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.