Saturday, December 22, 2012

Dec 21, 2012

No doubt the week in New York City surrounding the selection of Tom Watson as the 2014 Ryder Cup Captain goes down as one of the most memorable in my time as a PGA Officer. It was special to me because of the relationship that I have formed with Tom over the past year. Sometimes when you meet special people, the impression is different than what you anticipate. In Watson’s case, he has exceeded my every expectation.
One thing that leaves a lasting impression about the next Ryder Cup captain is the genuine interest he shows in people when he is engaged in a conversation. Watson has that innate ability to make people feel important and he truly is a very humble guy for all that he has accomplished.
The selection of the Ryder Cup captain is now pretty well documented. Most are aware of the fact that Watson was my choice and the process took place over a 13-month timeframe. Given the fact that 2014 Ryder Cup will be played in Scotland meant that the moon and the stars lined up perfectly for the guy who had won seven major championships in that country. Watson will be the oldest American Ryder Cup captain ever, but his ability to relate with today’s players won’t be in question because he can still compete at the highest level.
The selection process was interesting given the fact that many in the media had thoughts on who should be the next captain. Most thought it would be David Toms. Some were touting Larry Nelson. Let me tell you a little about both men.
Toms won the 1991 PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club. He had a hole in one on Saturday’s third round and held off a charging Phil Mickelson. Toms, himself, was a three-time former Ryder Cup player and he fit the past profile of Ryder Cup captains- a former major champion and multiple Ryder Cup team member in his late 40’s.
I had to call David early on Tuesday of that week and notify him that he would not be the 2014 captain. He was in a duck blind in Arkansas hunting with his son. It was a tough call to make, but he handled it with the grace and dignity that has marked his professional golf career.
A day later, I spoke with Larry Nelson. There had been a ground swell of support for Nelson in the past few weeks from many media outlets. His story is compelling. Nelson, a native of Georgia, was a two-time PGA Champion and former U.S. Open Champ. He had a 9-3-1 career Ryder Cup record as a player. Quite honestly, the 67-year old Nelson should have been named a Ryder Cup captain back in the mid-1990’s. He was passed over for the likes of Watson, Tom Kite, Lanny Wadkins and Ben Crenshaw.
People should understand more about Nelson. He didn’t play golf as a child. In high school he focused on basketball and baseball. Larry took up golf at the age of 21 after he returned from serving in the infantry in Vietnam. He was a 20-year old newlywed when he was drafted into the U.S. Army.
Nelson was first introduced to golf by Ken Hummel, a soldier and friend in his infantry unit, and Nelson carefully studied Ben Hogan’s book The Five Fundamentals of Golf while learning how to play the game. He soon found that he had a talent for the game, breaking 100 the first time he played and 70 within nine months.
He went on to graduate from Kennesaw Junior College in 1970 and turned professional the following year. His breakthrough year came in 1979 when he won twice and finished second on the money list to Tom Watson.
The 5’9” Nelson won 10 times on the PGA Tour, including his three major championships. His victory at the 1983 U.S. Open at Oakmont saw him come from seven shots behind at the halfway point to defeat Watson by a single shot. Nelson scored a U.S. Open record 65-67 over the last 36 holes, which broke a 51 year Open record established by Gene Sarazen. Nelson has won 19 times on the Champions Tour.
Larry Nelson has been a survivor and tough competitor his entire life. He was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in April 2006. In 2011, he received the PGA Distinguished Service Award from the PGA of America. The award honors outstanding individuals who display leadership and humanitarian qualities, including integrity, sportsmanship and enthusiasm for the game of golf.
My phone call to Nelson was a tough one. It gave him the chance to voice his frustration for 20 years of snubs by the PGA of America as Ryder Cup captain. The disappointment was no doubt compounded by the fact that he had lost to Watson again. It’s hard to say if future PGA Officers will give Nelson the nod that he deserves. But, as I told Larry, with the selection of the 63-year old Watson, the door was probably as open as it ever had been.
The Larry Nelson situation was a tough one to deal with. Watson was clearly the right choice for 2014. Our task was to pick the captain who can put our U.S. team in the best position to win. Tom does that.
I spoke with John Hopkins this week. He is a legendary golf writer from England.
“You Americans smacked us right between the Ryder Cup chops last week with that Watson announcement. Our European officials are re-grouping trying to decide the best choice to counter Tom Watson. That was a brilliant move on your part,” concluded Hopkins.
Let the games begin.

Friday, November 30, 2012


To see or hear Ted Bishop on Anchoring. click the link.

On Wednesday, the Royal & Ancient and the United States Golf Association (USGA), golf’s governing bodies, announced changes to the Rules of Golf that would prohibit anchoring the club in making a stroke. The following three paragraphs are from the USGA released statement.
“The proposed Rule 14-1b, which follows an extensive review by the R&A and the USGA, would prohibit strokes made with the club or a hand gripping the club held directly against a player’s body, or with a forearm held against the body to establish an anchor point that indirectly anchors the club.
The proposed Rule would not alter current equipment rules and would allow the continued use of all conforming clubs, including belly-length putters, provided such clubs are not anchored during a stroke. The proposed Rule narrowly targets only a few types of strokes, while preserving a golfer’s ability to play a wide variety of strokes in his or her individual style.
The proposed Rule change would take effect on January 1, 2016, in accordance with the regular four-year cycle for changes to the Rules of Golf. This timetable would also provide an extended period in which golfers may, if necessary, adapt their method of stroke to the requirement of the Rule.”
The game of golf has existed for over 600 years. During that time, players have been allowed to anchor the club on any stroke. It begs the question, why now?
Keegan Bradley, the 2011 PGA Champion, had these comments.  “To say they will ban this after we’ve won majors is unbelievable. It’s the way we’ve practiced and made our living. Some players have put in 15 to 20 years of practice and all of a sudden they’re going to make up a rule. That’s harsh.”
In the past couple of years, the number of players using long, anchored putters has surged dramatically both on the professional tours and in the amateur ranks. Three of the last five major championship winners used long, anchored putters. Webb Simpson who won the 2012 U.S. Open joins Bradley and Els as the three major winners since August of 2011.
At this year’s PGA Championship. An estimated 50 of the 156 competitors used long putters, although not all were anchored. That being said, there is clearly no statistical data from any professional Tour that would indicate there is any advantage to anchoring a long putter. In fact, the average ranking of those players using long putters among the top one hundred in the World Golf Rankings is over 50. There does not appear to be any data that suggests that anchoring a golf club results in an unfair advantage.
Long putters have been around since the 1930’s. Johnny Miller topped Payne Stewart by a stroke to win the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in 1987. Orville Moody won the 1989 U.S. Senior Open using a 50-inch putter that he tucked to his chest. Shortly after, the USGA approved the use of long putters, deciding the method was not detrimental to the game. Moody had threatened legal action if the club was banned.
The list goes on. Rocco Mediate won at Doral in 1991 using a 49-inch putter anchored to his sternum.  Paul Azinger used a 54-inch putter that he pressed to his sternum to win the Sony Open in 2000. Colt Knost won the U.S. Amateur Championship at the Olympic Club using a belly putter. Then in 2007, Adam Scott used a 49-inch putter that he anchored below his chin to win the Bridgestone Invitational.
Why the ban on anchoring now? It’s tough to swallow the argument that it has nothing to do with the most recent major championships being decided with a long putter, anchored.
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director, has said that anchoring has been on the radar of golf’s governing bodies for the past two decades. He says the main objections to anchoring are that it looks bad and it does not conform to the intended stroke that golf’s founding fathers envisioned.
But, while the USGA and R&A are primarily concerned with the competitive side of the anchoring debate, the PGA of America has concerns on how a ban on anchoring could affect the industry’s growth of the game efforts.
“The PGA has long supported the USGA in its role of establishing the Rules of Golf governing play and equipment. We have representation on the Rules of Golf Committee and we have a huge amount of respect for them in regard to their critical role in writing and interpreting the Rules of Golf. Our mission is to grow the game, and on behalf of our 27,000 men and women PGA Professionals, we are asking them to consider the impact this may have on people’s enjoyment of the game and the growth of the game.”—Ted Bishop, President, PGA of America. This was the official statement from the PGA.
Last week the PGA conducted a poll of its members.  The participation rate was extremely high (roughly 16%, or 4,228 of our membership) which illustrates the importance of this particular issue. Nearly two thirds (63%) of the respondents indicated that they do not favor a ban. The reasons were varied but consistent themes regarding the negative impact a ban could have on both the growth and enjoyment of the game became readily apparent.
The PGA of America believes that golf is the greatest of all games. We also believe that we need to continue to do what is necessary to preserve all that makes it unique, and consistent with our mission, take actions to grow the game. PGA members are truly the connection between the game and its participants.
In the end, the people that may pay the biggest price are the average golfers who have switched their method of putting to avoid back problems, overcome unsteady nerves and increase their enjoyment in the game.  
Why now?

New President

The only way that I can describe the past few days is WOW. Sometime around 4:45 p.m. on Saturday, November 10, I became the 38th President of the PGA of America. This was a very unlikely set of circumstances for someone who grew up as a kid throwing baseballs and bouncing basketballs in my hometown of Logansport.
My first experience with golf was watching the CBS Golf Classic on Saturdays during the winters back in the late 1960’s. The show was a taped re-broadcast of two man best ball matches staged at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. Even though my father did not play golf I was intrigued with the sport and certainly by what the players were wearing. It was a cool game played by a bunch of flashy guys wearing plaid slacks and bright colored shirts.
My dad was a barber and my mom a school teacher. My family had modest means, but I never went without anything I needed as a kid. Still, it was inconceivable that I would own a set of golf clubs at an early age because I had a father who was not a golfer and there wasn’t a bunch of extra money floating around to afford me access even at the local public course.
I mowed yards in my neighborhood and saved up enough money to go to a local hardware store and buy a single golf club- it was a George Fazio model 7-iron. As I recall, this was when I was 13 years old and I even had enough money left over to buy a cheap sleeve of golf balls.
The next thing I had to do was find a golf course. I lived three blocks from Tower Park and a couple of buddies of mine, whose father’s played golf, would meet at the park with our 7-irons and a some golf balls in our pockets. We created a course which was comprised of lamp posts. We would play from lamp post to lamp post, sometimes putting dings on them upon finishing the hole. We never deemed par on the hole, it was all based around how many shots it took to hit the lamp post.
I am the same kid who created a game of baseball with two dice and who would go through an entire 162-game season laying on the floor of my living room. I would do the play by play. I would score the games and keep the stats for the entire season. Even though I was a diehard Yankee fan, I would pick a team like the Washington Senators to play the season out. This way I could over achieve results with a crappy team. I have always been the classic over achiever.
When I was 17 years old I got a summer job working at the Rolling Hills Par 3 Golf Course. We had 18 holes, a lighted driving range and a miniature golf course. It was Caddy Shack before the world was introduced to the famous movie. I worked the entire summer of 1970 and never hit a golf ball. My time off was consumed playing basketball and American legion baseball.
I started playing golf during the summer of 1971. I would take a handful of clubs with a putter and play the par three course. At Rolling Hills you needed nothing more than a 6-ron through the wedge. Lots of guys didn’t even carry a bag. We just kept the balls and tees in our pockets. No dress code was in effect, so I played shirtless on many occasions. My dad soon started playing and golf became an activity that we enjoyed together every Sunday afternoon while I was home from college. 
Upon graduation from Purdue in 1976 to be a golf course superintendent, I took a job in Linton as the pro/superintendent. In my infinite wisdom, I was offered the job and initially turned it down because I had to make my money doing the things a golf pro does. I reconsidered and wound up working there for 17 years before coming to Franklin.
While In Linton I met Phil Harris, the great entertainer who was born in that coal mining town in Southwester Indiana. Phil and I worked together to create the largest celebrity golf tournament in the United States. We played 600 players over two days. There were four 150 player shotgun starts (25 teams with 6 players) during the weekend. Thanks to Phil we had some of the biggest names in entertainment, golf and the sporting world. It was pretty amazing when you consider the town had one motel and was over two hours from the nearest major airport.
I got my PGA membership in August of 1985. It took me five attempts to pass my Playing Ability Test (PAT). I missed it by five shots; two shots; one shot twice and eventually hit the target score of 157 right on the number. I was the proverbial “choking freakin’ dog” as I needed to pass the PAT before I could start the path to PGA membership.
My entire career has been spent in the Indiana PGA. I was elected to the Indiana PGA Board of Directors in 1988. From there I guess you could say the rest is history some 24 years later. Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever envisioned myself as the 38th President of the PGA of America.
Last Saturday night my good friend Cam Cameron, offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, pulled off a big surprise. He showed up at the PGA’s Farewell Reception in Baltimore with John Harbaugh, head coach, and Jim Caldwell, former Colts coach and now Ravens’ quarterback coach.
Harbaugh presented me with a game used #12 Ravens jersey with Bishop sewn on the back. It was symbolic of my election as President in 2012 in the City of Baltimore. For those that don’t know, the #12 is worn by Jacoby Jones, Ravens wide receiver and kick returner. On Sunday, Jones, #12, returned a kickoff 106 yards for a touchdown in Baltimore’s 55-20 victory over Oakland. That has to be a good omen for the next two years of this Presidency!
This ascension with the PGA might be one of the most unlikely stories in the history of golf. Here’s a kid who didn’t grow up playing golf; who was destined to be a golf course superintendent and not a golf pro; who somehow made it to the top of his profession. There have been plenty of pot holes along the road. Many days have been filled with more challenges and heartbreak than joy.
I guess it just goes to show that anything really is possible. Here’s a big thanks to all that made it possible and that list is far too long to mention. Today, I truly am the luckiest man on the face of the earth. 

Annual Meeting

It’s hard to describe the magnitude of this week for me personally. On Saturday afternoon in Baltimore, my name will be placed in nomination for the President of the PGA of America. Barring unforeseen circumstances, it will be a situation that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney would have cherished as I will most likely run unopposed.
That wasn’t the case in 2006 when I first decided to embark on this PGA Officer’s journey. I entered the race for Secretary as a new candidate. I chose to run against four men who had each lost in the 2004 election for PGA Secretary. In the history of the PGA, most Officers had to run more than once to get elected.
In 2006, I set a record that may never be broken. I became the only candidate to have more than 40 votes in the first ballot, lead after two ballots and lose the election on the third ballot. Traditionally there are approximately 110 ballots cast at our Annual Meeting. Each of the 41 PGA Sections has two votes for a total of 82. There are 14 National Directors; 3 Officers and usually about a dozen living Past Presidents who all vote.
Allen Wronowski, the current President, is the guy that won that ’06 election. He hails from Phoenix, MD and has been at Hillendale Country Club for over 30 years as an assistant and head golf professional. Wronowski worked for former PGA President Bill Clark and Allen was himself a loser of a tough election in 2004, which was decided on the seventh ballot.
I returned in 2008 and was opposed by Ted O’Rourke from New Jersey. He and I served on the PGA Board of Directors together. I won the ’08 election on the first ballot. PGA Officers serve two years as Secretary; two as Vice President and then two as President. Following that, an Officer serves a two-year stint as the Honorary President which means you are on the PGA Board of Directors and you serve in an advisory role when called upon by the Executive Committee.
As President my duties will include presenting the championship trophies at the PGA Championship, Senior PGA, PGA Grand Slam of Golf and I will represent the United States delegation at the 2014 Ryder Cup in Gleneagles, Scotland. More importantly each day of my life for the next two years, I will represent our 27,000 PGA members and apprentices. The PGA of America is the largest working sports organization in the world today.
On Saturday, Derek Sprague from Malone, NY should be elevated to PGA Vice President and one of seven candidates will become the new PGA Secretary. Assuming I get elected on Saturday, I will become the 38th President in the history of the PGA of America. Considering the PGA was founded in 1916 and it has had thousands of members since, it’s pretty daunting to think that I will be only the 38th man in its history to be President.
I now serve on the PGA Tour Policy Board with Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Paul Goydos and Harrison Frazar. That term will last for two years and then I will serve on the Champions Tour Policy Board. I will work closely with Tim Finchem, Commissioner of the PGA Tour over the next couple of years. I will do the same with Mike Davis with the USGA as well as the PGA of Great Britain and Ireland.
My first order of business on Saturday will be to announce our new Chief Executive Officer to the delegation. Our current CEO, Joe Steranka, is retiring after a 25-year career with the PGA. That same night I will swap PGA golf bags for a Baltimore Ravens jersey. John Harbaugh, Cam Cameron and Jim Caldwell will make the presentation. I was in Cameron’s wedding and had a close relationship with Caldwell when he was with the Colts. Those three will be my guests at The Masters next spring.
Next week I will head to our headquarters to do media training and introduce our CEO to PGA Staff. On Wednesday, we will be involved with some Ryder Cup planning before I return home to Franklin, IN.
Thanksgiving Week I am off to Augusta National on Monday and Tuesday. We have a meeting scheduled with the tournament operations staff and then a round of golf on Tuesday morning. Can’t help but remember those Thanksgiving weeks when I rabbit hunted with my dad outside of Logansport. I could have never dreamt I would someday be playing Augusta National that same week.
The next week I will be hosting approximately 25 PGA Committee Chairs and PGA Staff at The Legends. We will be involved in a summit meeting of sorts trying to set the direction of the PGA. Right after that in early December, it’s onto the South California PGA meeting and then to Florida for more Officer Planning with our CEO and Staff.
Finally, it will be a week in New York City doing more media training and spending time with our broadcast partners from NBC, CBS and Turner Sports. That same week we hope to announce our next Ryder Cup Captain. After that, I look forward to heading home for the Holidays and taking a deep breath before the PGA Merchandise Show in late January.
I can honestly tell you that this phase of my life was not pre-meditated. It just evolved. When I got started with the Indiana PGA back in the 1980’s I would never have guessed where it would take me. After Saturday, I will join Mickey Powell and Don Padgett as the Hoosiers who have been PGA Presidents. It’s an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as those two. Indiana is one of a handful of PGA Sections to have three Presidents.
This is something that I could never have imagined. But, I can’t wait for what lies ahead.                    

Ryder Cup Photo's

PGA Ladies ready for Opening Ceremonies
Opening ceremonies
Saturday Ashely and Ted hanging out on 14 tee.

Friday, October 5, 2012

2012 Ryder Cup- Closure

GolfWeek Magazine featured an article this week entitled “Oh, Ryder Cup, you fill us up.”
The crux of the article was about how the Ryder Cup made golf look cool. From the loud cheers on the first tee while Bubba Watson hit his opening shot with a hot pink driver to the names that dropped in on Medinah to witness the competition last week, golf shed its crusty image and opened the door to a new fan base.
Consider that Justin Timberlake, George Lopez, Bill Murray and Toby Keith joined great athletes like Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan at Medinah. Only at the Ryder Cup would appearances by two former U.S. Presidents get lost in the surroundings.
George H.W. #41 and George W. #43 dined with us in the team room on Saturday night. They both offered words of wisdom to the U.S. team. Republicans everywhere are hoping that the inspirational messages, which failed to vault the Americans to victory, aren’t a sign of things to come!
Former President Bill Clinton phoned Davis Love III from Italy. Jack Nicklaus showed up Sunday morning to do a preview for Sky Sports, the European version of ESPN. Former Ryder Cup Captains such as Corey Pavin, Dave Stockton, Hal Sutton, Lee Trevino, Tom Lehman, Lanny Wadkins, Ben Crenshaw, Billy Casper and Dow Finsterwald hung around Medinah all week.
Trevino was on the course for all five sessions. On Friday morning he walked up to the 8th tee and crouched beside me while Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods were playing their match. He leaned over to me and whispered some words of advice.
“Why don’t you do something constructive and go over there and break Tiger’s driver,” grinned Trevino as Woods was missing fairways left and right. Trevino played on six Ryder Cup teams from (1969-81).
“When I played at Birkdale in ’69, I had to find my own way to the golf course, and I could barely get food,” said Trevino.
Last week Medinah drew more than 240,000 spectators. The Ryder Cup was watched in 600 million households and was expected to generate $130 million for Chicagoland. Players were not only well fed, but some like Rory McIlroy, even got police escorts to the golf course.
You could say that the Ryder Cup has been transformed since 1983. In advance of that Ryder Cup, rights-holder Roone Arledge, president of ABC sports, offered to pay the PGA of America $1 million not to broad cast the Ryder Cup.
The last two Ryder Cups have been decided by identical scores of 14 ½ to 13 ½ in favor of the Europeans. The Euros have now won 10 of the past 14 Cups including seven of the last nine. But, the U.S. could have been sitting on three straight Ryder Cup possessions if not for a quirky set of circumstances in 2010 at Celtic Manor in Wales.
During session two, Rickie Fowler and Jim Furyk were paired together in the foursome competition (alternate shot) against Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer. Furyk hooked his tee shot outside the ropes into the mud and slop on the fourth hole. The U.S. team received relief from casual water. Fowler took the drop and hit the second shot just short of the green and it appeared the U.S. would halve the hole with pars.
As Furyk and Fowler walked to the green they stopped, had a brief conversation, and summoned the rules official. It seems that Fowler was carrying the ball that he had been teeing off with in his pocket. He inexplicably took the drop from casual water with the wrong ball and proceeded to hit the shot which resulted in loss of hole in match play.
To make a long story short, the American team wound up winning the 18th hole to gain a tie with Westwood and Kaymer resulting in ½ point. Had Fowler not incurred the penalty, the Americans could have won the match 1 up and earned a full point.  This would have produced a 14-14 tie and the U.S. would have retained the Cup at Celtic Manor because it was the defending champion.
Fast forward to Sunday afternoon at Medinah, Tiger Woods stands on the 18th tee with a 1 up lead on Francesco Molinari. If Tiger halves the final hole, the U.S. earns another 14-14 tie and retains the Ryder Cup for the third time in a row. I have to believe that had these been the circumstances, Woods would have been in a different place mentally than he was when it was clear the Euros had won the Cup with Kaymer’s putt against Stricker in the match ahead.
The only solace from the Fowler incident was that during last week’s rules meeting with the U.S. team, Rules Chairman David Price emphasized the point of finishing each hole in the foursome matches with the same ball that started play on the hole.
I told this story during an interview I did on Tuesday night on the PGA Tour Radio Network. I received an email from a high profile former Ryder Cup Captain saying it was “a very poignant story……. But, it’s time to move ahead to 2014.”
That’s good advice, but it’s easier said than done. The Ryder Cup is like Christmas, except we only get it every two years.
Oh, Ryder Cup, you did fill me up.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Ryder Cup Wrap

                       The Ryder Cup is the only major sporting event in the world where the losing team has to sit and watch the winners receive the trophy. Sunday night as darkness fell on Medinah Country Club, the American contingent marched to the massive stage and watched the Europeans reap the harvest of their Ryder Cup victory- the greatest comeback of all time.
You remember those times in life when the hands on the clock seemingly creep from minute to minute. Will this ever end? That was Sunday night in Chicago. Only at the Ryder Cup do you have to throw on a coat and tie and go congratulate the winners. Only in golf would something like that happen.
If the Closing Ceremonies weren’t enough, the PGA of America requires its players and officials to attend the post mortem press conference in the Media Center. As the two vans took us to our destination one of the players quipped, “Any chance we could just keep on driving through the gates and get out of here?”
Once inside, Davis Love III continued to exert his role as the keeper and protector of his twelve man squad. He fielded all of the obvious questions about why Phil and Keegan didn’t play Saturday afternoon; why Tiger and Stricker were at the end of the lineup; what he would do differently if he had the chance.
Jim Furyk took the most brutal question when asked what was tougher, the way he lost the U.S. Open and the Bridgestone WGC event earlier this season or dropping the final two holes in the Ryder Cup. Furyk’s answer was short and to the point.
“Obviously you have never played on a team,” he said as he glared at the reporter. “I let these eleven guys down today. What do you think?”
Following the media session, the players scattered to their rooms and eventually to the team room. We, as officials, had to attend a farewell dinner with the Ryder Cup Europe officials. The dinner did not get started until around 9 p.m. and didn’t end until Midnight. It wasn’t anything that any of us Americans were looking forward to. This is a tradition that has existed for many years.
Until 1995, the two teams actually attended the farewell dinner. Both captains decided that it was just too much to ask the losing team to sit through dinner watching toasts and celebrations from the winners. However, the Ryder Cup officials decided that the tradition would continue for everyone but the players, mainly on the insistence of the Europeans.  
Sunday night, Ryder Cup Europe could not have been more gracious. Honestly, they were still in as much shock by their victory as we were our loss. While the PGA of America solely owns the U.S. Ryder Cup, three different entities share ownership of the European side of it- the European Tour, the PGA of Great Britain and Ireland plus Ryder Cup Europe.
We were privileged to have two former European Ryder Cup members at this year’s farewell dinner. Peter Baker from England and Jean Van de Velde of France are both directors for Ryder Cup Europe. Van de Velde was a member of the 1999 European Ryder Cup team that fell to the Americans at Brookline, MA. That was the year when the U.S. trailed by the same 10-6 score after Saturday’s play and Captain Ben Crenshaw uttered the famous phrase, “I have a good feeling about this.”
The U.S. went on to rally just like the Europeans did on Sunday. Ironically, Van de Velde fell victim to Love III in the singles match at that historic Ryder Cup finale at The Country Club. The memories are still vivid for the Frenchman.
“This loss by the Americans will sting for a long time. They will wake up tomorrow and feel the pain,” said Van de Velde as we dined and wined together Sunday night. “It will take a while to get over this one. For me, there is some redemption tonight. It eases some of my pain from 1999.”
Van de Velde certainly knows the pain of defeat. He nearly achieved an upset victory at the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie, when he was the clear leader playing the closing holes. He arrived at the 18th tee needing only a double bogey six to become the first Frenchman since 1907 to win the world’s oldest tournament. He had played error-free golf for much of the week and birdied the 18th hole in two prior rounds.
Despite a three-shot lead, Van de Velde chose to use driver off the tee and proceeded to drive the ball to the right of the burn and was lucky to find land. Rather than laying up and hitting the green with his the third, Van de Velde decided to go for the green with his second shot. His shot drifted right, ricocheted backwards off the railings of the grandstands by the side of the green, landed on top of a stone wall of the Barry Burn and then bounced fifty yards backwards into knee-deep rough.
On his third shot, Van de Velde’s club got tangled in the rough on his downswing, and his ball flew into the Barry Burn. He removed his shoes and socks and gingerly stepped through shin-deep water as he debated whether to try to hit his ball out of the Barry Burn, which guards the 18th green. Ultimately, he took a drop and proceeded to hit his fifth shot into the greenside bunker. Van de Velde blasted to within six-feet from the hole, and made the putt for a triple bogey seven.
This dropped him into a three way playoff with Justin Leonard and Paul Lawrie. Lawrie, a member of both the ’99 and ’12 Ryder Cup teams, would eventually triumph in the playoff.
On Sunday night, I couldn’t muster up the courage to ask the great Frenchman which hurt worse- the loss of the 1999 Ryder Cup or the debacle at the Open Championship. One thing was apparent though, Van de Velde was still smarting from that ’99 Ryder Cup defeat.
Call it the Miracle at Medinah, the Massacre at Medinah or the Medinah Meltdown. It really doesn’t matter. This one is going to hurt for a long time.                        

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Day 4- Ryder Cup

Even though the Ryder Cup has been around for 87 years, in some ways 2012 might be the year that the competition has transformed to another level. Certainly, for the United States it is a year where rookies and the youth of the team are defining the future of the American Ryder Cup legacy.
It’s hard to say if players like Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker will ever play on another Ryder Cup team. Who knows how many Ryder Cups that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will be a part of as players. There is little doubt that Furyk, Mickelson and Woods will someday be Ryder Cup Captains. It’s doubtful that Stricker will be a captain since he never won a major championship.
Keegan Bradley became the first rookie since Loren Roberts in 1995 to start out the competition with a 3-0 record. He drug Mickelson along as a partner and the ’12 version of the Ryder Cup is the first time that Phil has ever won three or more points in a Cup match. Those two played 44 holes as partners this week and only trailed three holes.
It was totally Mickelson’s choice to sit out on Saturday afternoon. He made that apparent on Friday night as I wheeled him and his wife, Amy, in from the 18th green after watching the end of the Stricker-Woods match. He said he wanted to rest of Saturday afternoon so he could be ready for his singles match. It’s a chance for Mickelson to finish 4-0 in the 2012 Ryder Cup and it will certainly open a new chapter in his Cup history which was dismal prior to this year. He entered 2012 with a 11-17-6 record.
Bradley has sought out Mickelson as a mentor since winning the 2011 PGA Championship. It’s well known that the two play high stakes practice round matches and Mickelson has seemingly made Keegan his protégé. Bradley played with such great emotion in his three matches that at one point on Friday after making another long birdie putt he screamed so hard that he actually saw black spots in his eyes.
Then there is Bubba Watson who has now started a Ryder Cup first tee tradition for himself by revving up the crowd into a cheering frenzy while he is hitting his tee shot on the opening hole. The first tee at the Ryder Cup is always crazy and Bubba has taken it to another level. It’s brilliant and the modern day PGA Tour version of Happy Gilmore follows the tee shot by “high fiving” fans all the way down the first hole.
PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem has been a guest of the PGA of America and he has got to love what he sees from this new breed of Tour players. Jason Dufner either has great nerves or none at all. This guy has a worse hair problem than McIlroy, but absolutely nothing seems to shake him up.
We bumped into each other on the team floor on Friday night and he asked me if I was having fun. I said yes and countered the question, “How can you not have fun this week.” That’s a volume of content for Dufner.
That seems to be the key for the Americans. Davis Love III talked about making sure his team keeps things in proper perspective all week and he talked about “having fun.” In golf, having fun happens when you play good. It’s kind of the chicken and egg scenario. It seems to be easier to first play good and then have fun rather than play good by having fun.  
And you can’t forget Webb Simpson and Brandt Snedeker. Simpson has flown under the radar at this Ryder Cup because he has been Bubba’s partner. The fact of the matter is that Webb has probably hit more good shots than Bubba and made more birdies. They are the perfect team because Simpson seems to be okay with the “Bub-ba Wat-son” cheers on every hole. Simpson just keeps smiling and pouring in birdies while his partner hauls in the accolades.
Saturday morning I drove Mandy Snedeker in a golf cart for 18 holes as she watched her new eleven million dollar man (Fed Ex Cup winner) team with Furyk to beat Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell 1 up. Mandy is eight months pregnant and you can talk all you want about the pressure of playing in a Ryder Cup, but let me tell you, driving an expectant mother through speed bumps and clumpy roughs is no picnic either.
“This week is incredible. We have never experienced anything like this,” she said as we headed up the 14th hole yesterday. “I hope this is the first of many Ryder Cups for us because this is just the coolest thing we have ever done.”
In 2010, at Celtic Manor, Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson were rookies. Kuchar was 1-1-2 in his four matches and DJ was 1-3-0. This year as partners they are undefeated in two matches. The experience that they gained in the rain and slop in Wales has no doubt paid off this year. Zach Johnson is the middle man on the team playing in his third Ryder Cup. He has been Dufner’s partner and Zach now has an all-time winning Ryder Cup record thanks to 2012.
The Team USA torch has been passed. Zach will be the wily veteran and the nucleus will be comprised of the likes of Bubba, Webb, DJ, Duf, Sneds, Kuch and Keegan. In professional golf you know you have made it when people recognize you by anything but your first and last name. These eight guys have achieved that type of fame in 2012 and it could spell lots of trouble for the Europeans in the years that lie ahead.        

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ryder Cup Day Three

Davis Love III has a great sense of golf history. He is a former PGA champion and a member of five Ryder Cup teams. He is also the son of a PGA member.
What many people do not know is that the Ryder Cup competition is owned by the PGA of America, not the PGA Tour. My PGA, the other one not to be confused with the Tour, is the largest working sports organization in the world today. Back in the late 1960’s the tour players split from the PGA of America and one of the crumbs they left behind for my Association was” this beautiful little gold cup” as Ben Crenshaw calls it.
As I said earlier in the week, there was a day not too many decades ago when the PGA of America had to pay the networks to televise the Ryder Cup. Things really changed in 1991 when this match was held at Kiawah Island and that Ryder Cup was dubbed “The War by the Shore.” That Ryder Cup became one of the most hotly contested Cup matches ever.
People that have been around this match longer than me will tell you that the modern day Ryder Cup was born in 1991. And it was probably a time when the Ryder Cup reached its low point from a sportsmanship standpoint. After that year, both the European and American organizations that control the Ryder Cup matches took a step back and tried to insure that the spirit of the game would be upheld and magnified in the future.
There is no one who has a greater appreciation for the tradition and history of the game than Love III. He has made it clear from the beginning of his captaincy that he wanted U.S. fans in Chicago to be spirited and engaged, but respectful to his European opponents. Love has demanded the same thing from his team.
When Love showed his team a riveting  Ryder Cup video one night this week you could hear a pin drop.  Love put a lot of work into the production and content of the video. There were testimonials from legends such as Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and Arnold Palmer.
Hogan talked about how important the Ryder Cup was to his career. He spoke to the enormity of playing for your country. Snead said that being on the Ryder Cup team was the one thing that all players dreamed of doing. He said that you felt left out if you were not included on the team.
Nelson said that the most impressionable Ryder Cup image that he had was to see players with the same shirts, slacks and golf bags. It was the first time Nelson ever saw a golf team dressed together and it gave him the motivation to work hard on his game so he could play on Ryder Cup teams. Palmer talked about he cried almost everytime he recounts his Ryder Cup experiences.
Curtis Strange talked about how the Ryder Cup was the one time in golf when the players don’t play for money. The right to play for your country is a privilege according to Strange and you do it with no monetary thoughts in mind.
Maybe the most profound comment came from Tom Watson who remembered a conversation that he had another sporting legend.
“Mickey Mantle called me right before he died and told me that he had just watched the Ryder Cup and he said that it was the greatest sporting event that he had ever seen,” said Watson who is the last American captain to lead his team to victory on foreign soil at The Belfry in 1993.
As we walked out of the restaurant, Brandt Snedeker, one of four Ryder Cup rookies quipped, “I wasn’t nervous about all of this until I watched that video.”
No American player on Love’s squad has a winning Ryder Cup record. Here are the respective records of both teams.
Phil Mickelson                   11-17-6           Lee Westwood                  16-11-6
Tiger Woods                      13-14-2          Sergio Garcia                     14-6-4
Jim Furyk                            8-15-4           Luke Donald                       8-2-1
Steve Stricker                    3-3-1               Ian Poulter                         8-3-0
Zach Johnson                     3-3-1              Graeme McDowell           4-2-2
Matt Kuchar                       1-1-2              Paul Lawrie                        3-1-1
Dustin Johnson                  1-3-0                Justin Rose                         3-1-0
Bubba Watson                  1-3-0                Martin Kaymer                  2-1-1
Keegan Bradley                 Rookie              Rory Mcilroy                      1-1-2
Webb Simpson                  Rookie              Peter Hanson                     1-2-0
Jason Dufner                     Rookie               Francesco Molinari          0-2-1
Brandt Snedeker               Rookie               Nicolas Colsaerts              Rookie
The Americans are 41-59-16 (.410) compared to the Europeans’ record of 60-32-18 (.653). These marks mean nothing on Friday morning. Mickelson is now the longest tenured American player with nine Ryder Cup experiences and 34 matches played. Billy Casper has the American record with 37 matches played. Woods has only played on one winning American team. Furyk has the 2nd worst record in Ryder Cup history for those players who have a minimum of 15 appearances.
Garcia has the 6th best all-time Ryder Cup record. He is 8-0-1 in foursome play. Westwood has won 19 points in Ryder Cup play. Nick Faldo has the all-time record with 25 points, which Westwood is a good bet to pass someday soon. Donald has never played on a losing Ryder Cup team and Poulter has taken over Ballesteros’ role as the most despised Euro opponent by many players.  Get set for a great weekend!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ryder Cup- Day 2

The Ryder Cup week is a very special time for me. It’s truly one of the highlights of my professional golf career. Over the years I have been very fortunate to meet a lot of interesting people through golf and the PGA of America. This week is when I get the opportunity to form relationships and spend time with some of the greatest players in the world.
As a PGA Officer, we are assigned an assistant captain to pair with for the week. Our job is to drive a team golf car, provide food and drink to the players while they are on course, store clothing and do whatever is needed during competition. This frees up the assistant to interface with the players.
This year I was privileged to get assigned to Fred Couples. A week ago, Tim Finchem who is the Commissioner of the PGA Tour, announced that Couples would be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in May of 2013. Couples is a former Masters Champion and 14-time winner on the Tour. He played in multiple Ryder Cups and has captained the U.S. to victory in the past two President Cups, a match between the U.S. and the rest of the world- excluding Europe.
Freddie has always been a huge crowd favorite going back to his early days on the Tour when he was nicknamed “Boom Boom” for his monstrous drives. Couples is Mr. Cool in everything he does. His mannerisms, his suave demeanor, his good looks and his mellow personality have made him a darling of golf fans for nearly four decades.
This week Couples comes to the Ryder Cup with an ailing back that forced him to withdraw from a Champions Tour event a couple of weeks ago. He is probably done playing in 2012 and it was a great tribute to his friendship with Davis Love III that he would show up here this week to perform the duties of an assistant captain given the pain that he is in.
I spent Monday night eating in the team room with Couples, Tiger Woods, Steve and Nicki Stricker along with Mike Hulbert, another assistant captain. As Stricker once told me, “Freddie is just one of those cool guys that all men want to be like and all women want to be around.”
That’s a rare combination.
Tuesday I spent the day with Couples as we were assigned the Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson group. This was the first group out and we spent 10 holes with them before we dropped back and hauled Tiger along with his caddy Joe LaCava, back to the clubhouse after nine holes of play.
Most of the Ryder Cup team has played eight of the past ten weeks on the Tour. The players are trying to pace themselves into this week’s competition. Our guys will play 9 or 18 holes today and tomorrow and then go just 9 holes on Thursday before the Opening Ceremonies.
Woods by his own admission today wasn’t consumed in Tuesday’s practice round. It was apparent that the rookies were wired and had lots of energy. Mickelson and Bradley played Watson and Simpson in a match worth a few bucks. Other veterans like Stricker, Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson used the majority of the practice round to putt or drive.
It was incredible to see the crowds for the practice days here at Medinah CC given the fact that only 24 players are on the course at one time. Couples spotted a young kid dressed in orange with a flat billed cap as we drove up to the practice tee on Tuesday. The lad was probably 12 years old.
“Hey, Rickie, what are you doing here?” yelled Couples as we drove by. The reference was to Rickie Fowler’s standard orange dress on Sundays at the PGA Tour events. Once the practice round got started, the kid all of a sudden showed up inside the ropes with Freddie. The next thing you knew, his kid sister was also walking alongside Couples. We kept the kids in peanut butter sandwiches and plenty of drinks before they returned to their parents on the 11th hole.
Think about that. You are a school kid cutting class to go to a practice round at the Ryder Cup. You spend 10 holes inside the ropes with Fred Couples, Butch Harmon, Jim McLean, Mickelson, Simpson, Watson and Bradley. And then you show up on the WGN news at 6 p.m. There has never been a better reason to experience detention.
This has been a relaxing and good start to the Ryder Cup week for our players. There is a good mix of rookies and veteran leadership. Love and his wife, Robin, have gone out of their way to make all of us feel a part of the team. Everybody seems to be on the same page and a U.S. victory is the only goal we have.
The key will be to keep this same atmosphere going once the competition starts on Friday.
Our team room has four ping pong tables (table tennis is the correct term according to Phil). Each morning in the locker room, players are verifying their table tennis records with each other in their head to head matches.
“Now, Zach, you were 3-5 against me last night, right,” chides Mickelson.
“Yeah,” replied Johnson, “But, the week’s not over.”
That’s right, it’s only starting and my bet is the table tennis will not take a back seat at night to the Ryder Cup. The ping pong match time might become shorter with strategy meetings and 36-holes ahead the following day. But, the spirit of the competition won’t change.
That is just one of the many things that makes this week so special.        

Ryder Cup

Late Monday afternoon, Jose Maria Olazabal showed up at Medinah Country Club with the Ryder Cup in hand. He had made the flight over the Atlantic Ocean with three European team members and three assistant captains. Our American contingent greeted the Spanish born captain at the putting green in front of the clubhouse.
After a few handshakes and pleasantries, Olazabal and Davis Love III, the U.S. Captain, departed for the media center and the first interviews of the Ryder Cup week. Earlier in the morning, a local Chicago television sports anchor referred to this week as “the Super Bowl on steroids.”
Consider these facts. Over half a billion spectators worldwide will watch the Ryder Cup this week. It will be shown in over 300 countries. There are over 150 television cameras on site at Medinah this week. Prior to that, the most to ever cover a golf tournament anywhere was 81. As Love told his team and their wives, “Just remember every move you make will be on TV, so don’t pick your nose.”
During Monday’s press conference both captains answered a battery of questions. Olazabal explained how the Ryder Cup had changed in the last 15 years. More Europeans are playing the PGA Tour full time these days. Many of those players have residences here in the U.S.
“The players know each other better today,” said the Spaniard. “I think it’s important to feel comfortable in your surroundings and that is certainly the case today with our players. I think that is why we have had success playing over here in recent years.”
Conversely, the Americans typically play one event a year in Europe- the British Open. It’s been 1993 since the U.S. has won a Ryder Cup on foreign soil. There is no doubt that the Euros have adapted better to the road games than the Americans.
Yes, the Ryder Cup is a big deal. This morning at breakfast, Mike Hulbert who is one of the assistant captains for the U.S. relayed a story about Ian Poulter, Englishman who is playing in his fourth Cup match.
Hulbert said that Poulter recalled the first Ryder Cup match that he ever attended. Poulter was 16 years old at the time and he slept in a tent outside The Belfry to watch the Ryder Cup matches. Hulbert said that Poulter knew from that time on that the Ryder Cup was something he would dream about playing in.
Poulter recalled watching the great European team led by Langer, Faldo, Woosnam and Ballesteros. That experience would forever remain etched in Poulter’s mind. It formed the fabric of what Poulter calls his biggest mission in golf. Earn a spot on the Ryder Cup team. It probably explains his 8-3-1 record and the tenacity that he brings to this competition. 
This will be the first Ryder Cup since Seve Ballesteros died after a courageous battle with cancer over a year ago. In the history of the modern Ryder Cup there was no more feared opponent than the great Ballesteros. He epitomized the European toughness and the legendary Spaniard had a fierce competitive attitude that carried over to the entire European team.
Ballesteros was also known for intimidation and gamesmanship. He was despised, although respected, by many opponents. But, to his European Ryder Cup teammates he was inspiration and many would say that Seve single handedly transformed the modern day Ryder Cup.     
Ballesteros teamed with Olazabal to rack up a 10-2-2 record in Cup matches. The Spanish duo won a total of 12 points playing together. That is twice as many points as any other Ryder Cup partnership has ever won.  Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam earned six.  Arnold Palmer and Gardner Dickinson are the all-time top American team, winning five points.
Olazabal has dedicated this Ryder Cup to his fallen comrade. When asked about the relationship that he had with Ballesteros, Olazabal was clearly moved. Tears formed in his eyes and his lips quivered. He recognized that Seve had been his mentor and that he had spoken confidentially to Love about some type of a Sunday tribute to Ballesteros. As if the Euros need any more help.
“I remember my first Ryder Cup at The Belfry in 1997. Seve went to Tony Jacklin who was our captain and said that he wanted to play with me,” recalled Olazabal. “We were in the first match out. I was so nervous walking across the bridge from the putting green to the first tee. I could not look up from the ground I was so nervous. When we got to the tee Seve looked at me and said, ‘Jose, just go play your game and I will take care of the rest.’ And he did just that.”
Monday night in the team room, I couldn’t help but look at the America rookies like Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley, Brandt Snedeker and Jason Dufner. My thoughts turned to Ballesteros and I wondered what these young pups knew about the great Spaniard and his Ryder Cup legacy.
Ping pong balls were bouncing all over the place. Posters were being signed. Corn hole bags were being tossed. It was a loose atmosphere in the U.S. team room. It was one void of any memories of Ballesteros. In the back of my mind I know that before the week is over they will know more about the great Seve.
Olazabal and the Europeans will be hell bent on leaving a history lesson behind for the Americans.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ryder Cup Preview

Back in 1927 Samuel Ryder, an English businessman, entrepreneur, golf enthusiast and golf promoter, funded an international golf competition between the twelve best professional golfers in the United States and the twelve best in the United Kingdom. It’s a pretty safe bet that he had no clue where this golf match would grow.
Ironically, Ryder originated the idea of selling garden seeds in “penny packets” and he built a very successful business on this concept. His concept on this international golf match between the U.S. and the U.K. is probably the most powerful seed ever planted because no golf competition in the world can rival that of the Ryder Cup.
Early matches between the two sides were fairly even. After World War II, repeated U.S. dominance led to a decision to extend the representation of the British and Irish team to include continental Europe in 1979. Jack Nicklaus approached then PGA of America President, Don Padgett, about the idea of expanding the matches to make them more competitive. Padgett, a native Hoosier, agreed to the idea.
This change was needed because the Ryder Cup had become a lopsided competition that held little or no fan interest. In fact, back then the PGA actually had to pay network TV to televise the competition.  The decision to expand was prompted by the success of a new generation of Spanish golfers of the time which included Seve Ballesteros. Europe has now included players from Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and Sweden.
Since 1979, Europe has won the Cup eight times outright and retained it once by tying. The Americans have won seven times of this period. Recently, however, the Ryder Cup has been dominated by Europe. The United States has only won the Cup once since 1999. Next week 24 of the top 35 players in the world rankings will converge on Medinah Country Club in Chicago. In the history of the Ryder Cup this will its strongest field- ever.
There are 28 points up for grabs in the three day competition. Friday and Saturday will feature four matches morning and afternoon. The format will be foursome (alternate shot) and four ball (better ball). Then on Sunday, there will be twelve singles matches, which will determine the winner of the Ryder Cup. Since the Euros are the defending champions, they can retain the Cup with 14 points and a split.
The 2012 United States team will be led by Davis Love III who was selected two years ago to be the captain. Love has spent the past couple of years planning, picking out team uniforms, watching players and trying to mix up a recipe for American success. Love is all about trying to create an environment where his players “won’t be trying too hard to win.”
The U.S. squad will feature Tiger Woods (2), Jason Dufner (6), Bubba Watson (7), Webb Simpson (8), Steve Stricker (10), Dustin Johnson (12), Keegan Bradley (13), Matt Kuchar (14), Phil Mickelson (15), Zach Johnson (16), Brandt Snedeker (18) and Jim Furyk (28).
The European lineup, which is captained by Jose Maria Ozazabal, includes Rory McIlroy (1), Luke Donald (3), Lee Westwood (4), Justin Rose (9), Graeme McDowell (17), Sergio Garcia (19), Peter Hanson (23), Ian Poulter (24), Paul Lawrie (27), Francesco Molinari (31), Martin Kaymer (32) and Nicolas Colsaerts (35).
The Americans have the higher rated team, but don’t let the rankings deceive you. The combined Ryder Cup record of the U.S. team which includes four rookies is 41-59-16 (.410). The Euros are 60-32-18 (.652) and have only one newcomer- Colsaerts from Belgium. On top of this, expect Olazabal who with his 18-8-5 career Ryder Cup record and one of the fiercest international competitors ever, to impart a lot of wisdom on his team.
Traditionally, the host captain will work with the golf course superintendent to set up the golf course to best suit his team. Paul Azinger did this at Valhalla in 2008 by shaving roughs, offering easy pin placements and putting his team in position to make birdies. The strategy paid off. Love has done some of the same at Medinah.
The roughs are down. Stricker was appointed as “the designated putter” and rumors have it that he and Love made a recent trip to Medinah to work on hole locations. Besides giving his team a friendly golf course to play, Love will try to do the same with the team environment next week in Chicago.
Michael Jordan, who played basketball at North Carolina when Love was on the golf team, will be hanging around the U.S. squad to impart wisdom, humor and competitive strategy. Love picked his good buddy, Fred Couples as an assistant captain. Couples has directed the last two President’s Cup teams to victory. He is popular and respected by the players. Another assistant captain is Jeff Sluman, former PGA Champion and a Chicago native who is no stranger to Medinah.
Three United States’ Presidents will probably attend the Ryder Cup at some point next week, including Barack Obama and the two Bush’s.
The stage is set for the 39th version of the Ryder Cup, which has really robbed the attention of this week’s Tour Championship in Atlanta. It’s hard to believe that all of this hype this was made possible with a penny packet of garden seeds.
“The Ryder Cup is the most pressure packed and dramatic competition in all of sports,” says Jon Miller, President of Programming for NBC Sports. “We have covered it all. Wimbledon, the World series, Super Bowls, the Stanley Cup, the Olympics and nothing compares with the pressure of the Ryder Cup.’
What else is there to say? I look forward to taking you on my Ryder Cup journey next week in Chicago. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Women at Augusta

For almost a decade, Jerry Seinfeld rode the wave of a 30-minute sit com. According to Seinfeld, “The show was a lot about nothing.”
The golf world was dominated this week by the announcement that after nearly 80 years Augusta National Golf Club would be admitting its first two female members. On Monday, Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne announced that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and business executive Darla Moore will be the first female members of the club.
Was this a lot about nothing?
The greatest thing about America is that we have choices. That freedom of choice extends to all entities. For years, service organizations, health clubs, sororities, fraternities and many businesses have decided who can be included or excluded.
Augusta National has been highly criticized for its exclusion of women as members. The club allowed women to play, but they couldn’t join. Payne’s announcement came 23 years after Augusta National admitted its first black member in 1990. The PGA of America had an exclusionary clause in our by-laws prohibiting blacks from being members until 1960. Were Augusta National and the PGA overdue when it came to changing their philosophies? No question, yes.
But, when it comes to golf there are many examples of clubs that appeal to certain niches of players. Butler National GC in Chicago and the Connecticut Golf Club are two examples of men’s only clubs in this country. I personally know the head professionals at both facilities. They are good guys. These are outstanding clubs and golfers in their locales have plenty of choices on where to play.
The Ladies Golf Club of Toronto is North America’s only remaining private club for women. Look on their web site and you will read, “Established by women for women.”  The Ladies GC of Toronto was established in 1924 and actual play began August 23, 1926. That is eight years before Augusta National even opened.
According to the club information, “It wasn’t easy for female golfers to get access to tee times and practice facilities. After playing in women’s clubs in the U.S. and Britain, Ada Mackenzie set about creating a women’s golf club in Toronto. After much work and determination, she succeeded.”
Ada Mackenzie was Canada’s female version of Bobby Jones, one of Augusta National’s founders. She won four Canadian “Open” Amateur Championships. She won several Toronto Golf Club ladies’ championships and was acknowledged as one of the best female golfers in North America and England. In 1938 she won every major golf championship in Canada and was named female athlete of the year by the Canadian Press. She continued to play well into her senior years, winning eight Canadian Ladies’ Senior Golf Association Championships. She played her last competitive round at the age of 78. 
It’s interesting that Ladies Golf Club of Toronto has been such a well-kept secret. Eight years the elder of Augusta National and even the best informed in golf circles would have no clue that an “all ladies” golf club existed in North America. I could not resist making a phone call to the Ladies Golf Club and inquire if they were considering a restructure of membership policies after this week’s events.
“Every club has to look at its market offering. We service the special needs of women in golf and their hospitality requirements. Every day is ladies day,” said Julian Cusworth, General Manager. “The Augusta decision will impact golf as a whole. We do allow men to play on our annual playing package.
“It’s really quite simple. Every club services a particular market,” he said. “There are family clubs. There are many all men’s clubs. Every business has to define its market and pursue that.”
While the Ladies Golf Club does allow men access, prime tee times are limited to women. Men are allowed to play before 8 a.m. and after Noon. Men must be sponsored by a female member. The club currently has 420 full golf female members and 110 female social members. 115 men have access to the course through the Guest Card Holder Packages.
I asked Julian if the Ladies Golf Club of Toronto had ever been criticized for its exclusionary policies.
“Actually in 2003, Sports Illustrated wrote a very critical article. It was tied to the Martha Burk controversy at Augusta National. It was quite an article,” recalls Cusworth. “We shouldn’t be compared to Augusta National in anyway. There was some humor to the article and we were certainly a benefactor of receiving that type of awareness through a publication like Sports Illustrated.”
Cusworth indicated that Ladies Golf Club has no intention of modifying its membership policies based on Augusta’s decision.  Everything at ladies’ has been carefully crafted to meet the needs of its Members, from beginning lessons, to the tasteful menu in the dining room and its elegant clubhouse.
So was this week at Augusta National a lot about nothing?
“The National” has been recognized as the most powerful private golf club in America. Its membership roster is dominated by corporate executives who control many aspect of the U.S. economy. Presidential campaigns have been launched inside these hallowed grounds. Monday’s announcement by Payne will only strengthen Augusta National’s position as THE most powerful club in the U.S.
Rice needs no introduction. Moore is vice president of Rainwater, Inc. a private investment company, and founder and chair of the Palmetto institute, a nonprofit think tank aimed at bolstering per capita income in South Carolina. She is also the founder and chair of The Charleston parks Conservancy, a foundation focused on enhancing the parks and public spaces of Charleston, SC.
Chairman Payne’s next difficult decision will be whether or not to add a set of “Forward Tees”. Currently, Augusta National only has Tournament and Member tees. He will no doubt once again make the right call.
This was a lot about something. There’s never been a better week to wear a Green Jacket.         

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

PGA 2012

The PGA Championship is defined by 94 years of traditions. This major championship dates back to 1916 when Jim Barnes won the PGA at Siwanoy CC in Bronxville, NY. The PGA of America was founded that same year by Rodman Wanamaker, a New York City department store magnate, who organized a bunch of club professionals into the PGA of America. Today, the championship trophy bears Wanamaker’s name.
Over the years, the PGA Championship has missed three summers of competition, 1917-18 and 1943. Those voids were created when America was mired in the serious business of war.  The PGA was decided by match play until 1958 when it converted to the 72-hole stroke play format used now.
Keegan Bradley is the defending champion and it will be a tall order for him to repeat. In the 94 year history of the PGA only Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Leo Diegel, Denny Shute and Tiger Woods have been repeat winners. Woods did it twice in 1999-2000 and again in 2006-2007. Shute was the last before Woods to win two PGA’s in a row and did it in 1936-37 demonstrating the greatness of Woods’ modern day golf feat.
As the 2011 champ, Bradley was honored on Tuesday night at the annual PGA Champions Dinner. A total of 16 former Wanamaker recipients were on hand to pay their respects to Bradley. Keegan is the son of a PGA member. He and his dad, Mark, lived in a 15-foot wide trailer for several years and the young Bradley went to work with his dad each day. Keegan was what we call in my business a “golf course rat.”
Bradley has developed a close relationship with Phil Mickelson. At each Champions Dinner, the winner can ask two players to speak. Bradley chose Mickelson and Dave Stockton, two-time PGA Champ and Captain of the victorious 1991 Ryder Cup team in “The War by the Shore” at Kiawah.
Both Mickelson and Stockton talked about what a great champion and example for the game that Bradley is. And they are right. Keegan played collegiate golf at St. John’s University in New York. He was an unheralded college player.
“Three years ago at this time I was playing the Hooters’ Tour and had $1,200 in my checking account,” Bradley recalled. “I’m in better shape today.”
Indeed he is after winning $1.5 million last week at the Bridgestone World Golf Championship at the Firestone CC when he defeated Jim Furyk on the final hole. The victory solidified a Ryder Cup spot for Bradley.
Traditionally, the PGA Champion will present a gift to all of those in attendance at the dinner. Bradley selected a Boston Red Sox #11 Bradley jersey for his gift. As a diehard Yankee fan I will be trying to figure a use for that.
I did have the pleasure of being seated with Tiger, Y.E. Yang the 2010 PGA champion and Tim Finchem, the Commissioner of the PGA Tour. It was a great night and our dinner consisted of Maine lobster, filet, baked potato, corn on the cob and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. It was truly a New England evening delivered by the kid who grew up in Vermont.
Our dinner conversation was dominated by Olympic basketball and the art of setting picks. Yang was there with his interpreter and he even offered opinions on Korea’s soccer performance in the Summer Games. It was interesting that these players were spending time away from the course tuning into the London competition.
Woods talked about the difficulty of preparation during practice rounds because of the number of tee boxes that Kiawah has. He basically said that the course would unplayable from the tips. The wind would dictate daily course setup, and with 60 tee stations to choose from, it’s a guessing game for the players in their Monday-Wednesday preparation.
He provided insight to the 12th hole which will probably be setup as a drivable par four on at least one day during the PGA. Tiger indicated that even though he drove it on the front of the 12th green during Monday’s practice round, the obvious play during the PGA will be six iron and sand wedge saying that it’s too easy to lose a par trying to drive the green.
The intermittent showers have produced over 10 inches of rain here in the last week. While the Ocean Course drains well, it has still been soggy and not producing the hard, fast conditions that we look for at major championships. As you can imagine the humidity has been brutal and when there is no wind, the bugs have been feasting on human bodies. There are snakes and alligators here, too.
That being said, the scenery at Kiawah is magnificent. The course sets on the Atlantic Ocean and I have never been to a more spectacular major championship venue. The crowds have been great and the transportation flawless considering that most spectators are coming from Charleston which is an hour away.
As Bradley closed out the dinner he thanked all of the past champions in attendance.
“You will never know how much it means to me that you all came tonight. That being said, I am still going to try and kick your butts this week,” laughed Bradley.
There is a video circulating on the internet that shows Rickie Fowler jumping from a second story balcony in to the swimming pool at the house that he and Bubba Watson are renting together. Both players were posting Facebook pictures during their trip to a local grocery store this week as they stocked up on supplies for the PGA. There will be no dull moments in that house this week!
Coincidentally, Fowler has the same agent as Shaun White, the Olympic Gold snow boarder. As I said, the Olympics are in full force here at Kiawah as well as the ignorance of youth……….

Monday, August 6, 2012

2012 PGA Champ Preview

The 94th PGA Championship will take place this week in South Carolina, at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course located on a 10-mile barrier island that was host to the 1991 Ryder Cup’s “War by the Shore.” In fact, the Ocean course is 2.5 miles long and only 500 yards wide. This course is said to have more Oceanside holes than any other in the North America. Besides the ocean as its primary feature, the famous Pete Dye layout weaves in and out of natural marshes and lagoons.  For you TV viewers Kiawah promises some spectacular vistas.
The PGA Championship scorecard shows the Ocean Course playing a robust 7,676 yards, the longest venue in major championship history. Although more than 60 teeing grounds will afford Kerry Haigh, the man in charge of tournaments for the PGA, many options. The back nine at Kiawah is set to play 3,936 yards if Haigh follows the scorecard.
The 12th Hole is evidence of Kiawah’s versatility. It is 412 yards long, but look for the PGA to make it less than 300 yards one day during the championship. This will entice some players to try and drive the narrow green which is bordered by water on the right and protected by a deep swale in front.
The Senior PGA was played at the Ocean Course in 2007. Four of the final five holes were among the toughest that the players faced. When the Ryder Cup was played here in ’91, Dan Jenkins of Sports Illustrated scored the event Pete Dye 14 ½ and Rest of the World 13 ½.
Raymond Floyd who played on the U.S. team said, “If you had to play this course with a scorecard, I don’t see how you could finish.”
I had the privilege of walking and playing 18 holes with Dye at the Ocean Course last March during the PGA Championship Media Day. It’s definitely a test that could be very flunkable if the Atlantic winds howl. The Ocean Course it has been softened over the years and history always dictates that some player will find a way to conquer the beast.
Kiawah features a ton of bunkers, none of which will be played as bunkers. In late June the PGA of America made the decision to treat all sand (except in water hazards) as “through the green.” Our Rules Committee noted that because of the unique topography and the number of natural sandy areas on the course, there would be no bunkers. This means players can take practice swings in the bunkers and ground their clubs in all sandy areas outside of the water hazards.
This will be the first time in golf’s major championship history that this has been done. We are clearly trying to avoid the same situation that took place in 2010 at Whistling Straits when Dustin Johnson grounded his club in a bunker on the 72nd hole and wound up being penalized, thus missing a playoff for the PGA Championship.
Rule 33-8b allows the PGA to do this. It states that a local rule can modify a rule of golf “if abnormal conditions interfere with proper playing conditions of the game.”  So, for the PGA Championship, the silica material in the bunkers will not be considered sand. However, players will not be able to take relief from a plugged lie in the sand or a foot print.
The PGA Championship is marketed as “Glory’s Last Shot” because it is the final major of the year and players will have to wait until The Masters next April to have another crack at a title of this magnitude. Many in golf consider the PGA to be the fourth of the four majors behind The Masters, U.S. Open and British Open.
“If you polled every PGA Tour player to identify, beside the other majors, a tournament they would rather win than the PGA, you wouldn’t find one,” says Geoff Ogilvy, two-time U.S. Open champ. “The PGA is clearly in the top four. And it should be happy to be part of the elite group. Trying to move up is not a battle really worth fighting.”
Year in and year out, the PGA has the strongest field in golf. This year the top 108 players in the World Rankings will be at Kiawah. One unique component to the PGA field is the 20 PGA club professionals who earned a spot based on their finish in June’s PGA Professional National Championship.
The PGA has provided some of the most exciting finishes among the major championships. In recent years, Keegan Bradley defeated Jason Dufner in a 2011 playoff at the Atlanta Athletic Club. In 2010, it was Martin Kaymer beating Bubba Watson in a playoff at Whistling Straits. Y.E. Yang became the first Asian born PGA Champion when he took out Tiger Woods at Hazeltine. It was the only major that Woods has ever lost when leading after 54 holes.
Jack Nicklaus won five PGA Championships. Walter Hagen also won the PGA five times including four in a row from 1924-27. His win in 1924 came at French Lick. Tiger Woods is a four-time champion. Of course, John Daly hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy on Hoosier soil in 1991 at Crooked Stick. This tournament was a match play event until 1958 when Lionel Hebert won.  His brother, Jay, grabbed the PGA title two years later in 1960.
This is a Ryder Cup year, so adding to the drama this week will be the fact that the top eight point winners after Sunday night earn an automatic spot on Captain Davis Love III’s team in September at Medinah. As is the case with all majors during a Ryder Cup year, the points are doubled this week. This week’s PGA Champion will almost certainly secure a spot on the team.
Besides the $1.4 million first place pay out, there is a lot at stake this week at Kiawah. Over the last couple of decades the PGA has produced some unheralded and surprising winners including Daly, Mark Brooks, Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel, Yang and Bradley. 
I have been bad at predictions this year. Kiawah will be a stiff test and I don’t see a fluke winner. That doesn’t mean that an unknown player won’t put solid rounds together and win. But, with everything at stake including a Ryder Cup berth, I like experience.
Tiger has played well in the majors this year and he is primed to finish one off. Rory McIlroy says that he discovered something in his swing in the last couple of weeks. Steve Stricker finished Sunday’s WGC event with four birdies in the last five holes. A year ago, Stricker was #5 on Tour in putting and this year was #85 heading into last week. I liked what I saw from him late Sunday at Firestone. He’s my man.