Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Harlow Hickenlooper

What responsibility, if any, do our professional athletes and coaches have when it comes to conduct on the playing field? There is a feeling among most fans that these people have a certain standard of behavior that is required, in large part, because of the money they are paid to be part of a game.

Is that fair? Do we hold other people in lines of work that don’t involve sports under the same rules and guidelines? Compensation should be relative to the importance of the job performed, but in the United States it’s not. We live in a free country. If you don’t like your job and what you get paid, do something else.

World Peace, alias Ron Artest, proved this week that he learned nothing from his season of suspension with the Indiana Pacers. The New Orleans Saints obviously feel that some basic rules in the NFL are meant for the other teams in the league, not them. Every month something happens in sports that tarnishes the image of a sport and its athletes.

Golf has prided itself on a standard of behavior that goes beyond other sports. Interestingly, PGA Tour players are fined for throwing clubs or embarking on profanity laced tirades. However, the PGA Tour has elected to not make these fines public and this has drawn criticism.

The professional golf tour was founded many years ago and it was originally run by the PGA of America. In the late 1960’s there was a split between the players and the PGA. The players were unhappy with the way the Tour was being run and they sought bigger purses. Consequently, and this is confusing, the PGA Tour runs what you watch on television most weeks. The PGA of America runs most of the golf courses that you play and take lessons on.

When I am the President of the PGA of America, I will have a voting seat on the PGA Tour Policy Board. As Honorary President, I will do the same for the Champions Tour. But, my role as a PGA member is to promote and grow golf at my facility, The Legends Golf Club in Franklin. That being said, the PGA of America is the largest working sports organization in the world with our 27,000 members and apprentices. We do own the PGA Championship, the Ryder Cup, the Senior PGA Championship as well as the PGA Grand Slam of Golf.

When I returned to Indiana after working The Masters I received several letters and phone calls about Tiger Woods and his club throwing incident on the 16th tee during Friday’s second round a few weeks ago. Coincidentally, I was working the 16th green when it happened and saw it firsthand. Most people are understandably confused about my role and what influence I might have on disciplining Woods for his behavior. But, I still get plenty of advice from people on what should be done.

Carol from South Carolina wrote, “Something needs to be done about Tiger Woods. We were appalled at his behavior- kicking his club, swearing, throwing his clubs…. I am not disputing the fact that he used to be a wonderful golfer with a huge following and I’m sure that is why the PGA turned a blind eye to his bad behavior in the past. Because your organization allowed him to act in an inappropriate manner without consequences, he has continued… Since he’s acting like a spoiled little brat he needs to be treated as one and disciplined.”

William from Alabama said, “I witnessed Tiger’s childish behavior at The Masters. Unless he is exempt, he is subject to discipline by the U.S. PGA. Nick Faldo sums it up best when he said Woods ‘has lost his game and his mind.’ Maybe he has a yacht, a multimillion dollar house and too many expensive toys (mostly in skirts). I spent twenty-one years in the military. His father was a green beret. I would guess his father would chastise him for his behavior.”

Then there was Phil from New York, “I believe his behavior and language needs to be addressed by you or your committee. Think of the millions of young boys and young girls who heard that language and observed his tirade. How shameful! Whatever is causing him to react this way, the media glorifying him; his own personal issues; or personal wealth is no excuse for this behavior from a golf professional.”

The best and most heartfelt post-Masters comment came from Hal Fryar of Franklin. “I am always appreciative of the articles that you write in the local paper around the major championships. I am very disappointed that there was no follow-up on Tiger Woods’ at The Masters. You have a personal life and an article of your own feelings is relevant.  The PGA should be open on Tiger’s fines. Whether its $10,000 or $50,000- it’s a joke. It means nothing to him. Be realistic and know the real world that you live in. Another article is definitely in order.”

For those that may not know, Hal Fryar is a local television icon. He was the host for an Indianapolis children’s show that highlighted the old Three Stooges shorts. He appeared under the name “Harlow Hickenlooper” and performed skits and slapstick comedy routines with passion. His character of Harlow was of someone who nothing ever went right for, no matter how hard he tried.

So, here I am, in my office doing a double take on this voice message about Tiger Woods from Harlow Hickenlooper. Are you kidding me? The face of my boyhood Three Stooges is busting my chops about Tiger Woods’ behavior at The Masters.

Never one to shy away from a fight, I called Fryar. He came to The Legends. We discussed the situation in person. He listened and we chatted about a lot of stuff. That day was my sister’s birthday. He even called her and sang his famous rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Thanks to Tiger Woods it was a great day.

Let me say that Hal Fryar is exactly right. I should have an opinion on Tiger Woods.  Currently, he is just like Hickenlooper. No matter how hard he tries, nothing goes right for him.

So, there you have it. Tiger and Harlow joined at the hip. Who would ever have thunk that?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


The best part about this writing gig is sharing stories with you, the readers. When I returned from The Masters I had many emails and personal conversations with people who expressed enjoyment from sharing that firsthand experience with me at The Masters through the stories I wrote.
Last weekend I received a very compelling story from Derek Sprague, the Secretary of the PGA. I think the following email exchange really captures the essence of golf and the players who continue to leave their mark on the game. Sprague is the General Manager at the Malone Golf Club in Malone, NY. He grew up on the course as a kid and then returned to his hometown of 6,000 people to run the golf operation. Malone is located in the northeastern corner of New York near the Canadian border. Here is the story.
“This is a must read. This is from one of my members here at Malone Golf Club who I gave my Masters practice round tickets to. I believe this was the first professional golf tournament he attended. He sent me a note upon his return and then I saw him in person and he told me this story about Tom Watson. It was awesome. Grab a Kleenex and enjoy!
Here is the account of Stephen Horne’s experience at The Masters.
“I started to understand Tom Watson’s stature in golf when we found him working methodically on the practice range and saw player after player come over to introduce themselves and shake his hand as a matter of respect. Watson, who was being quite serious in his club-by-club preparation, had time for an extended chat with everyone.
“I thought Watson’s graciousness by itself showed some class, but had it confirmed on the Ninth Tee of the Par Three Contest the next day when I watched Tom instinctively come to the side of a wounded vet with a prosthetic leg. The young sergeant had been graciously given a chance to take a swing after Fred Couples and Charles Coody had taken their shots.
“The vet looked nervous and slightly embarrassed as he teed it up and addressed his ball. Sadly for him and the crowd, he topped it in an awkward swing and it splashed in the pond about fifteen feet from the tee. Though the crowd gave him a warm ovation, he was clearly uncomfortable, as was his crew cut buddy alongside for moral support.
“Tom Watson watched all this from the trees on the cart path and as soon as the previous Couples/Coody group departed the tee, he came over to the vet and put his hand on his shoulder and started giving him a pep talk. We were close enough to hear the smiling Watson joke, ‘There is nothing to be nervous about- it’s nothing like getting shot at, is it?’
“Watson continued his patter and tossed in a few swing tips as the Couples’ group patiently signed autographs and eventually left the green ahead. Then, after all of the pros in Watson’s group had taken their swings, Tom turned to the crowd and loudly announced the vet’s name and rank and waved encouragement to the crowd as it applauded in support.
“This time the sergeant addressed the ball, took a more measured swing and watched the ball cross the pond and land safely on dry ground to the right of the green. The crowd erupted with a standing ovation and Watson, the vet and his buddy grinned from ear to ear.
“It was a sweet moment for all, but for me, it was the telling moment of three great days watching the pros at Augusta. Here, Hall of Famer Tom Watson, amidst his own preparation for this pressure-packed tournament had taken time to notice a kid’s discomfort and had instinctively acted to give him a chance to reclaim this memorable moment. He did it with great class, and it worked.
“No wonder everyone came over to shake his hand the day before on the practice tee- guys like Tom Watson elevate everyone’s game.
“Again, Derek, thanks for the chance to witness moments like this. It might not improve my putting, but it can’t help but make me a better person. And thanks to you and the PGA of America for keeping this spirit integral to the game of golf. Especially now when my other games, football and baseball, slowly lose the essence of clean competition and sportsmanship.
Stephen Horne”
Tom Watson continues to be an example for all players, no matter their age or the number of major championships on their resume. Need I say more?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Masters Wrap

Late Sunday afternoon I sat at my vantage point just to the right of #11 green at Augusta National.  In the ticket scalping world (and there is no ticket for that location) I would hate to think what this spot would be worth on the most famous day in golf- the final round of The Masters. Not only could I see the second shots coming into #11 green, but I was just a few yards from #12, the 155 yard par three hole that has sunk many attempts at winning the famed green jacket.
From my stool I could see both the Hogan and Nelson bridges, which guard the #12 green. This spot is truly at the gates of Amen Corner, the most heavenly place in all of golf. The serenity of this gorgeous patch of ground is really unheralded. It has the all of the character of Arlington National Ceremony- minus the grave stones. However, Rae’s Creek, the body of water behind #11 and in front of #12, has been a watery grave to many over the years.
Shortly before 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, Charl Schwartzel who was the defending champion for this year’s Masters made his way through Amen Corner. In a poignant moment he stopped at the base of Hogan’s bridge on his way to #12 green. Schwartzel spent about 30 seconds engrossed in the plaque at the foot of the bridge.
“This bridge dedicated April 2, 1958 to commemorate Ben Hogan’s record score for four rounds of 274 in 1953. Made up of rounds of 70, 66 ,69 and 69. This score will always stand as one of the finest accomplishments in competitive golf and may even stand for all time as the record for The Masters tournament.”
I couldn’t help but wonder if it was the first time that he had ever noticed the plaque. You know how focused athletes can be during the course of competition. What a difference a year makes. In 2011, Schwartzel became the first player to ever birdie the final four holes at Augusta in winning the tournament. He may never have a bridge named after him, but Schwartzel will always have his place in Masters’ history.
A little while later there was a thunderous roar off in the distance behind me. When that happens at The Masters I immediately try to anticipate where it came from and what player might be in the vicinity. Just seconds later the call came over the Rules Committee radio that Louis Oosthuizen had made the first double eagle on #2 in the 76th year history of The Masters.
When the ball found the cup, the South African was -10 for the tournament. He had made a two on two, and went from two shots down to Phil Mickelson and Peter Hanson to two shots up. “Deuce” Oosthuizen also went four shots ahead of his playing partner, Bubba Watson, a noteworthy tidbit based on events that would take place later in the day.
Justin Rose was the first player to walk by the leaderboard at #11. When he saw the posting of the double eagle he said to his caddy, “Look at that. A double eagle on #2. I would have thought it would have been Bubba, not Louis.”
By the time Watson and Oosthuizen reached #11, both players were nine under par. Watson had made a comeback, but I watched him three putt #12 and thought to myself, “That’s it for Bubba. He’s done now.”
Little did I know that he was about to make four birdies in a row and climb back into contention. By now, everybody knows the outcome. Bubba beat Louis on the second playoff hole. He was overcome with emotion and was greeted in victory at the 10th green by fellow Tour players- Rickie Fowler, Aaron Baddeley and Ben Crane.
Crane, Fowler and Hunter Mahan teamed up with Watson last year to produce the music video entitled “Golf Boys.” It was a spoof on rap and the group will be releasing an album this summer. Watson’s win at Augusta should help sales.
Bubba’s win is popular in golf circles. He is unconventional with his swing. He plays with a pink driver. He wears all white outfits. Watson recently paid $100,000 for the General Lee, the famed bootlegging Dodge Charger in the TV show “Dukes of Hazzard.” Watson hails from Baghdad, FL a town of 32,000 just outside of Pensacola. His wife Angie, was a college basketball player.
I spent a lot of time with Watson at the 2010 Ryder Cup. In fact, I sat next to him on the team charter to and from Wales. He is one of the most open and genuine people you will ever meet. His dad, a Viet Nam, veteran recently died. When the U.S. players were presented official bomber jackets in the Ryder Cup team room, Watson was overcome with emotion and had to leave the room. At the time, his dad was dying of cancer.
My favorite Bubba Watson story? On the flight back from Wales I asked him what his best Ryder Cup memory was. His answer was typical Bubba. “It was the first chance that I ever had to be around Phil. He took several of us young guys aside this week and told us what our responsibilities were to promote and grow the game of golf. I think that was one of the highlights of the week for me”
Those words spoken by a guy who openly professes that his ability to win golf tournaments is not a life or death matter. That success won’t define him as a man. He is Bubba Watson and what you see is truly what you get.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Masters Article 3

At the conclusion of our rules meeting this week, we were shown a video by the Augusta National Golf Club. The title was “The Masters Experience” and the content was focused on staff and volunteers. Its content emphasized that every individual involved with The Masters in anyway is extremely important.
The goal of The Masters is to provide the best maintained golf course to the participants. As of Thursday morning’s start, there was not a single drop of white paint defining ground under repair anywhere on the course. Tournament guests are to “receive every courtesy possible.” The emphasis of every day at The Masters is about “quality and attention to detail.”
All individuals who are involved with the implementation of any facet of The Masters are expected to offer a “very welcoming world class experience” and the goal in delivering that is to “exceed everyone’s expectations.”
Every individual is important. When we arrive at dusk each day we will see hundreds of leaf and pine straw blowers. It’s not uncommon to see painters touching up the curbing with the traditional Augusta green paint. That green paint is used on all posts, signs and accessories at Augusta National. Green sand is spread in the pedestrian crosswalk areas to absorb moisture and blend in with the grass, so as to be less noticeable.
Augusta National takes great pride in the number of scoreboards it has on the course, making it very easy to know what is going on at all times. Moans and groans or cheers will often time accompany the changing of numbers on those boards. The Masters provides a tremendous number of observation stands and the course design lends itself well to the small portable chairs that many spectators bring.
If a spectator places a seat in a spot on the golf course during The Masters, they can leave and walk around the course or get some food and return to that same spot with the chair never being moved. I can’t think of any other sporting event where that happens.
I was seated next to Lance Barrow, Executive Producer for CBs Sports, when the video was shown. At the conclusion of “The Masters Experience” I leaned over to Lance and said, “That was a five minute directive on how to run every business in this country.”
He nodded and said, “You are absolutely right.”
The weather has presented some challenges for Augusta National this week. Early week rains have made the course softer than normal. Friday it was bitter cold at times with temperatures in the high 50’s and winds out of the north by nearly 30 mph. Several trees have been blown down, but other than a slight delay or two in opening the gates each morning the gallery would never know.
Speaking of the gallery, the marshals here are referred to as gallery guards. Many of these volunteers travel from all over the country to reunite with their fellow workers on the same hole during each Masters. They are truly stalwarts of the tournament and assist the rules officials with crowd control, removal of rope stakes and notification when a player needs a ruling.
I have worked the 8th hole each of my four years here at The Masters and have gotten to know many of the guys well. It’s like a reunion of sorts when we see each other. These people take pride in their jobs and they do it because they can spend a week at this beautiful place. Their reward is an opportunity to play the course on a day in May when The National gets ready to close for the season.
This course will close in mid-May and reopen in late October. It’s been that way for years. If there are course renovations or design changes- that is when it happens. I am always amazed at the improvements and new features that show up every year at The National. When they surface, it appears as they have been here forever.
I have stayed away from predictions for this Masters. Mainly, because I have been fortunate to get to know many of the players, which makes it tough to pick a favorite. Nobody would have guessed that Charl Schwartzel would birdie the final four holes to win the 2011 Masters. The early leaderboard this week provides many players who could win.
There is one guy that deserves a major championship and that is Lee Westwood. He is currently ranked number three in the world behind Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy. Westwood has numerous runner-up finishes in the majors. He has been a whipping boy at times for the British tabloids for his failure to close the deal.
Westwood is strong and experienced. He quit drinking on January 1 as a commitment to fitness and his 2012 season. The time just seems right for him. As we all know, this tournament really starts with the back nine on Sunday. In the meantime, players jockey for position to be in contention when that famous stretch of holes presents itself.
On Sunday afternoon, I will be working the 11th hole- Augusta’s toughest. That is a ringside seat at the gates of Amen Corner. It will be here before you know it and another Masters will have come and gone.        

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Masters Day 2

The Masters and Augusta National probably do more to inspire golf around the United States than any other entity associated with the game. The sheer beauty of the golf course, along with its meticulous maintenance practices makes it attractive on television even to the non-golfer. Most experts are saying that the 2012 version of Augusta National might be the best ever and that is a strong statement.
The uniqueness of Wednesday’s par three tournament is unequaled in professional golf. Tennis star, Andy Roddick, caddied for former Masters’ champ, Zach Johnson. Keegan Bradley, winner of last year’s PGA Championship, asked his mother to tote his bag during the par three contest and included one requirement- she had to hit a shot. Some of the younger players suited up their small kids in the traditional white caddy bibs.
Many former Masters’ winners return to Augusta each year even though they don’t compete in the tournament. Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player won a combined 11 Masters and they serve as the honorary starters by hitting the first tee shots on Thursday. The Big Three also played together in Wednesday’s par three tournament.
Chairman Billy Payne has done a lot to promote golf in new and different ways. One example is the new EA Sports version of a Masters video game. Several years ago that probably would not have happened. Each year The Masters Foundation raises millions of dollars for many worthwhile charities.
No event honors its champions like The Masters. This is truly the most royal gathering of golf figures in the world.
On Wednesday I lunched at an umbrella table on the clubhouse lawn next to Palmer. The King of Golf has won here three times beginning in 1958. Hundreds of spectators gathered at the ropes near Palmer’s table and deluged him with photos and autograph requests. Palmer not only obliged everyone, but did so with his infectious smile.
I suppose you can describe the thrill of attending your first Masters with all kinds of adjectives. Excitement, spellbound, awestruck, surreal and captivating are some that come to mind. This year I was pleased to help some local folks such as Larry Light, Ron Pio, Dave Naragon as well as Susan and Drew McCarty with their first chance to see the Augusta National Golf Club. Hearing the excitement of those first time attendees will be one of my biggest thrills of the week.        
Saturday night I stopped in Chattanooga, TN on my drive down to Augusta. My waiter was a delightful kid named Justin King. When he checked me out, Justin asked what brought me to Chattanooga. I told him I was on my way to Augusta and he replied, “The Masters? Wow. I love golf and have always dreamed of going to The Masters.”
King got a text from me on Monday and his dream came true. After he waits his last table on Saturday night he will be making a solo drive to Augusta. King will be enjoying the final round of the 2012 Masters in person. He will never forget Sunday and I am glad to be part of that.    
This week I join two other Hoosiers, Chip Essig and Dave MacAtee, on the Masters’ rules committee. There are approximately 75 golf officials from around the world administering the rules of golf at the 2012 Masters. The PGA of America, USGA, PGA Tour, European Tour, Royal and Ancient along with many other international golf associations join Augusta National GC members in this task.
Each morning we attend a 7:30 a.m. rules committee meeting. Thursday I worked the par five, 8th hole. Today, I will be on the par three 16th hole. Saturday finds me on the par 3, 6th. Sunday I will join Essig on the par 4, 11th which many label as the toughest hole at Augusta National.
I have often said that making any ruling at The Masters is ten times tougher than doing the same at any club event. Over the years, I have given rulings to many tour players including Padraig Harrington, who lost a ball in the top of a tree on the 9th. That was probably the most bizarre ruling I have been involved with here. Nick Watney, Boo Weekley, John Merrick and Phil Mickelson have also crossed my Masters’ rules path.
As Rules Officials we are told to be invisible. Sometimes this can’t be avoided, but hopefully you won’t see me until late Sunday afternoon when I sit in the front row, right behind the champion, at the Green Jacket ceremony. For this guy from Logansport who got his start at the Rolling Hills GC (Par 3), that few minutes behind the winner on Sunday is certainly exciting, awesome and surreal…………… that really describes my whole week.    

2012 Masters Day 1

On Sunday afternoon, I once again made the drive down Magnolia Lane at Augusta National Golf Club. This might be the most breathtaking and beautiful 200-yard stretch of road in America. Just off of Washington Road at Gate 3, Magnolia Lane is lined by mammoth trees dating back to the 1830’s when this piece of property was the Fruitland Nursery.
Magnolia Lane is now closed to the public. Dozens of bystanders will collect at Gate 3 in hopes of getting a glimpse of the world’s most famous golf course entrance. The drive ends at the clubhouse where a circular roundabout is accentuated with a flower bed in the shape of The Masters logo. Thousands will wait in line this week for a photo opportunity at this famous spot.
This is truly a special place. 2012 is my fourth consecutive year to serve as a Rules official and I look forward to having four more years in this capacity as my tenure as a PGA Officer winds down.  Between past trips to The Masters, several opportunities to play the course and serving as a Rules Official I will have spent over 90 days of my life at this place when 2014 comes to a close. That’s three months in golf heaven, something I don’t take for granted.
Sunday night I enjoyed dinner with my good friend Gene Howerdd and his family. Howerdd has been a member at Augusta National for 52 years. His dad joined the club in 1940. Gene was born in 1934, ironically the year of the first Masters. He will tell you that he has attended every single Masters ever played, even though his first was in his mother’s womb. 
Monday is the one day that I can relax a little bit at the course and soak in some of The Masters ambiance. I tracked down Tom Watson on the 14th hole and exchanged a handshake and few words with the two-time Masters champ. I have always admired Watson’s competitiveness as well as his class and dignity in victory and defeat. It’s a relationship that I hope will grow even more in the years to come.
Tom Watson on Practice Round 2 Day

Watson and McIlroy playing together Day 2 Practice Round
I also had a chance to talk with Billy Casper the 1970 Masters champion. Casper sets up camp at one of the umbrella tables on the lawn at The National. He will be there in that spot all week. The 52-time winner on the PGA Tour recently released a book called “The Big Three and Me.” It recounts his career and reminds the reader of Casper’s relative dominance of golf in the 1960’s. Casper was the second player to reach $1 million in career earnings, behind only Arnold Palmer.
I spent some time early this week in the Augusta National golf shop. It was there that I ran into Nick Faldo, three-time Masters’ champion. Faldo was buying an arm load of souvenirs and was shopping with his boys. Johnny Miller was doing the same on Monday morning. There is something about this place that captivates even the most famous people in the sport.
The early days of Augusta National were not so distinguished. Built in the 1930’s with a goal of obtaining a national membership, the Great Depression put the course under financial duress. Twice in the first few years of the course’s existence it faced bankruptcy.
Alistair MacKenzie designed the course, but it was two years after his death in January of 1934 that his widow was paid the design fee by Augusta National. When Horton Smith won the inaugural Masters in 1934, the members had to pitch in and buy him a trophy which Smith received later that fall.
The original Augusta National land plan included 21 residential lots around the course. By 1954 only one lot had been sold when Clifford Roberts, course developer, finally pulled the remaining twenty from the market out of frustration. But in the mid-1950’s, a national television contract was signed by The Masters and everything changed.
Today, The Masters is the most famous golf tournament in the world. Augusta National has remained conservative and exclusive over the decades. Some have criticized the club and its membership for exclusion, particularly with female members. Women can play here, they just can’t join. Many private clubs in America have the same policy.
Last week it was revealed that The National had previously extended a membership to the CEO of IBM, a key sponsor of The Masters. This became news because the new CEO at IBM is a female. It remains to be seen how this situation will play out. Over the years, The Masters has contributed millions to various charities and the Augusta National membership has proven its commitment promoting to golf.
This is indeed the biggest golf reunion of the year. In many spots around the U.S. this is the official start of the 2012 season. It’s been an unseasonably warm winter in Augusta and many of the flowering trees and shrubs have come and gone. The excitement, however, is at an all-time high here at The National.
“I think we might see the greatest Masters ever,” said the 80-year old Casper from his perch in front of the clubhouse on Monday. “There are two players here- one that has won many Masters (Woods) and another who should have won ( McIlroy)  and everybody is talking about them. But, there is a bunch of great young players here who won last year. Nothing would surprise me this week.”
Well stated.