper conduct in the past, a reference to allegations published in 2015 by author Shane Ryan claiming Reed had been accused of cheating and theft while in college. His attorney described those allegations as “demonstrably false” and attached signed statements by two of Reed’s college coaches, Chris Haack at the University of Georgia and Augusta State’s Josh Gregory. Both statements were dated shortly after Ryan first reported the Reed allegations.

Gregory’s statement acknowledges that in an NCAA qualifying event Reed had texted the coach his score, which was then found to be one stroke lower than it should have been. Gregory described that as “an honest, unintentional mistake.”

“At the time Reed was not well liked by his teammates, who repeatedly challenged Reed. The relationship between Reed and the team was very strained during this time,” Gregory attested on Feb. 9, 2015. “In order to keep the team together, I suggested, and Reed ultimately accepted, a suspension, which I frankly believed was a way of moving forward with the season and creating some separation and a cooling off period between Reed and his teammates.”

Haack’s brief statement, dated Feb. 26, 2015 says he was unaware of any allegations of cheating or theft against Reed and that such allegations played no role in his dismissal from the UGA golf team.

Reed’s lawyer did not issue a direct threat of future defamation proceedings in his letter but demanded Chamblee sign a document agreeing not to repeat comments about his client’s alleged cheating. “As a professional golfer in a sport built on relationships and reputation, your broadcasts are incredibly damaging and have caused, and continue to cause, Mr. Reed significant emotional, reputational and pecuniary harm,” Ginsberg wrote. “Mr. Reed is prepared to accept your affirmative representations that you will comply with his demand that you desist from disseminating, publishing or republishing false and defamatory statements concerning Mr Reed.”

But it doesn’t sound like Reed should expect that signed agreement in his mailbox any time soon.

“My job is to be accurate in my analysis and I weigh my words heavily,” Chamblee told Golfweek. “Nothing I said on the air did I say flippantly. I thought about how exactly to say it to get closer to the larger point about the traditions of the game. That’s the origin of my remarks. They had no malice. They were meant to be accurate and admonishing about the decay of the traditions of the game. Instead of self-policing it’s catch-me-if-you-can. And that bothers me.”

If Chamblee seems unruffled, he has good reason: according to one expert, Reed would stand almost no chance of prevailing in a defamation suit. “The attempt by Reed’s lawyer to silence public discourse about his client’s tournament conduct is outrageous and not legally supportable,” said Jodi Balsam, a professor of sports law at Brooklyn Law School. “As a public figure, and especially as an athlete, Reed assumes the risk of frank and even censorious commentary about his performance and admitted rule-breaking. Nothing Brandel Chamblee said amounts to a false statement of fact, but falls within his well-established and absolute right to express an opinion.”

Reed’s agent did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A Golf Channel spokesman told Golfweek that the network fully supports Chamblee and values his opinions.

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