Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Most Impressive 18 People of 2013

Years come and go. Some are more memorable than others. Human nature always causes for some sentimental reflections every December as another page on the calendar of life gets turned. For the sport of golf, 2013 may very well be one of the most memorable in modern day history.
This year was laced with controversies from anchoring to rules infractions. Governing bodies disagreed publicly for the first time in the history of the game, which resulted in divisiveness among some, but unity among others. On the course, the major championships produced their own unforgettable drama.
My perch for this historic and sometimes tumultuous year was from inside the cage. Some would say that I contributed to the controversy, the mayhem and at times poured gasoline on the chaos that was golf in 2013. I never viewed it that way. As President of the PGA of America it is my sole responsibility to represent the thoughts and opinions of the majority of my 27,000 constituents. The PGA was heard on views that dealt with the Rules of Golf, inclusion, growing the game and championship site selections.
The most profound memories that I have from this year are more about the people who left an impression on me. Some might surprise you. Others may not.  So, here we go, the Most Impressive 18 People of 2013- in no particular order.

Glen Nager: USGA President
History will forever link the two of us because of the anchoring controversy. Often our relationship was testy to say the least. The fact of the matter was that Nager represented his constituency while I did the same. Never in golf had a rule change impacted the enjoyment of the game and therein was the problem.
In many ways, you could not find two more opposite people than Glen and me. He is a high profile lawyer in a top Washington DC firm. He has tried numerous cases in the Supreme Court. His world is not mine. But, his passion for an issue or belief that is best for his faction is equal to mine.
I spent two days with Nager at Augusta National Golf Club back in February when we organized the Drive, Chip and Putt competition between the PGA, USGA and Augusta National. We stayed in the same cabin, dined together and actually teamed up to win a competition on the Masters course. These two days fell during the peak of the 90-day comment period on anchoring. It was an unlikely retreat and some would have viewed it as golf’s version of Sleeping with the Enemy.
On that first night at ANGC, I climbed out of a van that was taking us to dinner. I placed my right hand on the seat back for a brace. As I stepped out of the van, my hand came in contact with Nager’s face and I knocked his glasses off his face. He quipped, “Wait until the media gets a hold of this. Ted Bishop strikes Glen Nager and knocks his glasses to the ground.”
I remember Nager making a birdie on the 15th hole the following day. He is apologetic about his the quality of his game, which he shouldn’t be. He shot a 77 at Pine Valley’s Centennial in June.  As you might expect, he is a grinder and a tough competitor. That, we have in common.  
When his time is said and done in February, Nager will have left a profound mark on the USGA. Whether you agree with what he did or how he did it, the fact is that he negotiated the largest television contract in the history of golf and forever solidified the financial position of the USGA. He stood down the PGA of America and the PGA TOUR on the anchoring ban. Nager risked his reputation, his popularity and even his status at the USGA for principals that he believed in. For that, Glen Nager has to be a formidable person in the 2013 world of golf.

Rory McIlroy: Major Champion
At 24 years old, Rory McIlroy has experienced more than most do in a lifetime. He has won two major championships by record setting margins. Earlier this year, he signed a huge contract with Nike. But, 2013 was a year to forget for the popular kid from Northern Ireland. He did not win a tournament until late in the year when he went down under to beat Adam Scott at the Australian Open.
Through it all, McIlroy handled the adversity pretty well other than an abrupt WD at the Honda Classic when an inflamed wisdom tooth overcame another poor round of ball striking. As defending champion of the PGA Championship, he was stellar. It started in March when he showed up at PGA HQ to receive the 2012 PGA of America Player of the Year and Vardon Trophy awards.
He arrived at the PGA Championship Media Day in June in the early morning hours after the Memorial Tournament. McIlroy spent the day playing with Craig Harmon, Oak Hill pro and me. It was his first look at the venue he would defend on. He was a star at the afternoon press conference and later spent time in downtown Rochester at the PGA Championship display. His dad, Jerry, was at his side. The interaction between father and son was impressive.
In August, Rory hosted the Champions Dinner attended by a record number of former PGA Championship winners. That was a personal testimony to McIlroy. In a sour year of golf, his disposition was anything but that. He was dignified, humble and handled himself with class. Don’t forget this guy is only 24 years old and his best days are ahead. The 2014 Comeback Player of the Year? Rory McIlroy.      

The Mickelson Family
It was another tough U.S. Open in 2013 for Phil Mickelson. His sixth runner-up in the national championship came at Merion GC in Philadelphia. One more blown opportunity for Lefty. It looked like this could his final chance to win a major.
Mickelson went home. He hibernated for a few days and then showed up at the Scottish Open. Links golf was not his forte and he surprised everyone with a win at Castle Stuart. At 43 years old, what were the chances of Phil winning two weeks in a row when he went to Muirfield for the Open Championship? The rest is history. The finest two weeks of Mickelson’s career.
Less than a month later, Amy Mickelson showed up at 168 Whitney Street in Rochester, NY with her three kids and parents. She was there to participate in a Habitat for Humanity work day as part of an effort between PGA of America wives and PGA TOUR wives. She rolled her sleeves up, laid sod and performed manual labor. All the while, her son, Evan hung out with 8-year old Elisha Galletti whose family was the recipient of the house.
As she was leaving, Amy asked me if it was okay for Evan to give Elisha his cell phone number so the two could stay in touch. That’s Amy Mickelson. Genuine, caring and sincere. She is truly the woman behind a great man.

Paul Miller, PGA Pro
Sometime after Christmas in 2012, I received a call from Paul Miller the PGA pro at the Newtown Country Club in Newtown, CT. He asked if I could help get something donated from the PGA of America that would be given to first responders at Sandy Hook Elementary for a fundraiser he was conducting in May of 2013. His request came less than two weeks after the tragic shooting in Newtown rocked our world.  
On May 5 it was my privilege to join Michael Breed from the Golf Channel at the Newtown Country Club. This course is a 9-hole private club with about 175 members- 100 less than it had a few years ago. The day was about healing and forgetting. Fifty-six first responders were treated to a day of golf, a steak and lobster dinner plus each received one of the donated items.
Newtown CC extended complimentary memberships to all surviving Newtown families. Paul Miller was giving his first golf lessons to a Sandy Hook mom and dad on the following Friday. Newtown is a quaint, small town. To think that this tragedy could happen here was unbelievable. But, then again, if it could happen in Newtown it could happen in Anywhere, USA.

Tim Finchem: PGA TOUR Commissioner
I would argue that the Commissioner of the PGA TOUR is the most powerful person in golf today. Some find him to be intimidating. He is methodical, insightful and a visionary who took a foundation built by his predecessor Deane Bemon and expanded it to tremendous proportions.
But, behind the public Finchem is a witty, engaging and very likeable guy. What impressed me most about “The Commish” in 2013 was his passion for recreational amateurs and their overall enjoyment of the game. When the PGA TOUR made its stand on anchoring it looked past its own interests. Finchem saw the big picture and that is why he has become a larger than life figure in golf.

Rudy Giuliani: Former Mayor of New York City
We rode the back nine together during a round of golf in early June at Liberty National, the course overlooking the Manhattan skyline. I commented on how unfair the press had been with its criticism of the President of the United States for playing 80 rounds of golf during his first four years in Office.            
To which the former Mayor of New York City grinned and responded, “I couldn’t agree more. I think the United States would be far better off if President Obama spent more time on the golf course and less time in the White House.”

Paul McGinley: Captain of the European Ryder Cup Team
Sly like a fox is Paul McGinley. He rides comfortably in the shadow of his counterpart, Tom Watson. McGinley speaks publicly about his affection and admiration of Watson. Somehow he has managed to capture the role of underdog in the 2014 Ryder Cup matches in Scotland at Gleneagles despite the Euros winning seven of the last nine matches.
There is nothing not to like about McGinley. He is the man for the commons. He embodies the workmanlike European mentality which has become part of the formula on how to beat the Americans. This week he turned down the opportunity to write a book on his experiences as Ryder Cup Captain.
“I want the players to know that what happens behind the scenes next year stays there and they can be free and open. I won’t write a book,” said McGinley. “We had a team meeting on Saturday night (at Medinah in 2012) which lasted for about 20 minutes and if you had sat and observed a team that was four points behind you would have come out and called your bookie to find out what their odds were. It was not a case of ‘Braveheart’ standing on chairs but there was a feeling in the room that this was achievable.”
That is classic McGinley. Beware Tom Watson.

The Rest of The Most Impressive People of 2013
Billy Payne: Chairman Augusta National GC- “A futuristic change agent.”
Peter Dawson: Royal and Ancient- “A decent man who is in a tough position.”
Donald Trump: Golf Course Owner- “Dynamic, taller than you think and a pleasant surprise.”
Jack Nicklaus: Legend- “His legacy grows. Bigger holes and shorter rounds. Jack gets it.”
Steve Stricker: PGA TOUR player- “He is proving that less can be more. Nicest guy in golf.”
Jason Dufner: PGA Champion- “What you see is what you get. A total chill out!”
Adam Scott: Masters Champion- “Classy. Understands the business of golf. Totally impressive.”
Pete Bevacqua: CEO PGA of America- “Brilliant. Bethpage, International PGA and NBC. All him.”
Arnold Palmer: Legend- “Still the King even though he went from bifurcator to conformist.”
Mark Steinberg: Agent- “Best stable in golf- Woods, Rose and Kuchar. Who’s next?”
Lee Trevino: PGA Distinguished Service Award Winner- “A true classic. THE rags to riches story.”

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