Tuesday, December 20, 2011

These Elves Are Working Every Week

As we close in on the most celebrated Holiday of the Season, I want to tell you a story about two of Santa’s elves who spend nearly every week of the year doing something for needy kids and their families. Golf annually generates over $3.5 billion for charities across the United States. This is a story about two women who have committed a big part of their lives helping other people through golf.
Amy Wilson has served as the President of the PGA TOUR Wives Association (PTWA) for the last five years. Her husband, Mark, won two of the first three PGA TOUR events of the 2011 season. Wilson recorded victories in Hawaii and Phoenix. The 5’8, 150 pound former University of North Carolina golfer went on the win $3.1 million and finished 19th on the 2011 PGA TOUR money list.
Jennifer Stallings is enjoying her rookie status with the PTWA. Her husband, Scott, will most likely be the runner-up to Keegan Bradley for the PGA Tour’s Rookie-of-the-Year. Stallings won the Greenbrier Classic and finished with $1.9 million in earnings and a 41st place spot on the Tour money list.   
The PGA TOUR Wives Association is an organization that was founded in 1988 with the mission of rendering support and assistance to needy children and their families through charitable events.  During many weekly PGA TOUR events, the PTWA will dedicate Wednesday to an initiative that will benefit needy local kids and their families. While their professional golfing husbands are getting ready for the Tour stop, this group of wives is diligently giving back to the local community.
The list of charitable groups that the PTWA has helped is lengthy. PGA TOUR wives have raised money and given time to organizations such as First Tee, Walk the Course against Domestic Violence, Shelters for Battered Women and their Children, various Food Banks around the U.S., Shriners Hospitals and a host of others.
Wilson and Stallings will tell you that every PTWA cause is worthwhile and heartwarming. One effort that touches the voice of these two PGA TOUR wives is Blessings in a Back Pack. Each Friday throughout the year, 6,875 needy children get their backpacks filled with food, courtesy of the PTWA.
These kids are on school lunch programs and when they go home for the weekends, many of their families don’t have food to eat,” said Amy Wilson. “Before Blessings in a Backpack many of these kids skipped school on Friday. They showed up on Monday with upset stomachs because they hadn’t eaten for several days.
“The schools have seen a huge increase in Friday attendance because the kids know they will get their backpacks filled for the weekend. They show up for school on Monday feeling healthy and ready to go,” said Wilson. “The families depend on this and it has been very gratifying.”
Blessings in a Backpack take on a special meaning to the Tour Wives for another reason according to Wilson. “Fridays are cut days for Tour players. What happens on Friday for our families dictates whether our husbands play on the weekends, it affects their ability to earn money and things like FedEx Cup points,” said Wilson. “Even when we have a bad Friday and miss a cut, there is a lot of satisfaction knowing that kids are getting their backpacks filled that same day because of us.”
Jennifer Stallings echoes Wilson’s comments. “This year I learned about many organizations that I hadn’t been exposed to before such as Blessings in a Backpack. Most, if not all of these kids do not have food at home for them on the weekends. This program provides that.
“Trying to narrow down one thing that has been my favorite that the PTWA has done is really tough. We are involved with organizations dealing with women and children. How do you choose a favorite in that?” asked Stallings. “Being from Tennessee, I’ve always wanted to be involved with St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Scott and I had the opportunity to tour the hospital last summer. To see kids run through the hospital in little masks and no hair is almost unbearable, but seeing them laugh and play is something totally different.”
When you look at a typical TOUR week for the players, wives and families it is pretty impressive that this group of wives would find time to help others. Families arrive at the next Tour stop late on Sunday or early Monday. The wives will typically unpack and set things up for the week while the husband plays in the Monday pro-am. Rookies, such as Stallings, are limited in their access during the practice round s.
Tuesdays are full-fledged practice days. Wednesday will vary with the event, but it serves as a day of rest for many players before the tournament begins on Thursday. That being said, the PTWA devote it to their cause leaving some husbands like Mark Wilson babysitting while Amy does her thing with a PTWA project.
“We show up and want to work. We are not afraid to get dirty. We want to leave that PGA Tour stop knowing we helped somebody,” said Wilson. “I could not be as active as I am without Mark’s help. He knows this is important to me and he does his part.”
One of the biggest challenges that come with marrying a PGA TOUR player is the travel. This year Scott and Jennifer Stallings traveled 42 weeks. “This year turned out fantastic for us and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but that’s a lot of travel. As a wife you can decide to go on the road and support your husband or you can stay home and deal with things there. Our system is that I travel.
“Supporting your husband can be hard, really hard. It seems like all of the guys are different,” said Stallings. “Some want you to motivate them. Others don’t want you to say anything.  Some want you to stand by them. Others want you to go home. Some want you to analyze their swings while others want you to keep your mouth shut.
“Everyone is different. I think it can be really tough to figure out what works best for you and your spouse. I think that is important in any career and marriage though,” concluded Stallings.
It is obvious that the PGA TOUR Wives Association is as much a support group for each other as it is a means to help others. “These are my girls because we live the life together,” says Wilson.
Make no mistake though, these women are driven to help others and they do it with little fanfare. They are the women behind the men. But, they find the time and make the effort to impact the lives of others who are less fortunate. They are Santa’s Elves all year long.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Golf in the White House

Politics never ceases to amaze me. Last week Mitt Romney, Republican challenger for the office of President of the United States, launched a new fundraising site entitled “Fore More Years”. He encourages voters to donate $18- or more- “to send President Obama on a permanent golfing vacation.”
Romney is quick to point out that since 2009 Obama has played 1,584 holes of golf. Translated, this is 88 rounds in the past three years since Obama became the Commander in Chief. That would be 29 rounds of golf per year.  The average round of golf takes four hours, but I would maintain that a Presidential round is like Moses parting the Red Sea when it comes to other players on the course and Obama spends less than 120 hours per year on the golf course.   
“It’s time to have a President whose idea of being hands on doesn’t mean getting a better grip on the golf club,” said Romney. These are interesting comments from a man who is an avid runner. In fact the Romney family conducts a family triathlon- swimming, cycling and running- at their lakeshore vacation home in New Hampshire each summer.
C’mon Mitt! Exercise is good for the body and soul whether it is golf or running.
Starting with William Howard Taft, 15 of the past 18 Presidents have played golf. Records would indicate that Taft played over 400 rounds while serving as President. He is by far the most active presidential golfer. Jimmy Carter would be the most recent exception as a non-golfer. In 2009, Golf Digest reported that John F. Kennedy was the most capable presidential golfer, followed by Dwight Eisenhower who actually had a putting green installed outside the Oval Office.
Eisenhower launched his presidential campaign from inside the grounds of Augusta National Golf Club. Many in his election committee were members at the famed venue which hosts The Masters each year. Eventually, the Eisenhower cabin was built at The National and it served as a frequent retreat for Ike when he was President, much to the dismay of many Augusta National members because of the interruption it caused the club from a security standpoint.
Hours after taking the oath of office, Kennedy was astonished to discover thousands of small cleat marks on the Oval Office’s wooden floor, leading a pockmarked trail from behind the desk to the double doors that opened to the portico, the South Lawn, and Ike’s famous putting green. For weeks afterward, Kennedy would show visitors the trail of spike marks. The old man’s obsession with golf was worse than anyone had thought, Kennedy told friends. Ike had treated the Oval Office as a clubhouse locker room, leaving a duffer’s trail in the floorboards of the most powerful office in the world.
One of Kennedy’s first acts as president was removal of Dwight Eisenhower’s beloved putting green, a bit of White House grounds keeping that was revealed at a press conference. The old golfing president was gone and the new, young president was determined not to play games. Kennedy pledged to the press that the new president would not play golf during working hours. In only a matter of weeks that promise was broken. More on JFK in a minute!
When Richard Nixon was elected in 1968 he was confronted with Ike’s cleat marks in the Oval Office and he immediately asked his staff to replace that portion of the floor.  They carved up the old spike marked floor and distributed many pieces to Eisenhower’s old friends as souvenirs. Some were also given to wealthy Republicans who had opened their checkbooks to put Nixon in the White House.
Nixon always said that golf was Kennedy’s “secret vice”. There is no doubt that Kennedy was a closet golfer. Former PGA of America President Max Elbin often joked that Kennedy was the most unannounced presidential golfer in his long tenure at Burning Tree Club, Washington D.C.’s golfing home for generations of U.S. presidents.
“We never knew when Kennedy would pop in on us. He would drive out in a little car, step out and walk into the clubhouse. Many nights it was around 6 p.m. He would ask which nine had the least amount of people on it. It was not uncommon for him to take a golf cart and start on the 7th hole,” recalled Elbin. “If he would have concentrated on it, he could have shot in the middle 70’s.”
Late in the summer of 1963, Kennedy hired Cecil Stoughton, the White House photographer, to take some 8-milimeter film of him as he played Hyannis Port. The film, broadcast in 2001 on the Golf Channel for the first time, shows the beauty of the President’s full swing off the tee, as well as his putting stroke and smooth chipping stroke. Stoughton’s camera also captured the Kennedy addressing the ball, stroking it, and then watching it, usually with a big smile.
The film was intended for Arnold Palmer, the professional golfer that Kennedy most admired. “He said he wanted to show it to someone like Arnie,” Stoughton said. “It was natural- you only go to the top to get that kind of critique.”
President Kennedy had planned to invite Palmer to the White House late in 1963 to watch the film and help tinker with the mechanics of the presidential swing. The plans were to do it sometime in December after a quick trip to Texas.
Information published in a recent national economic report indicates that golf is a $76 billion industry with a total impact on the U.S. economy of $195 billion. Nationally, the golf industry provides 2 million jobs and total wage income of $61 billion- more than the big three auto makers combined and more than the motion picture industry. Golf is responsible for contributing about $3.5 billion annually to charities across the country, more than any other sport. Eighty percent of golf in the U.S. is played on public courses with an average cost per round of $28.
Maybe Romney should take a mulligan and reconsider his remarks on Obama’s golf. This was another example of an irresponsible and uneducated comment by a politician seeking a way to bash golf- a sport where the players call penalties on themselves. C’mon Mitt……………          

Monday, December 5, 2011

Steve Stricker

On Thanksgiving morning Steve Stricker gathered his wife, Nicki, and their two daughters, Bobbi and Izzi, and headed down the road about an hour south of Madison, WI to Steve's hometown of Edgerton. Many families across America were making similar voyages to see family and friends that same morning. In the case of the Strickers, they were embarking on a very big Thanksgiving Day meal.

"Edgerton is a town of about 4,000 people and this is the second year in a row that my family and I have headed up a community outreach program," said Stricker. "We helped feed 400 people that day. The thing that was really cool was to watch how much my two girls got into it. They were serving and cleaning tables and really enjoying themselves."

Surprised that a star athlete on top of the golf world would spend an important holiday doing charity work with his family? Then you must not know Steve Stricker very well. In fact, the most striking part about Steve Stricker may be how non-striking he is. If you are you looking for controversy, a criminal record, a flashy style or an over inflated ego- then you’re going to have to go elsewhere. There is nothing like that within a long par 5 of Stricker.

I texted him on a couple of occasions as we were hooking up for this story and he responded each time from a deer stand in rural Wisconsin. That is where you will likely find him this time of the year when he is home on his farm near Blancheville. An avid outdoorsman, Steve is as likely to shoot wild game as he is to shoot a low golf score; and he probably enjoys both about the same amount.

"The President's Cup put a little damper on my deer hunting this year," said Stricker. "It is something that Nicki (his wife) and I do together. We bow hunt even during gun season. I try to get her to go more often because she hunted a lot before we got married." 

This is Steve Stricker, one of the best golfers on the planet. In the past three years, Stricker has notched seven PGA Tour victories, won over $14.5 million and reached the number two spot in the World Golf Rankings. Today, Stricker is ranked #8 in the world and he has been among the world's top ten players for 141 consecutive weeks. In 2011, he finished in the top 20 of all four major championships.

But even more, Stricker is the guy who epitomizes his Midwestern roots and core values.  He’s polite, he’s well-mannered and he’s popular with fans, media and other players. He doesn’t take his success for granted and he is appreciative of all that golf has provided.  And his work ethic and determination are amazing, as evidenced by him being the only player to win the PGA Tour Comeback Player of the Year twice. He did it in back to back years. Think about that.

Success on the Tour was not always a given for Stricker. Prior to 2003, Stricker won three times on the PGA Tour in eight years. But, in 2004 he lost his tour card and was faced with going back to qualifying school in 2005. This was a time in his career when Stricker admits he thought his playing career might be over and he entertained the thought of finding another livelihood.

"I just had to go to work and revamp my swing. It took me an entire winter hitting balls out of a modified trailer into the snow. But, with the help of my father-in-law (Dennis Tiziani, PGA pro and former University of Wisconsin golf coach) I was able to shorten my backswing and improve my grip," recalls Stricker.

"The secret for me was making my swing simple enough so I could take ownership of it, particularly in pressure situations. I felt like I had to know my strengths and my weaknesses," said Stricker. "My goal was always to win again. But, I could never have imagined the type of success that I have had in the last six years."

Stricker’s story is a great model for golfers in the northern climates. Winter can be a perfect time for a swing change. "It sure is. You don't have to be playing golf every day," insists Stricker. "The winter is when I do the bulk of my practicing and work on my game."

The results speak for themselves.  But in addition to some great individual accomplishments, Stricker’s new game has given him the opportunity to find success and enjoyment in some of golf's high profile team competitions. He has been a member of four President's Cup teams (4-0), two Ryder Cup teams (1-1) and the Dunhill Cup (1-0). Stricker says those events are stressful for the players, but also lots of fun.

"One of the players at the President's Cup said, 'And we work hard to get on this team. Why'?" laughed Stricker. "I wouldn't change those weeks at all. It's my goal every year to make the Ryder Cup or President's Cup team."

Another hallmark of  Stricker’s participation in these events is his success and enjoyment in his partnership with the most famous golfer in the world. In recent years he has teamed up with Tiger Woods to form a truly formidable team.

"Tiger and I have a good relationship. We are two different people and we have a great amount of mutual respect for each other. I think he feels comfortable around me. We talk a lot about chipping and putting," said Stricker. "I want to be a friend to him. He is a good guy who is misunderstood at times."

Stricker and Woods were paired together in the President's Cup and they spent time as playing partners in last week's Chevron World Challenge at the Sherwood Country Club in California. Stricker can offer an up close perspective of Woods' current form on the course, which appears to be gaining momentum as evidenced by his win last week at the Chevron World Challenge. Woods in fact credited Stricker with a putting tip that has made a huge difference in the last month.

"Tiger is totally getting it back together. He is striking it right down the line and his ball compression is really solid. All he needs to do is see the ball go in the hole more often," said Stricker. "He started out his career making putts. After he went through his off-course problems, he lost confidence and it affected his putting. But, I expect big things from Tiger in 2012."

Stricker’s future should include big things as well – though he admits that overcoming a herniated disc between the C6-7 vertebrae has been a challenge. In fact, for six weeks leading up to the Presidents Cup, Stricker was sidelined from the golf course. He’s even shopped his MRI to four different doctors and is trying all he can to avoid surgery.

"This is the same exact injury that Peyton Manning has. I have actually talked to him a couple of times to see what kind of advice he could give me," confided Stricker. "His healing seems to be going well and I think he will play again. That makes me optimistic about my situation."

Stricker turns 45 years old in February. He played in 19 tournaments this year and thinks he will play 16-17 events in 2012. That said, he still feels like he has a lot of golf left in his tank.

"Each winter I threaten to get away from it. It is a tough balancing act between being a dad and a PGA tour player," says Stricker. "I have had a great run and I still feel very competitive. With what I have been through, I hate to walk away just yet."

That’s a good thing for a player who still has a lot to offer golf, both inside and outside the ropes. But as one of golf’s truly good guys looks ahead to 2012, he still has some unfinished business in 2011.  So, in the meantime, look for the deer population to get thinner near Blancheville.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Grand Slam

The PGA Grand Slam of golf was held this past week in beautiful Bermuda. This is the toughest tournament in the world to qualify for, though there is only one entry requirement. Win one of golf's major championships and you are in. Sounds simple enough, right? If only.

This was the 29th Grand Slam of Golf and it featured four first-time major championship winners. I always enjoy watching and talking to golfers after their first major championship win, it's great to hear their excitement and enjoyment, knowing their place in golf history is secure. Their lives are forever changed with that victory, but their drive and determination hopefully do not. And to have four first-time major champions multiplied that enjoyment for everyone.

Even more, though each golfer represented a different major, and have unique and different backgrounds and histories; I couldn't help but notice they had one important trait in common as we all convened in Bermuda. But we'll get to that in a moment. First, let's remember what brought them there.
Photo by Montana Pritchard

Charl Schwartzel, of South Africa, represented The Masters. Last April, he made tournament history when he finished his run at Augusta with four straight birdies to earn the famed green jacket. Scwhartzel also made Grand Slam history when he showed up at a couple of evening functions this week wearing that famous green jacket. That jacket is seemingly as famous as any golfer that wears it. It was a treat for us for Charl to bring it to Bermuda.

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, represented the U.S. Open. His torrid play in June at Congressional Country Club was even hotter than the blistering Washington D.C. heat. McIlroy fired a 72-hole Open record of 16-under par as he lapped the field and beat the previous scoring mark by 4 shots. It was a sweet victory for the curly haired Irish kid after his heartbreaking Sunday at The Masters, but more on that later.

Another native of Northern Ireland, 42-year old Darren Clarke, scored the most shocking major championship victory of 2011 as he held off Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson to grab the British Open title at Royal St. George's. Clarke appeared to be on the downhill side of his career before he battled through tough weather to win the Claret Jug in July. Clarke had seen his career slide after he lost his wife to breast cancer several years ago and because of that, he probably stands as the most popular major championship winner of the year.

Keegan Bradley, the PGA Champion, certainly was a surprise winner as well. He was on the sidelines as a spectator during The Masters as well as the U.S. and British Opens. And though Bradley did not qualify for the year's first three majors, he did make the field at the PGA Championship and took advantage of it by winning the famed Wannamaker Trophy. And with his victory at Atlanta Athletic Club, he became one of only three players to ever to win the first major he ever competed in. Bradley was five shots behind with four holes to play and pulled off a stunning playoff victory over Jason Dufner.

So how do these things tie in? Stay with me, I'm getting to that.

One of the best parts of the PGA Grand Slam is the fireside chat that takes place between the four major champions and Jim Huber, Emmy Award winning essayist for Turner Sports and PGA.com. Huber interviews each of the men and his style exposes the human side of these great players.

Many will remember the 2011 Masters for McIlroy's final round 80, including a 43 on the back nine. Schwartzel began the final round four shots back. He chipped in for birdie on #1 and then holed his second shot for eagle on #3 and was all of a sudden tied with McIlroy for the lead.
"I knew it was going to be my day when I made that 2 on the third hole. Then when Rory went looking for the loo (term for British bathroom) on the 10th, things really started going my way. That changed everything," laughed Schwartzel.

McIlroy acknowledged the story with a grin and wave. It was on the 10th hole when Rory snapped hooked his drive between the cabins on the left of the hole and proceeded to make a triple bogey. This was the start of his demise. As Schwartzel finished his chat with Huber and exited the stage, it was McIlroy who arose first to give the Masters champion a standing ovation. The Irish kid gets it.

Huber summoned McIlroy to the stage and talked about what happened in the weeks that followed The Masters.

"It was apparent at Augusta that I wasn't ready to win a major," said McIlroy. "I went to Haiti a few weeks later for Unicef. When I saw the devastation and destruction in Haiti it put losing The Masters into a proper perspective. It meant nothing compared to what those people were going through."

And Huber asked Rory about the best part about his record breaking U.S. Open championship?

"No doubt, it was walking down the last fairway and spotting my dad. He was wearing a green shirt. I walked by him and gave him a nod," said McIlroy.

Clarke talked to Huber about how bad he was playing early in the week at Royal St. George's.

"I really thought about withdrawing, it was so bad. I played a practice round with Rory early on Wednesday. We caught Charl and Louis Oosthuizen (defending British Open champ) on the 13th hole, they always play dreadfully slow," chuckled Clarke. "I said let's play a game, Ireland versus South Africa. Rory birdies the next couple of holes.
Photo by Montana Pritchard

"I am still slogging it around and I walk off the tee about ten feet in front of the other three and Rory says, 'Hey Old Man, where is your major?'...I showed him on Sunday," smiled Clarke who actually brought the Claret Jug to the Grand Slam and let people pose for pictures with it later that night.

When Bradley made a triple bogey on the 14th hole during the final round of the PGA it looked like his run at a major was over. He revealed something very insightful to Huber.

"I chipped that ball across the green and into the water. I had a bad lie, but hit a poor shot. It really shook me up. So much so, that I walked across the green right through Scott Verplank's line of putt. He was still in contention to win the tournament," said the St. John's University grad.

"I immediately apologized to Scott. He was great and didn't make a big deal out of it. Many players would have and Scott could really have thrown me off my game, but he didn't. I would never have come back and won if not for the way Scott reacted. I will never forget that," said Bradley, the son of a PGA pro.

Throughout the week, these four players demonstrated the characteristics that we, as golfers, would hope to see from a major champion. But even more, they showed the characteristics of determination, a hard work ethic, the ability to overcome adversity, persistence and patience. In other words, things we should all expect of ourselves as golfers also.

All four golfers seemed genuinely appreciative of the week, as not only a chance to compete on this stage but to celebrate their year. I hope that's the case because that's what it was meant to be. But just as much, the Grand Slam of Golf celebrates golf. Of setting goals and reaching them. Of overcoming odds and being recognized for great accomplishments. Schwartzel, McIlroy, Clarke and Bradley will always be remembered for winning this year's majors. But spending time, enjoying and learning from them this past week - tells me that all appropriately wear the title of "Champion" just as well.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Patriot Golf Day

We are just days away from the kickoff of Patriot Golf Day 2011. Over 4,000 golf courses nationwide are expected to help provide healing and hope to those families who have been affected by the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Proceeds from Patriot Golf Day, September 2-5, will again provide scholarships and educational opportunities for families who have paid the highest sacrifice for our country.
In 2007, Major Dan Rooney of Broken Arrow, OK, himself a PGA member, organized the first Patriot Golf Day. Rooney is an F-16 fighter pilot and PGA golf pro. He has flown five tours of duty in Iraq. He felt compelled to organize a nationwide program that would raise money to fund scholarships for families of service men and women who have been disabled or lost their lives defending the United States. There will be more about Rooney in tomorrow’s edition of Part II on Patriot Golf Day.  
Through the efforts of Rooney, the PGA of America and the United States Golf Association, $8.961 million has been raised for The Folds of Honor Foundation through Patriot Golf Day. Over 2,000 scholarships have been awarded, with 36 of those being presented here in Indiana. In 2009, the Indiana PGA arranged for scholarships through “The Folds” to be presented to Shelby, Gavin and Ashton Henry- the children of Gary Henry, of Greenwood. 
On Monday, August 4, 2008, PGA Tour players were setting their sights on the final round of the PGA Championship, which had been delayed due to a wet weekend at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, MI. On that same day, Henry, a 34-year old firefighter from Greenwood, was dealing with his own issues across the world in Iraq.
He was a member of the Indiana National Guard’s 38th Military Police Company of Danville. Henry, a 12-year veteran of the Indianapolis Fire Department, was overseeing special operations rescues, specializing as a driver and a paramedic. Henry was on a combat operation in southern Baghdad while golf’s best players were preparing to play that final round of the ’08 PGA Championship.
Henry who was a sports enthusiast probably didn’t have golf on his mind that morning. His life came to an abrupt end that day when a roadside bomb hit his vehicle. Tragically, he left behind three children. Today, Shelby (17), Gavin (13) and Ashton (10) find themselves as benefactors of Patriot Golf Day Scholarships.
Several area golf courses will be running programs to help raise monies for Patriot Golf Day during Labor Day Weekend. Hickory Stick in Greenwood and Otter Creek in Columbus, will be asking golfers to donate to the cause when they tee it up over the weekend.
The Legends Golf Club in Franklin has a variety of things going on. The public is invited to “Cheeseburgers for Patriots” on Friday night from 6-7:30 p.m. The cost per person will be $15 and a portion from each meal will be donated to The Folds of Honor Foundation. A special program will take place with a national representative from Patriot Golf Day to bring even more awareness to this worthwhile cause. Reserve your spot by calling Ashely Davidson at 317/736-8596.
Maj. Rooney has also donated a Titleist Staff bag to The Legends. It is from the Patriot Cup Day held in Oklahoma on Memorial Day 2011. The golf bag contains the signatures of many PGA Tour players including Rickie Fowler, Tom Pernice, Jr., Peter Jacobsen, Craig Stadler, Scott Piercy, Mike Reid, Scott Simpson, Larry Mize, Corey Pavin, Tom Lehman, Gary Woodland, Harrison Frazar, Loren Roberts, Bo VanPelt, Brad Faxon, Hunter Mahan, Todd Hamilton, Scott McCarron, Brett Quigley, Brett Wetterich and Josh Teater.
In addition, the bag is signed by Rooney, entertainer Vince Gill, KU basketball coach Bill Self and Rich Lerner, from The Golf Channel. The Legends is selling raffle tickets for $2 each or 6 for $10. All proceeds from the raffle go to “The Folds”.
Rooney will also donate an unlimited number of Tommy Bahama shirts designed by Tom Lehman for anyone at The Legends who writes a check for $150 or more to Patriot Golf Day. These shirts feature a special logo honoring the dedication our troops. The shirt was Lehman’s gift to fellow his Senior PGA Champions at a dinner he hosted in May at Valhalla GC.
The Legends will also be asking its players to donate to Patriot Golf Day. Members who are participating in the club’s Ryder Cup matches- now renamed the Patriot Cup matches, will sport Patriotic uniforms during this weekend’s competition. The course will also feature American flags on its pins this weekend. 
2011 marks the 10th anniversary of the tragic September 11 terrorist attacks. The events of that day are etched in the souls of all Americans. Let me remind you that 2,983 people perished from the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City; the Pentagon in Washington D.C. and that fateful Flight 93, which pummeled into the Pennsylvania countryside before it hit the U.S, Capital. These are the events that forced our country’s 10-year commitment to the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan.          
Obviously, many Americans like Gary Henry have paid the ultimate sacrifice while defending the freedoms that we take for granted each day. Thousands of families all over the U.S. will never be the same because of the events related to 9/11. Osama Bin Laden became a household name along with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Unfortunately, Americans have come to realize that this will be a long and bloody road.
Golfers all over America will be doing their part this weekend to make sure that we continue to help those families who need it the most. I encourage you to get involved with Patriot Golf Day, even if you don’t play golf. Stop by The Legends, Otter Creek or Hickory Stick this week and let a PGA pro help you say thanks for what our troops do everyday.  

Sunday, August 21, 2011

August 22.2011

In the post mortem surrounding the 2011 PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club, I have received phone calls and inquiries from around the country concerning the confusion around the announcement of the final group during Sunday’s play. I would like to use this forum to explain exactly what television viewers saw (and didn’t see).
My responsibility as Vice President of the PGA of America is to announce the final five twosomes on the First Tee during the final round of the PGA Championship. The PGA Secretary performs the same task on Saturday. So, this was actually my third stint working with the PGA and CBS Sports as the first tee announcer, but my first in the high profile drama of a final round of a major championship.
I arrived at the tee shortly before 2 p.m. The temperatures were already in the mid-90’s and I was wearing a light blue wool blazer with gray wool slacks. Normally, I don’t perspire much. However, the heat coupled with the pressure of the moments to follow changed all of that.
I showed up with the official pairings sheet produced by the PGA of America tournament office, which lists the players and their order of play. I also had a pronunciation guide with the players’ names. In addition, I had the names, home clubs and hometowns of the PGA walking referees, which accompany the final five groups of players.         
Even though I am only announcing five groups, I take this job seriously because, in all likelihood, most of this high profile task will be shown on CBS and viewed by a worldwide TV audience as well as thousands of PGA members from all over the United States.
The first group that I announced was the 2:00 starting time featuring Charl Schwartzel, Masters Champion, and Robert Karlsson from Sweden. It was necessary to clarify with Karlsson the proper pronunciation of his hometown of Katrineholm, Sweden.  Next at 2:10 were D.A. Points and David Toms. Points made sure I knew how to pronounce Pekin, IL. Toms was the 2001 PGA Champion, so that bit of information was added to his introduction.
At 2:20 it was Steve Stricker and Anders Hansen. When Stricker arrived to the tee he received the loudest ovation of encouragement that any player got in the last five groups. Hansen let me know that he wanted to be announced from “just Denmark” since he had lived all over his home country. I guess down deep I was hoping that I would meet up with Stricker a few hours later on the 18th green for the Wanamaker Trophy presentation.
Then at 2:30 Keegan Bradley and Scott Verplank teed it up. I distinctly remember seeing the worn and tattered St. John’s University headcover in Bradley’s bag. My daughter, Ambry, coaches the women’s team at SJU. She knows Bradley well and I passed on her well wishes minutes before he teed off. Little did we know just how much his life was about to change over the next five hours.
And at 2:40 the fun would really start. There was one small patch of shade on the right side of the tee box. I had been standing there as the last few groups arrived. It was the coolest spot on the tee and it was also where the caddies set the players bags down. It was a good place for me to meet and greet the players as well as inform them of the appropriate order of play on the tee. In the case of the 2:40 starting time, I shook hands with Brendan Steele and Jason Dufner. I let Steele know that he was first to play. I took my station behind the tee and began my announcement of the Steele/Dufner twosome.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the 2:40 starting time. Joining the group as a walking referee from Show Low, AZ is PGA professional, Brad Gregory,” as I barked this out to the crowd, I saw a ball already teed up, which was not unusual as the first player to hit will often tee it up a couple of minutes before he is announced.
“First to play from Irvine, CA, please welcome Brendan Steele,” I said, but as I started to announce Steele I noticed Dufner circling around behind the ball. It was very distracting and when Steele was announced Dufner stopped, removed his ball and looked back at me. He quizzically pointed to a group of people standing by the tent on the first tee. I will now defer the rest of the story to the CBS telecast.
“Well, look at this, Dufner already had it teed up,” said Jim Nantz.
“Wow! That is some confusion,” exclaimed Nick Faldo.
“Let me pick that up and get out of your way,” chuckled Nantz as Dufner removed his ball from the tee.
“Hope they see the funny side of that,” replied Faldo.
“Just a great little example at how these guys are in unfamiliar territory,” replied Nantz.
“Exactly,” pointed out Faldo.” I was down on the range when these guys were being interviewed and he (Steele) looked slightly shell shocked answering all of the questions as quickly as possible.”
As the players were leaving the tee, CBS elected to show a replay of the incident.
“Oops,” said Nantz as Dufner picked his ball up.
“Excuse me,” said Faldo as Steele went to the tee box.
David Feherty was the walking CBS commentator with the Steele and Dufner group. At this point, he was approximately 75 yards down the fairway on the left- he was nowhere near the First Tee when the incident took place.
“The starter had actually gotten them mixed up. He told them the wrong order,” chirped Feherty.
And finally Gary McCord added, “I have never seen that in a major.”
It was a perplexing situation to say the least from my standpoint. The players were clearly told the order of play on the First Tee. The only thing that the PGA of America can figure is that the standard bearer who carries the walking leaderboard had showed up on the First Tee with Dufner’s name on top and Steele’s on the bottom. Dufner must have assumed that the standard bearer had it correct. Gregory had the names changed to the proper order before the carrier left the tee.
All of us with the PGA of America take our responsibilities very seriously at our Championship. In my opinion, the CBS Sports golf talent is as good as it gets. In reviewing the replay of the incident several dozen times last week, I think Nantz and Faldo maneuvered their way through the incident with the same style, class and humor that viewers get during every CBS golf telecast.
My only disappointment was with Feherty’s comment. The inference by Feherty was that the starter is the announcer and that the players were told the wrong order. Gregory was the starter and I was the announcer. The players were informed of the correct order of play on the First Tee. It can only be assumed that Dufner thought the standard bearer was correct and maybe in the heat of the moment he didn’t hear my instructions on the tee.
Either way, I spent the better part of last week fielding phone calls, answering emails and talking to people at The Legends Golf Club about the situation and hopefully this clears it up.
Finally, let me say that I find David Feherty to be an absolute delight. He is great for the game of golf and I would encourage you to watch his show each week on the Golf Channel. I am probably over sensitive to what happened on the first tee on that final day. Everybody that I mentioned was trying to do the best job possible, given the circumstances.
Fortunately, Keegan Bradley saved the day with a phenomenal comeback.

Monday, August 15, 2011

One Shot at a Time: PGA Championship Wrap

It’s been a couple of days since Keegan Bradley defeated Jason Dufner in a playoff to win the 2011 PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club. In doing so, Bradley became only the third player in the history of golf to win a major championship in his first attempt. He also joined four other PGA champions whose fathers were PGA club professionals- Jack Burke Jr., Dave Marr, Davis Love  III and Rich Beem.
Dufner will be remembered as the guy who blew a five shot lead in the PGA with four holes to go. History will record his demise as one of the most catastrophic in major championship history. I had a chance to play the Atlanta Athletic Club on Monday and I have plenty of sympathy  for Dufner.
I played the course from 6.600 yards- not the 7,467 yards that the PGA championship field did. Even so, I can attest to the difficulty of those final four holes. Bradley appeared dead and buried after he made a triple bogey on the 267 yard, par 3, 15th hole. He had a downhill pitch shot from the rough on the left edge of the green and helplessly watch his ball travel across the green into the water. The way the hazard was marked he had to take his drop approximately 70 yards in front of the green. He hit his shot on the green and two putted for a triple bogey six.
On Monday, I played the hole from 210 yards. I landed my ball on the left edge of the green with a 24 degree hybrid and wound up about 10 feet from where Bradley made his triple. The big difference was that I was in the shorter rough. Remembering Bradley’s fateful shot, I pitched it gently on the edge of the green and watched the ball trickle ten feet past the hole and I made the putt for par.
Dufner hit his shot in the water, right of green at 15. He was able to get it up and down from the drop area for a tremendous bogey.
Bradley went on to birdie the difficult 16th hole, which is a 485 yard severe uphill par four. Dufner made another bogey on the hole. I drove it into the left rough and had 168 yards to the pin from a shorter set of tees. I hit a solid six iron, trying to account for the elevation change. I hit a rocket and my ball landed on the back of the green and bounded 15 yards long onto the bank behind the green. I had a downhill lie out of the Bermuda rough and hit a soft 58 degree lob shot onto the back edge of the green. When my shot landed on the green all three of my playing partners said, “Great shot, Ted.”
The ball slowly rolled towards the hole, but it started picking up speed near the hole. It kept going and rolled off the front edge and down the approach, some 50 yards off the green.  It was an unbelievably bad break. I pitched it up and made a double bogey even though I never hit a bad shot.
On the 186 yard, par three 17th, Bradley made a bomb for birdie. Dufner three putted from about 60 feet right of the pin. In fact, he would later three putt from virtually the same spot in the playoff. My tee shot wound up in almost the same identical place as Dufner’s. I am thinking ‘okay, you know this is fast, just let it drift down there.’ From that angle on the green, the ball first travels slightly uphill and then it’s all downhill. My putt limped to the crest and still rolled past the hole about 10 feet.
I missed the putt and three whacked it just like Dufner. It made Bradley’s birdie putt on the 16th green from the same angle seem even more miraculous.
Then I faced the 18th hole. Sergio Garcia dumped two in the water here on Sunday. Lee Westwood gave his second shot a bath a few minutes later. Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods did the same in round two. This hole played as a 512 yard, par 4 during the PGA. Bradley and Dufner each smoked drives during their final hole in regulation. Both safely found the middle of the green and gingerly two putted downhill for pars.
On Monday, I played the hole 447 yards. I hit a high cutter into a fairly stiff wind and had 210 yards left over water. I elected to layup short of the water, figuring my wedge and putter could still make a closing par possible. After all, that’s how David Toms sealed his victory in the 2001 PGA. I hit a good shot to the front left pin placement and then missed a 10-footer for par.
The point of this is to say that I went four over par on the last three holes to shoot 81. I could have blown that same lead that Dufner did. I have played a lot of great courses in the past few years and those final four finishing holes at the Atlanta Athletic Club are the toughest I have faced. So, I am really commending Keegan Bradley for his phenomenal finish and conceding Dufner a fate that could have befallen many.          
Heading into Sunday, Bradley and Brendan Steele were tied at -7. At the end of 72 holes, Bradley and Dufner were knotted at -8. Bradley then played the three hole aggregate at one under par while Dufner was one over par.
Interestingly, Woods sent Stricker a text of encouragement on Saturday night. The message was simple, finish the PGA at -8 and you will win a major. Stricker needed to shoot a four under par 66 to do so. He fell short, but Woods had the number figured correctly.
Personally, the fact that Tiger had things pegged was good to hear. It tells me that he went back to Jupiter, FL on Friday night and watched some golf on Saturday. Even if it was from satellite TV on his yacht somewhere off the Florida coast. However, golf needs Tiger back as a player, not an analyst like he was for Stricker.
Bradley will be a great PGA champion and he will definitely win more tournaments. He is a St, John’s University grad and my daughter, Ambry, is the women’s golf coach there. Maybe Bradley’s victory will help her recruiting.
Sunday night I stood a few feet from Bradley as we awaited the CBS awards presentation on the 18th green. He had tears in his eyes and he was clearly overcome with emotion. Somebody told him this PGA Championship would be a life changing victory.
Bradley smiled and softly said, “I know. I am afraid this is all a dream and I am going to wake up.”
This new era of golf is official after the majors of 2011. Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy and now Keegan Bradley. Say goodnight to Tiger and Phil.
Polishing the Wanamaker!

Friday, August 12, 2011

PGA Champ 2011- Sat

As the 2011 PGA Championship unfolds there are several compelling subplots lurking. Will Steve Stricker win that elusive major championship? Can Davis Love III wind back the hands of time and win his second PGA Championship? Is the combination of Adam Scott and Steve Williams going to be golf’s new dominate player/caddie combo? What is wrong with Tiger Woods? How serious is the wrist injury that Rory McIlroy suffered? Can Scott Verplank prevail? Will Phil make a charge?
It has been an interesting two days here in Atlanta. This is the first major championship in golf that has allowed cell phones and mobile devices. Spectators are allowed to bring these onto the grounds of the Atlanta Athletic Club for the first time ever in golf’s elite tournaments. There is plenty of signage telling fans not to take pictures while players are swinging. Certain areas have been prescribed for phone calls. It will be the wave of the future as golf tournaments allow spectators to check emails, shoot texts and make phone calls in this venue.
Course conditions have been spectacular. The greens are superior. Maintaining putting speeds that are not too fast has been the challenge. Estimated stimp meter speed is in the 14 range. The fairways, which are Diamond Zoysia, are absolutely carpet like. The only complaint by players has been the sand traps, which are pretty soft and fluffy. The fairway bunkers are powdery, which has caused for some real strange bunker shots by the world’s best.
“If you drive it in the fairway, you can shoot a low number. If you don’t and hit it in a bunch of fairway bunkers, you can shoot the moon,” said Love after his round on Thursday. “It is almost impossible to get anything lower than a pitching wedge airborne out of these bunkers. I tried hitting a seven iron out there in what appeared to be a perfect lie and topped the shot.”
“This course setup is masterful,” said Peter Kostis of CBS Sports. “If you hit the fairways you can shoot 63 and if you don’t………. well, we saw a pretty good player shoot 77 the other day.”
Speaking of Woods who was in 14 bunkers during that Thursday round of 77, he appears to have hit rock bottom from a playing standpoint. This week’s PGA Championship is the worst performance in a major championship by the greatest player of this era. Woods is clearly deflated, frustrated and growing profusely impatient with his own ineptness.
In fairness to Woods, he is coming back from serious injuries and long layoffs. It’s far too premature to write this guy off. He talked this week about how much difficulty he was having “just letting it go and not thinking about his mechanics.” These are the demons that have haunted all of us at times. It only took 35 years, but Tiger is proving that he is human on the golf course.
Every golf expert and media type is still talking about the shot that Rory McIlroy attempted on Thursday. The Irish lad’s ball was close to a root and he tried to execute the shot, resulting in an injury to his right wrist. McIlroy gutted out a 70 in that first round and toughed it out on Friday. But, you have to question the wisdom of the decision. A wrist injury in golf can terminate a career.
I was in the locker room when the injury occurred. Several players were seated nearby, including Alviro Quiros of Spain and Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn. Quiros was extremely vocal in his objections to McIlroy continuing play. “He is 22 years old. He has a career ahead of him. He needs to stop playing before he really hurts himself and destroys his future,” said Quiros.
McIlroy was checked out on the course by a physician. It was determined that no further injury could take place. He got an MRI Thursday night. “This is a major championship and an important tournament. If I can play, I will. There are six months before I go to Augusta, which gives me plenty of time to get better,” said a smiling Mcilroy.
I have been lucky in getting to know many of the players. It’s tough for me to pick a player I want to see win because there is a bunch of great guys out here. Favoritism should not be in my vocabulary. But, I have to tell you that I will be rooting hard for Steve Stricker this weekend. I know him better than any player on the PGA Tour.
Stricker, 44 years old, is married to Nicki, who is the daughter of Dennis Tiziani, PGA professional from Madison, WI. “Tiz” recruited both of my daughters when he coached the women’s team at the University of Wisconsin and he helped Stricker through the toughest part of his career when he lost his tour card several years ago. “Tiz” put together an indoor practice area for Stricker and the two worked their way through the trials of a lost swing in the Wisconsin winter.
This indoor hitting area consisted of a mobile home that had one side cut out, allowing Stricker to hit balls off of an astro turf mat into the Wisconsin snow. Tiziani installed a ceiling heater and Stricker says there is no need to head south to practice in his off season months.
“It gets so hot in there, I can work up a sweat hitting balls in short sleeves- and that’s when it’s single digit temperatures outside,” laughed Stricker one night last winter when we chatted on the phone.
I remember that night well, Steve talked about his kids who were in the next room with Nicki watching American Idol. He said he was getting tired of traveling. He felt that his career was winding down and that he had maybe four more years left to compete at the highest level.
But, one thing that is always certain with Stricker. He is a fierce competitor. Tom Lehman nicknamed Stricker the “quiet assassin” at the Ryder Cup when he took out the world’s #1, Lee Westwood in the singles matches.  Stricker has won ten times on the PGA Tour, seven since he turned 40 years old.
Stricker faltered yesterday and seemingly lost control of the tournament. It’s nearly impossible to lead a major wire to wire, which is where he was after firing the opening round 63 on Thursday. But, this guy has been through adversity before.
If you are looking for a guy to root for this weekend, Steve Stricker is your man.   

Thursday, August 11, 2011

PGA Champ- Friday

This is without question the busiest PGA week of my year. The PGA Championship is our premier event and it is truly a celebration of golf for our 27,000 PGA members and apprentices. There are a couple of events that are PGA Championship week traditions and I would like to share those with you.
The Champions Dinner is traditionally held each Tuesday night before the tournament begins. This evening brings together a large collection of former golf greats- past and present- who have lifted the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday evening.
And here is a little trivia about that trophy. It was donated by Rodman Wanamaker, the New York City department store magnate, who was instrumental in the formation of the PGA of America in 1916. It weighs 27.5 pounds and is the heaviest of the four major championship trophies. When I am President in 2013-14, I will present this to the winner.
Martin Kaymer, of Germany, was the host of this year’s Champions Dinner because he is the defending champion. Kaymer picked a menu that included a traditional German Christmas dinner. The meal included a tomato and mozzarella cheese salad, roasted goose, sausage, red cabbage, potato dumpling, natural gravy and a delightful chocolate mousse.
Our past few PGA winners have included Y.E. Yang from Korea and Padraig Harrington from Northern Ireland.  Suffice to say that we have experienced a variety of international cuisines lately at the PGA Champions dinner. Even in 2008, Tiger Woods decided to dedicate the meal to his wife Elin and he picked a Swedish theme that included a menu of raw fish.
I love all of these guys, but a good steak would be nice. (Read between the red, white and blue lines.)
This year’s dinner was attended by 17 of our past PGA Champions and it included Kaymer, Yang, Harrington, Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bobby Nichols, David Toms, Mark Brooks, Rich Beem, Vijay Singh, Larry Nelson, Bob Tway, Shaun Micheel, John Daly, Doug Ford, Paul Azinger, Don January, Hubert Green, Al Geiberger and Dow Finsterwald.
Each year the champion picks two players to speak and tell a few stories about the PGA Championship. Kaymer selected Toms, who won here at the Atlanta Athletic Club in 2001, and Mickelson, who finished a shot out of the lead that year. David and Phil exchanged a few barbs about that final round and some Ryder Cup experiences.  This is always a highlight of the night.
I had the privilege to sit with Harrington and his wife, Caroline. The Irishman has won three major championships including two British Opens and the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills where he made a par saving putt on the final hole to nip Sergio Garcia by a shot.
Harrington grew up in Dublin. His father was a policeman who was part of a group of cops that built a golf course in 1971. This is the course where Harrington grew up. “Today seventy percent of the membership is made up of policeman. You can’t vote on any membership matters unless you are a policeman. I laugh when people talk about discrimination in golf because I tell them I can’t vote on things at my own course because I am not a policeman. It is a good course. The best score I ever shot there is 69, so that tells you something.”
During the Champions Dinner, a video is shown that highlights the winners from the previous 92 years of PGA Championships. It is a who’s who of golf and as each former champion appears on the video he receives a rousing applause from the crowd in attendance which includes PGA Officers, Directors, Past Presidents and their wives.
Harrington made an interesting observation at the conclusion of the video. “It’s interesting to see the time lapses between the wins in the case of multiple PGA winners. Many times, their wins are decades apart. When you win a major, the media gives the impression that you should contend in every major. It just won’t happen.
“The experience of having won a major is good and bad. You know how much it means to win a major, but sometimes that makes it tougher to win- harder to get in contention during the tournament. But, if you are in a good position on the final nine holes, the experience of winning a major definitely becomes an advantage,” said Harrington. 
Besides the Champions Dinner, the other great event this week is the Distinguished Service Award presentation on Wednesday night. Larry Nelson was the 2011 recipient and he joined the likes of Bob Hope, Gerald Ford, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and George H.W. Bush.
Nelson is a native of Georgia. He won two PGA Championships and a U.S. Open. He was a Ryder Cup stalwart who racked up a 9-3-1 record in the matches including a 4-0 record against Seve Ballesteros in 1979.
Larry’s story is pretty amazing. He did not play golf in high school. He served our country in Viet Nam and upon his return decided to try golf. He was given a copy of the book Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons: the Modern Fundamentals of Golf” and literally read the book before he hit a golf ball. Nelson broke 100 the first time he played and nine months later he broke 70.
He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2006. Nelson made an impact off the golf course through his work with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He has been involved with a multitude of charitable causes.
One story that Nelson’s mother Rudell tells says it all. Larry was driving home in the 1980’s and he passed a car with Ohio license plates. The hood was raised and the driver was shaking his head in despair. Nelson stopped and went back to the car, noticing it also contained a woman and two children in the back seat.
The driver was distraught and saw no way his family could get back home. Nelson told the man to hold on, and that he would return. He went to a nearby used car lot, made a quick purchase, driving the car back to the family.
Larry said to the man, “Here, now you can go home,” said Rudell. “I asked Larry about whether he ever heard back from the man or his family, and he said he didn’t need to hear back.”
Wednesday night, the PGA of America was honored to recognize Larry Nelson.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

One Shot at a Time- Thursday, August 11, 2011 PGA Champ

The dominant theme here at the 93rd PGA Championship has been the pristine course conditions at the Atlanta Athletic Club. The course was closed down for two weeks prior to the start of the event. In the final three weeks that AAC members were allowed to play, they were issued small mats that they placed underneath their golf ball so as to avoid taking divots in the fairways and on the tees. This is unprecedented in major championship history and it shows the commitment that AAC members have made in making this a great championship.
The Atlanta Athletic Club is laced with rich golf history. Founded in 1898, the club began picking up national exposure when it hired John Heisman (Georgia Tech coach and namesake of the Heisman Trophy) as its athletic director. Bobby Jones was a fixture at the Atlanta Athletic Club. It was his home club. He served as President of the AAC and was active in the club until his death in 1972.
The club moved to its present location in 1967 and it features 36 holes. This week’s PGA Championship will be played on the Highlands Course. The clubhouse is a massive 42,000 square feet and the property is so spacious that the television compounds for CBS Sports, Turner Sports and the Golf Channel are virtually small cities. In total, there will be over 2,000 media representatives here this week covering golf’s final major of the season. 
Over the years, the AAC has built an impressive resume. It hosted the 1963 Ryder Cup. The 1976 U.S. Open was won here by Jerry Pate, who received a special exemption from the PGA of America into this year’s field. 2011 is the third PGA Championship at the AAC. Local native, Larry Nelson, won here in 1981 and David Toms captured the Wanamaker Trophy in 2001. In addition, Betsy King won the U.S. Women’s Open here in 1976. The Atlanta Athletic Club will host the 2014 U.S. Amateur championship.
“This is the best venue that I have played on all year long,” said Steve Stricker on Tuesday. “Everything is absolutely perfect.”
“I don’t think I have ever played on better fairways,” commented Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open Champion. “The greens are unbelievably fast, almost too fast.”
Toms’ victory in 2001 was highlighted by a hole-in-one on the 15th during the third round. The Louisiana native says this year’s version of the AAC is totally different than a decade ago. “Let’s put it this way, there is a plaque on the 15th tee where I got my hole-in-one in 2001. Today, the tees are half a lob wedge further back! The hole played 265 yards in my practice rounds.”
The course measures 7,450 yards, which is monstrous for a par 70 golf course. Besides the previously mentioned 15th hole, the 507 yard, par 4, 18th hole will generate some discussion among players. The finishing hole at AAC requires the second shot to carry over water. In 2001, Toms elected to layup short of the water, getting it up and down with a wedge to save par and beat Phil Mickelson by a shot.
Much of the attention this week has been on the comments made by Steve Williams after he caddied for Adam Scott last week, who won the WGC event at the Firestone CC in Akron, OH. Williams attempted to steal the show with some strong talk in an interview with CBS’ David Feherty.
“In my 30 plus years of being a caddy, this was the best week of my life. This was my biggest win ever,” said Williams. That is an interesting statement considering Williams was on the bag when Woods won 13 major championships.
I was in the Media Center earlier this week when Lee Westwood was asked if he would have addressed his caddy, if similar remarks had been made.
“Yeah, I probably would. There was no relevance to the interview other than to have a shot at Tiger Woods in the ribs. Obviously, he does a good job as a caddy. Obviously, there is some friction there. But, what was the point of those remarks?” said Westwood who is ranked #2 in the world.
When asked about the importance of a caddy, Westwood had this to say, “It’s probably more what they don’t say than what they do say. Golf is such a psychological thing. Sometimes the smallest things can be a huge distraction.”
Westwood is the premier stud in the celebrated Chubby Chandler stable. Chandler is the agent who represents Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke, Charl Shwartzel and Graeme McDowell- all winners of major championships in the past year or so. Westwood has the label of being golf’s best player not to win a major.
I find this Englishman to be engaging, funny, competitive and way overdue for the big win. He is in top shape heading into the PGA Championship. He lost nine pounds in the past three weeks, anticipating the Atlanta heat.
“I felt I was getting a bit heavy. I just cut out all of the stuff that tastes good,” said a smiling Westwood.  “Putting would be at the top of my list in terms of improving my game. “ As a result he started working with Dave Stockton, the top putting guru in the world.
Westwood’s next step was hiring a sports psychologist. His buddy, Clarke used two at the British Open and saw the dividends pay off. “Darren would be a good one to consult in terms of sports psychologists, since he has been through them all,” jabbed Westwood.
The entire Chandler portfolio is staying at the same hotel I am. Clarke was enjoying a libation at the bar when I checked in Sunday afternoon. McIlroy roams the lobby with his IPod. Westwood will stop and talk anytime of the day. McDowell is one of the nicest guys you could ever meet. These players hang out together. They needle each other. They feed off of each other. They relax each other. They celebrate their accomplishments together.
These guys are winning and they seem to have it figured out. Earlier in the week, I said that picking the winner in a PGA Tour event this year is an exercise in futility. So, here is my latest attempt at futility. I am betting on Westwood to be holding the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday night and I am looking forward to that party! Cheers!        

Monday, August 8, 2011


Today is the start of PGA Championship week, golf’s final major of the 2011 season. I am in Atlanta looking forward to my busiest PGA week of the year. I arrived Sunday afternoon and set up camp at the Atlanta Athletic Club (AAC) and the Grand Hyatt Atlanta Buckhead. Upon arriving yesterday afternoon, I attending a PGA Officer’s briefing which includes a variety of topics such as ticket sales, course conditions, media points, status of the field of players and a review of our schedules for the week.
Last night I attended a Chairperson Appreciation Reception at the AAC. Today we have a junior golf clinic. Tonight we attend the world premier of the movie Seven Days in Utopia, starring Robert Duvall. The movie is about a guy who decides to become a PGA teaching professional and many of our members were used on the set to authenticate the golf in the movie.
Tuesday will find me attending a Folds of Honor Foundation Board meeting early in the morning. I am privileged to serve on this Board with Maj. Dan Rooney, the founder of Patriot Golf Day which raises money for families of those wounded or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Later tomorrow, I will address 80 women on Get Golf Ready, the program that I have served as national spokesman for. Following that, I attend a Government Relations Luncheon hosted by the Governor of Georgia.
Later Tuesday afternoon we meet with representatives of the Canadian PGA. We follow that with a reception at the AAC hosted by the Georgia PGA. Finally, Tuesday night I will be at the PGA Champions Dinner, which features many of the past winners of this tournament including Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Davis Love III, John Daly, Shaun Micheel, Mark Brooks, David Toms, Rich Beem, Doug Ford, Padraig Harrington, Paul Azinger, Y.E. Yang and Martin Kaymer, the defending champion.
My Wednesday starts at 6:30 a.m. with a Rules Committee meeting. Later in the morning I will attend a Board of Directors meeting and then go to AAC for our State of the Association address. I am having lunch with Amy Wilson, wife of two-time winner Mark. Amy is the president of the PGA Tour Wives and we are discussing the cook book that the wives are putting together, which will be rolled out in 2013 when I am President of the PGA.
Wednesday night is the Distinguished Service Award ceremony. This year’s recipient will be Larry Nelson, a three time major champion winning the U.S. Open and two PGA Championships. Nelson also racked up an impressive 9-3-1 Ryder Cup record. He hails from Atlanta and has done many benevolent things for charities around the country. Nelson was a Viet Nam veteran who did not play golf until he was 21 years of age. He broke 100 the first time he played and several months later he broke par!
Thursday morning finds me doing a Sirius/XM Radio interview at 10:30 a.m. at the Atlanta Athletic Club. Round One of the PGA begins. That afternoon I attend the PGA Finance Committee meeting, of which I am co-chairman. Late in the day, I do a stint at 4:30 p.m. with PGA.com and its live streaming web coverage of the PGA Championship. 
We cap off the day with a private CBS dinner, which is attended by PGA Officers and the CBS talent. This is a stag affair, no ties allowed and plenty of great stories from the likes of Sean McManus, President of CBS Sports; Jim Nantz, Sir Nick Faldo, Vern Lundquist, Ian Baker-Finch, Gary McCord, Peter Kostis and Lance Barrow, Executive Producer for CBS Sports.
Friday starts at 6:00 a.m. as we head to the Country Club of the South and our PepsiCo Golf Outing. This takes up most of the day and concludes with a reception at the Atlanta Athletic Club that evening.
Saturday is the one day that I will actually have a chance to watch some golf at the course. My only daytime commitment is an interview at 11:00 a.m. for the PGA Championship Highlights video. I will pick a group to follow after that and walk 18 holes as an Observer in the group. Saturday night I attend a dinner for the International Broadcasters.
Sunday will start at 9 a.m. with a rehearsal for the awards ceremony on the 18th green. My big assignment for the week will be announcing the final five groups to the First Tee from 1:50-2:40 p.m. This sounds easy enough, but I will be wired for sound by CBS. This means that I will have ear pieces and will be receiving instructions on when to announce the players to the tee by the CBS control truck. Trust me, the thought of leaving a legacy never to be forgotten with some blooper always crosses your mind when announcing in front of a live TV audience.
Early Sunday evening, I will be positioned on the 18th green for the Wanamaker Trophy presentation. In the past three years, I have literally been a few feet away from some of the greatest history in the PGA Championship as the drama concluded on the final hole.
In 2008, I announced the groups coming into the 18th green at Oakland Hills. I sat quietly about 25 feet from Harrington when he made the winning putt to defeat Sergio Garcia. In 2009, I witnessed Yang’s tremendous 2nd shot at Hazeltine as he dealt Tiger Woods the first significant dent in his armor. Last year, I painfully watched Dustin Johnson receive the ruling that knocked him out of a playoff with Kaymer and Bubba Watson after he grounded his club in a bunker on the final hole. Then I saw the excitement of Germany’s Kaymer holing the winning putt.
My best memory from last year was shaking hands with Watson after he just lost the PGA and hearing him say, “Sure, I wanted to win. But, I am on the Ryder Cup team now.”
Who knows what this week will bring. Americans have not won a major championship since Phil grabbed the green jacket at Augusta in 2010. Winless in the last six majors are the Yanks. This is the first time in a decade and a half that the top four players in the world are non-Americans.
The PGA Championship has produced some surprise American winners such as Micheel,  Beem and Brooks. An unheralded Bob May took Tiger to the wire at Valhalla. But, in the past seven years it has been the likes of Woods (2), Mickelson, Harrington, Singh, Kaymer and Yang who have won. No doubt that Yang was a shocker in 2009.                 
Predicting the winner of a PGA Tour event in 2011 has been an exercise in futility. Steve Stricker, Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar would be popular American winners. Bubba could win this week. Jason Day, of Australia, is the year’s best player in the majors. Phil and Tiger have become sentimental long shots. The PGA Championship has been labeled “Glory’s Last Shot” and that seems pretty fitting in 2011. I look forward to taking you to Atlanta this week.