CHASKA,The PGA Championship has been labeled as "Glory's Last Shot" because it is the final major championship of the season.
Legacies, Ryder Cup spots and many other things are at stake. It is the proudest moment of the year for the PGA's 28,000 members and apprentices.
The PGA Distinguished Service Award ceremony takes place each Wednesday evening of championship week. Inaugurated in 1988, the award honors individuals who display leadership and humanitarian qualities, including integrity, sportsmanship and enthusiasm for the game of golf.
Previous award winners include Bob Hope, Gerald Ford, Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, Patty Berg, George H.W. Bush and Jack Nicklaus, to name a few.
William Powell was presented with the 2009 PGA Distinguished Service Award, and this has been the highlight of the championship week for me. Unless the 2009 champion holes his second shot on the 72nd hole for a one-stroke victory, Powell probably will leave the longest lasting impression on many who attend the 91st PGA Championship.
Powell is a 92-year-old black man, and his story in golf is worth telling. He grew up in
He led his football team to an undefeated season, outscoring opponents by a 332-0 margin. Powell and his friends formed a high school golf team, and Bill was asked by his athletics director to serve as captain and coach. Powell even scheduled his team's matches.
Some of the most profound advice Powell received as a youngster came at age 12, when during a fire drill his principal randomly said, "Billy, you know you are a little colored boy, and you have to realize that you can't do things just as good as a white boy. You have to do them better."
He applied that wisdom to his life after high school. He attended
Powell met Marcella Oliver, the love of his life, in 1939, and the couple married a year later. In 1942, he began a four-year stint in the U.S. Army and reached the rank of technical sergeant. While stationed in
When he came home, most clubhouse doors were not open to him. Powell then decided it was up to him to create a pathway to the course on his own. In September 1946, having been denied a G.I. loan by banks that claimed ignorance of the program, Powell received the financial backing of two black physicians and began building a public golf course, which he named Clearview.
He was able to open nine holes in 1948. Powell built the course by hand. He walk-seeded every acre of the course. He converted a Model A car into a tractor to help mow fairways. Hunters would use Clearview for target practice while Powell cleared the land. As late as 1999, a shooter left a hole in a water container on the front nine. Passing motorists periodically still yell racial slurs as golfers play the course.
For 23 years, Powell worked 18 hours a day as a security guard and golf course operator. In 1978, he expanded Clearview into an 18-hole golf course. Marcella loyally worked by his side until she died a few years ago. His son, Larry, is a 36-year member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association and serves Clearview in that capacity.
Today, Clearview is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and "
Powell's pioneering efforts have been carried on by his daughter, Renee, who was the 2003 PGA First Lady of Golf and a PGA/LPGA professional. She was the second black woman to compete on the LPGA Tour, following tennis great Althea Gibson.
"It was his will to not allow things to hold him down," Renee said of her father. "If you continue to always ponder on the negative, you can never get anything positive done."
In 1996, Bill Powell was inducted into the National Black Hall of Fame; and in 1997, he was presented honorary PGA membership by the Northern Ohio PGA Section.
In 1999, his PGA membership was made retroactive to Jan. 1, 1962, by the PGA of America, thus making Powell a long overdue PGA life member. He had been excluded as a member because of the PGA's whites-only membership clause that existed before 1961.
Powell was honored Wednesday night by the PGA in front of a packed house in a downtown
Big names in attendance were led by NFL greats Franco Harris, Alan Page and Carl Eller. Tubby Smith,
Powell was helped to the stage, where he read a compelling account of his life story to a silent, spellbound and emotionally charged crowd. Powell's own account of his life and the obstacles that he faced might rate as one of his finest accomplishments. That is saying a lot given the magnitude of this man's life.
After the ceremony concluded, I had the opportunity to congratulate Powell and shake his hand. I couldn't help but notice the softness of his skin. Most golf pros have callused hands, but the softness of Powell's hands matched that of his heart.
Here was a proud man with a gentle smile who overcame so much. He is a man whose family dedicated their lives to his dream and yet left their own separate marks on golf. For Bill Powell there is no bitterness. No hard feelings; just appreciation on his part for the opportunity to fulfill his dreams.
Powell is indeed a special man and the first champion of the 2009 PGA Championship.
Ted Bishop is director of golf for The Legends of Indiana Golf Course in Franklin and secretary for PGA of America.