Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bishops Make History

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – PGA of America Secretary Ted Bishop gets understandably emotional when thinking back to the days when his youngest daughter, Ambry, began showing interest in golf.
"She was about six or seven and could hang out at a course all day. She would play one or two holes, then head to the nearest pond to look for golf balls, and repeat that," said Bishop, the general manager and director of golf at The Legends of Indiana Golf Club in Franklin, Ind. "I didn't think that she would ever have the attention span to play.
"Well, she went on to earn a full-ride scholarship to Indiana, was a four-year letter winner and she became a fine college coach. When she decided to become a PGA member, she knew it would be a tougher road. It was the one she picked and I'm very proud, of course."
LaRosa, who turns 28 on Feb. 23, earned PGA of America membership Feb. 12, as part of an 81-member class advancing through the PGA Professional Golf Management program at the PGA Education Center in
Port St. Lucie, Fla.
LaRosa is believed to be the first daughter of a PGA national officer to attain PGA membership.
"It feels good to be done, knowing that I have achieved it," said LaRosa. "I believed that it was the right career path for me. It is definitely a great feeling to be able to share this with my Dad, my family."
LaRosa added her latest accomplishment despite a busy job description – she is an assistant professional at St. Andrews Golf Club in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., and is serving in her sixth season as women's golf coach at St. John's University in Queens, N.Y.
In 2004 at age 22, LaRosa became the youngest active Division I college coach. During her rookie season, she guided St. John's to its first Big East Conference championship and earned Coach of the Year honors.
"When you accomplish something like that the first year, they say it is all downhill after that," joked LaRosa. "I am lucky that I can schedule both jobs. First, there's the great experience working at St. Andrews with [PGA head professional] Charlie Hicks and with assistant Greg Bisconti [low PGA club professional in the 2009 PGA Championship].
"When we travel with the team in the spring, it is pretty easy. The fall is the tough part. I am blessed to be at St. Andrews, which keeps me updated in golf and as a professional. As a coach, I love the interaction with the girls.
"I'm not your typical coach. I am not out on the road recruiting, but relying upon videos and upon information from PGA Professionals who recommend players."
Bishop said that he had seen his daughter's competitiveness carry over into coaching.
"She always had tremendous nerves in the toughest most pressure-packed situations," said Bishop. "I saw her coach that way."
While in the early years of her St. John's coaching term, LaRosa split time while working for the Metropolitan PGA Section in Elmsford, N.Y.
"Ambry's enthusiasm and passion for golf was immediately evident and she brought a professional perspective to our Junior Golf programs," said Metropolitan PGA Executive Director Charles Robson. "When she decided to enter the golf professional ranks at The St. Andrew's Golf Club it was certainly our loss and their gain. She has been a great asset to their staff. Her ability to balance her job here and at St. Andrew's with her commitment to St. John's and her goal to become a PGA member is a great testimony to her upbringing."
LaRosa's journey to PGA membership received perhaps its biggest boost from her most trusted "study partner" – her husband, Rob LaRosa, the PGA head professional at Sterling Farms Golf Course in Stamford, Conn.
The couple met in 2005 while both attended a First Tee meeting in the Metropolitan PGA Section, and were married in January 2008.
"I'm very proud of what Ambry did," said Rob. "She had a lot of pressure upon her, knowing that I had made it through the program in 18 months and with her Dad being the Secretary of The PGA. She definitely went down the right path to becoming what is the blueprint for becoming a golf professional.
"I'm not afraid to say that she is a better player than I ever will be. I think that she can compete well against the guys, and as a PGA member she now may enter many of the member championships."
Last summer, Ambry tied for eighth in the 2009 Lincoln Women's Metropolitan Open Championship, with her father as caddie.
Ambry has received the guidance of another coach, Michael Breed of Greenwich, Conn., a PGA teaching professional and host of Golf Channel's popular program, "The Golf Fix." Breed said he received a call from Bishop last year, asking if he could take a look at Ambry's game.
"After spending time working with Ambry, I knew that she could be successful," said Breed. "She is a real hard worker, and she called back to let me know that she shot a 69 with her members.
"What she has done to earn PGA membership doesn't surprise me. She has the desire to be successful. She applies what she hears on the practice tee to her coaching. She has a love of people and a desire to help kids. She does it almost instinctively. I believe that if you improve yourself and given an opportunity, you can go and improve others as well."
The Bishop-LaRosa PGA membership lineage is expecting a new addition soon.
Ted Davidson, the husband of Bishop's eldest daughter, Ashely, is an assistant professional at The Legends of Indiana Golf Club who is planning to enroll in the PGA Professional Golf Management program.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Steve Stricker, #2 and Trying Harder

On Friday the top ranked golfer in the world invited a few friends and a handful (literally one hand) of news media to PGA Tour Headquarters to make a statement to the world. Despite criticism from many about the timing, the content and the motive, the top ranked golfer in the world stayed true to form and did it his way.

Steve Stricker is currently the #2 ranked golfer in the world. He is quiet. His playing style lacks the flair of the man ahead of him in the World Rankings, but the Wisconsin native has won five of the past 14 PGA Tour events that he has played in and he has vaulted to the number two spot in the world.

In December of 2009, Stricker made a statement of his own to the world and did it in his own unassuming style. He gave his wife, Nicki, a more opulent ring to re-affirm his love to her in the wake of the news about the off-course behavior surrounding the top ranked golfer in the world.

Nicki was Steve’s caddy until their first daughter, Bobbi, was born in 1998. Another daughter, Isabella, was born in 2006. Nicki knows enough about the tour and its potential pitfalls. “I wanted to show her where my heart and devotion were,” said Steve.

She knows her man, “He continues to fight these battles inside himself. He wants to be home with us,” Nicki says. “If all the tournaments were in Madison, that would be perfect. I know it matters to him, to be the best that he can. But, it doesn’t define him. Trophies tarnish. The tour moves on. It’s more the person and the man he is that’s important.”      

The climb to fame was not an easy one for Stricker. Following the 2005 season, his third bad year in a row, he plummeted to 337th in the World Rankings. He retreated to the bleak Wisconsin winter and started pounding yellow range balls from the open side of a mobile home into a snow covered field. He was searching for answers that might reveal themselves from an Astroturf mat.

Stricker who turns 43 years old on February 23, recalls, “That’s the time I remember best, at the end of ’05 when I knew I needed to do something to move on. That’s when I had more of a purpose than at anytime in my life.”  

Roll the clock forward to September 2009 when Stricker posted a 4-0 mark in the President’s Cup. He was paired with the number one ranked golfer in the world in all three team matches. Stricker carried his weight in those matches, cementing his place as one of today’s true golf stars.

“There was a time when I tried to measure my game to his,” says Stricker. “Tiger does phenomenal things. I realized that I just need to do my little things as well as I can and not worry about what he does. I appreciate his game, but I’m longer in awe of it.”

As the top ranked player in the world conducted his news conference in Florida on Friday, he did so with the steely reserve that we have come to expect from him. He openly acknowledged that his life has changed forever. He looked determined and he was focused. No tears were shed. 

Steve Stricker is genuine and emotional in a different right. He routinely cries after he wins a PGA Tour event. Few realize that crying demonstrates how difficult the process of winning is for him. Crowds make him uneasy. The idea of speaking in front people makes him terribly nervous. When in college at the University of Illinois, Stricker actually took a course called Stage Fright Speech Communication.

To say that Stricker is grounded might be the greatest understatement ever uttered. He has rebounded from a professional low that few have ever experienced. He takes his success in stride, but takes nothing for granted. “I think I grew so much as a player and as a person during those three bad years. It’s funny how it works, but it was best for me. I can’t see anything worse that what I saw then, so I am not worried if I struggle a bit now.

“I wouldn’t say that I am content. I still have some things that I want to do. But, I am not a prisoner to the outcome anymore. It’s all on my terms,” says the world’s #2 ranked player.

On his own terms, would be how many described Friday’s news conference conducted by the top ranked player in the world. “Typical Tiger,” remarked Alex Micelli from The Golf Channel. “He is always getting the last word and it’s always on his terms.”

Tom Watson had his own opinion last week at the Dubai Desert Classic. “Tiger has to take ownership for what he has done. When he comes back, he has to show some humility to the public. He messed up. He knows he messed up. The world knows he messed up, and he has to take ownership of that. It’s going to be interesting to see how he handles his return to public life.”

In an upcoming article for the April issue of Golf Digest, veteran writer Dan Jenkins makes this observation, “Hogan, Palmer and Nicklaus……. never sold themselves as the greatest Family Values brand ever, and conquered the marketplace with it, shamelessly scooping up hundreds of millions of dollars while saying ‘My family will always come first.’

“They were never what Tiger allowed himself to become from the start: spoiled, pampered, hidden, guarded, orchestrated and entitled. I’ll tell you what Hogan, Palmer and Nicklaus were at their peak,” says Jenkins. “They were every bit as popular as Tiger, they endured similar demands on their time, but they handled it courteously, often with ease and enjoyment.

“They were accessible, likeable, knowable, conversant, as gracious in loss as they were in victory, and above all, amazingly helpful to those of us in the print lodge who discovered them,” Jenkins concluded. “That was their brand. All the things Tiger never was.”

Maybe, in this case, Number One could actually learn something from Number Two………           

Friday, February 5, 2010

Boys, parents have hero in former IU football coach

Last week, my boss on this job, Rick Morwick, asked me to write a story about being torn between rooting for the Colts or fellow Purdue alumnus Drew Brees in this week’s Super Bowl. The truth of the matter is that I don’t know Brees personally, and the fact that he is a fellow Purdue grad will not affect my rooting interests for the Colts. End of story.
But there is an endearing tale trickling out of Baltimore about a Hoosier native who has made life miserable for the Colts in recent years.
Cam Cameron grew up in Terre Haute. He played football and basketball at Indiana University. His coaching career has spanned the University of Michigan, the Washington Redskins, Indiana University, the San Diego Chargers, the Miami Dolphins and now the Baltimore Ravens. As offensive coordinator, Cameron orchestrated several Chargers victories against the Colts.
“Cam Cameron is in my hall of fame,” said Jamie Costello, who is starting his 21st year with
WMAR-TV in Baltimore. Costello co-anchors “Good Morning
For two decades, he has covered every major event in Baltimore, from the pope’s visit, the Ravens winning the Super Bowl to Cal Ripken’s first game all the way to Cooperstown.
Costello’s 14-year old son, Matthew, has an inoperable brain tumor. The tragic news was discovered in October. The Costellos will find out this week if the tumor has shrunk to the point where Matthew can end chemotherapy treatments and begin radiation. Matthew is a classmate of Danny Cameron, son of the Ravens offensive coordinator.
“I was set to go on the air for a marathon shift late in December when we got hit with 14 inches of snow,” Jamie Costello said. “I called my wife and told her that I was going to be tied up, and text me on my cell phone if she needed me. A little while later she called and said that Cam
Cameron was coming to the house to see Matthew.
“Now understand this is a driving snowstorm, and the governor has issued an all-points bulletin restricting traffic on the roads, and Cam, who we had never met, was driving to my house to see Matthew,” Costello said. “Cam shows up with a Joe Flacco-signed football, a Surge hat from his trip to Iraq and notes from Flacco and him. It blew Matthew away.
“As he walked out of the house, he turned around and asked Matthew if there was a play that he wanted Cam to call in the game that week against the Bears. Matthew said, ‘Call a play-action pass,’” Costello said.
Cameron picks up the story here.
“We call a play-action pass on the first play of the game, and Flacco one-hops the ball in the dirt to Derrick Mason. We come back later in the game and call the same play. This time it goes for a touchdown to Todd Heap.”
That Sunday night, after the game, the phone rang about 8:30 p.m. in the Costello house.
“It was Cam calling to talk to Matthew,” Jamie Costello said. “He was excited and wanted to tell my son that they had written his name on the game plan that week and the touchdown pass play to Heap was called ‘Matthew Costello.’ Later that week, Cameron’s wife, Missy, showed up at the Costello house with a football signed by Flacco and Heap.”
A couple of weeks later, the Ravens were traveling to New England for the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs.
“It’s the Friday night before the New England game,” Jamie Costello recalled. “The phone rings, and Cam is calling to talk to Matthew. It’s the biggest game of the year, and he is finding the time to call Matthew. Unbelievable. Again, he asks Matthew if there is a play he would like to see on the opening drive. Matthew says that Ray Rice is hot, give him the ball.”
Cameron gives his version.
“We take the opening kickoff back to our 17-yard line. I wasn’t going to open up with a running play, but with the bad field position I decided to change the play call, and we went with Matthew’s play — a Ray Rice run. The rest is history. Rice goes 83 yards for the touchdown. I just looked to the sky and said, ‘Maybe there is something to this kid.’”
Meanwhile, Jamie Costello is in the press box at Gillette Stadium and watches the play unfold.
“I am down in the left-hand corner of the press box. When they hand the ball off to Ray, this huge hole opens, and he starts racing down the field. I jump out of my seat and start screaming, ‘He’s gone, he’s gone.’
“Of course, they have a no-cheering policy in any press box, and I am getting all of these dirty looks from the other media people. But I knew it was the play that Matthew had called, and I could not contain myself,” Costello said with a laugh.
That opening play set the tone for Baltimore’s 33-14 rout of New England.
Last week, Matthew received another visitor. This time it was Ray Rice. The Ravens running back showed up with the cleats and the jersey that he wore in the New England game. Rice also had a poster that commemorated his 83-yard run. He presented all of this to Matthew.
During the visit, Rice looked at Matthew and said, “You are my inspiration.”
“None of this would have happened if not for Cam Cameron,” Jamie Costello said. “Thanks to Cam, we now have a Facebook page for Matthew with over 3,500 followers in just a few weeks time. Cam has been unbelievable. He is now my hero and will always be in my hall of fame. I used to worship Brooks Robinson, but Cam Cameron is higher than that now for me.”
Cameron knows a little how Matthew feels. The Ravens assistant coach survived serious melanoma cancer at age 28. Earlier this fall, the native Hoosier had another cancer scare, this one prostrate cancer, but the battery of tests turned up nothing.
“My three boys and I talk about Matthew all of the time,” Cameron said. “Anytime we’re going through something a little tough, we say ‘How do you think Matthew’s doing?’”
Thank goodness I didn’t know about the Matthew Costello story before the Colts-Ravens game a couple of weeks ago. It might have made me think twice about my loyalties.