Saturday, December 13, 2008

Job as PGA official includes perks

I woke up Sunday as the newly elected secretary of the PGA of America.
This had been a professional goal, and it was a tremendous honor bestowed on me by my PGA peers.
Spending the next eight years as a national PGA officer, being president in 2013-14, will be the experience of my lifetime.
The reality and magnitude of this journey finally registered this week as I spent two whirlwind days in New York for the announcement of Corey Pavin as the 26th captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. He will guide a 12-member squad at Celtic Manor in Wales in October 2010. It also was a chance for me to get to know Pavin and his wife, Lisa, on a personal basis.
In our final meeting late Thursday afternoon at NBC's 30 Rock Center, Ken Schanzer, president of NBC Sports, said it best: "I have been here for 30 years. Since 1991, the Ryder Cup is the most exciting event in sports, the most exciting by far. Give me the Olympics, Super Bowl, Wimbledon, World Series or the Ryder Cup and I'll take the Ryder Cup every time.
"We get asked that question a lot, and that is always my answer."
Pavin has been recognized as a gritty and tough competitor. He has 15 career PGA Tour victories, including the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. He competed on three Ryder Cup teams as a player (1991, '93 and '95) and recorded an overall record of 8-5-0.
The U.S. squad of '93 was the most recent group of Americans to win the Ryder Cup on foreign soil. Pavin served as an assistant captain with Tom Lehman at the K Club in Ireland in 2006, a losing effort. Pavin learned from that experience.
At age 49, Pavin still competes on the PGA Tour and does it well. In 2008, he had six top-15 finishes, including third place at the AT&T in Pebble Beach. His winnings a year ago were $925,000.
He knows today's PGA Tour players from a competitive standpoint, which is valuable when it comes to choosing the four at-large picks that have been given to the Ryder Cup captain.
Pavin was the obvious choice, right? Not so fast, my friend.
Many in golf circles thought that Paul Azinger should be retained as captain, since he guided the U.S. team to its first Ryder Cup victory in nine years at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., in September. Azinger, in fact, had lobbied hard with PGA of America officials in hopes of repeating as captain in 2010.
In the past 50 years, there never has been a repeat Ryder Cup captain. The
Americans have won 21 of the past 30 Ryder Cups, and Azinger was another in a long line of winning captains.
Now, make no mistake; the "Zinger" was a great captain. Ultimately, it was the players who hit the shots and made the putts, not the captain.
Pavin is the perfect guy for the job. Not to compare Pavin and Azinger, but let's do it, anyway.
Pavin's Ryder Cup record as a player was 8-5-0; Azinger was 5-7-3. Pavin has more career PGA Tour victories, 15 to 12. Pavin's winnings of nearly a million dollars on the PGA Tour in '08 are more than Azinger has won in the past three years.
Simply put, Pavin's pre-captain's credentials are better than Azinger's.
"Playing overseas is a whole different ball game," Pavin said at Thursday's news conference at Tavern on the Green. "We will be the underdogs. I have never seen the European fans not fired up.
"You can't describe the emotion and excitement of the Ryder Cup. You don't think in that venue, you just react. Tom Watson told us in '93 at The Belfry, ‘Listen for the silence. If it's quiet, it's good for us!'"
Thursday's media barrage probably has Pavin thinking twice about taking this job. After three hours of questions and satellite interviews, constant Azinger references and pictures with the Radio City Music Rockettes, our small delegation hit the streets of Manhattan for more media play.
First, it was off to Bloomberg News for a radio and TV spot with Mike Buteau. Then it was a quick stop at NASDAQ for a picture on Times Square with the Ryder Cup trophy, followed by an ESPN Radio interview with Scott VanPelt.
Then it was off to Fox News for a late-afternoon segment with Shepard Smith, who sported a high handicap in regard to his golf knowledge. We finished at NBC, the Ryder Cup broadcast partner of the PGA of America.
In between times, that small Ryder Cup trophy was right on my lap. That was my job on this rainy afternoon — guard the Ryder Cup. Cover that baby with a green felt cloth when we moved from site to site.
The history, all of the golf greats that have held that trophy, and here am I, in New York, hauling Samuel Ryder's Cup around.
An Indianapolis radio station called me at 3:10 p.m. for an interview about me being the new secretary of the PGA. The hosts referred to Pavin as the "second greatest athlete in UCLA history."
Little did they know that Pavin was seated right next to me in the van, and I said, "Well, you guys tell him that yourself."
That blew their doors off. An unexpected Indianapolis interview with the new Ryder Cup captain. They owe me for life.
Wednesday night at dinner, Pavin looked across the table at me and said, "Well, Ted, what is your opinion on the point system in the off Ryder Cup year?"
That was the ice-breaker. Right then and there, I knew that
this was some kind of special journey that I was about to embark on.
After swallowing hard, I looked at Pavin and said, "You know, Corey, I think it's pretty good the way it is."
And this became the first of many memorable moments that I hope to share.

Photo Caption: I woke up Sunday as the newly elected secretary of the PGA of America.
This had been a professional goal, and it was a tremendous honor bestowed on me by my PGA peers.

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