Saturday, December 20, 2014

Andy Sanders

Back in the 1990’s when Andy Sanders was visiting Franklin, staying with his grandparents and playing golf, it would not have been a surprise to hear his grandmother, Dottie, telling him that someday he would be in the competition at The Masters and Ryder Cup. She was proud of her grandson and she would tell anyone willing to listen how good Andy was going to be. I know because I lived across the street from Dottie on Carriage Lane here in Franklin.

Those predictions did come true, but not in a way that Dottie imagined. Unfortunately she never lived to see Andy enjoy success in golf at the highest level. Sanders was one of the country’s best junior golfers and he attended the University of Houston on a golf scholarship. After college he played on the Nationwide Tour from 2002-04 aspiring to continue his playing career.

Then one day Sanders woke up and experienced a blind spot in his right eye. Initially he thought it was a problem attributed to his contact lenses. Sanders would soon discover that he had Multiple Sclerosis. He tried to fight through the condition and keep on playing. He was receiving muscle injections every other week and eventually he contracted vertigo which was the worst thing that could happen to a golfer.

“My playing career ended because of the medicine, not the MS. Those shots depressed me night and day. They gave me vertigo and losing my balance was the end of my playing career,” recalls Sanders.  “There is no way you can’t look back and have some second thoughts. I made my choices at the time and now I am incredibly fortunate with my family and hopefully I have a great career ahead of me.”  

The career that he speaks of is being a professional caddy for Jimmy Walker, a three-time winner on the PGA TOUR and member of the 2014 United States Ryder Cup team. With Sanders on the bag, Walker won $5.8 million this year and is currently ranked 19th in the Official World Golf Rankings. It was a breakout year for Walker whose relationship with Sanders goes back to their college playing days.

Walker played at Baylor while Sanders was at Houston. The two were not close in college, but their paths crossed occasionally. The two players were the same age and turned pro the same year. Both attended the Canadian Tour Qualifying School and spent many Mondays qualifying against each other for Nationwide Tour spots. Neither had status during this time and they wound up traveling some together. They were at similar stages in their careers and a mutual respect developed.
Walker continued on as a player while Sanders was coping with the MS issues. In 2007 a strange thing happened at a Nationwide Tour event in West Virginia that would eventually form the bond between the two men.

“I was at this tournament caddying for a player named Jason Schultz and Jimmy came to me and asked me to give him a putting lesson. It was kind of weird. Here I am caddying for another player and giving an opposing player a lesson,” laughs Sanders. “Jimmy wound up winning that tournament and during the Nationwide Tour Championship that fall, he asked me if I would caddy for him on the PGA Tour in 2008.”

Walker struggled that next year and only made nine cuts in 21 starts. He and Sanders made a paltry $282,249 together that first year. It was hardly enough to make expenses. Walker continued to improve over the next few years and he cracked the million dollar mark in earnings in 2011. Still, many considered him to be an under achiever. Enter Butch Harmon who gave Walker a reliable swing.

“Butch has made a huge impact on Jimmy’s golf swing. He is not searching anymore and he now knows where he is headed. Butch expects the best,” says Sanders. “The stats may not show the improvement in Jimmy’s game. I see it in his confidence with his decision making. He knows how to play the game.”    

There is a partnership between the best players in the world and their caddies. Smart caddies know when to speak or be silent and Sanders has that figured out.

“My role on the course varies some days more than others. You have to know what your guy needs. Some days he is not all there. Other days he is and then you just shut up and give him the yardage and stay out of the way. Often times, less is more. I have his confidence to do whatever he needs. It’s better to be outspoken when you need to. It wasn’t like that in the beginning,” reveals Sanders.

When asked to give an example of when he felt the caddy made a difference Sanders replied, “At the Fry’ last year when Jimmy got his first win we were down by four to Brooks Koepka. On the 7th hole Jimmy said something like ‘we don’t have much of a chance- he’s got a four- shotter.’ I told him that Brooks had never won before. Let’s make a couple of birdies and see what happens. We birdied #8 and #9 all and of a sudden we were only one shot back and we went on to win.”

Sanders says his best experiences of 2014 were caddying in his first Masters and Ryder Cup. He had played Augusta in 2005 but last year was his first as a looper. The weather was perfect all week and Walker finished in the top ten. At Gleneagles, Walker was paired with Rickie Fowler on Friday and Saturday. That duo was a formidable American team. Walker then beat Lee Westwood on Sunday. 
“The Ryder Cup is the Ryder Cup and it only happens every two years. The only thing that was bad was the outcome. I remember being with Phil (Mickelson), Keegan (Bradley), Rickie and Jimmy on that Wednesday afternoon in a practice round and usually you can’t wait to get the practice rounds over.  But, as I walked down the 16th fairway I hated to see that day and the rest of them end,” said Sanders.

Sanders is enjoying three weeks off over the Holidays, which is his longest vacation of the year. He looks forward to just hanging out with his family. His wife Megan is expecting their third child on January 29 and he will miss the Phoenix and San Diego tour stops to be with his family. Jimmy Johnson, the regular caddy for Steve Stricker will substitute for Walker in Sanders’ absence.

 “We have had a little bit of 2015 goal talk which I initiated, but Jimmy doesn’t respond much to that. My job will be to try and get him fired up. We will just work hard to keep getting better,” concluded Sanders. Walker has increased his PGA TOUR earnings every year since 2008 with Sanders on the bag and there is no reason to believe this won’t happen again next year. 

Dottie would be very proud of her grandson- Andy Sanders, the caddy.   

Monday, December 1, 2014

Ryder Cup Task Force

Sometime in the next few days eleven men who will meet concerning the future of the United States Ryder Cup fortunes will gather in an undisclosed location and start the process of trying to “fix” the biannual tradition of losing Samuel Ryder’s trophy to the Europeans. This will be the inaugural meeting of the PGA Ryder Cup Task Force.

Many would say that the infatuation existing around this international golf competition has grown out of proportion. Americans hate to lose in anything. Sports fans in this country are attracted to iconic franchises like the Yankees, Celtics and Packers because they win. Golf fans are no different, but when it comes to the Ryder Cup, Americans have no fan options besides Team USA. So, it’s no surprise that the most recent loss at Gleneagles- the 8th in the last ten Ryder Cups- drew the ire of so many U.S. golf fans.

No one expressed more dissatisfaction with the American fortunes than Phil Mickelson during his autopsy on Sunday night at Gleneagles. Phil is certainly entitled to his opinion, but his timing and the public criticism of Tom Watson was greeted with mixed reactions. Mickelson should not get the credit or the blame for the formation of the Ryder Cup Task Force.

The purpose of the Task Force has been well documented. It will examine the process of selecting a Captain. The Task Force will evaluate the timing of the announcement of the players who earn a spot on the U.S. team. Finally, it will take a look at the week of the Ryder Cup competition and suggest ways to put the players in a better position to be prepared to win.  

Former Captains- Davis Love III, Raymond Floyd and Tom Lehman have been named to the group. Love was a likeable and well-organized Captain who had his team in great position to win on Saturday night at Medinah when the U.S. held a 10-6 lead. Lehman, although his team was beaten badly in Ireland in 2006, was highly respected by his team. Floyd played on nine winning Ryder Cup teams, was later a Captain, and has been a vice captain twice under Paul Azinger and Watson.

All three were highly endorsed by players who join them on the Task Force. The missing Captain’s ingredient is Azinger, the last winning U.S. Captain in 2008. He is an intriguing guy. No one is more passionate than and he will be the first to tell you that he revolutionized the American fortunes with his ‘pod system’ which paired players with like personalities. However, many former Captains will argue they used a similar formula as did Azinger. He declined to join the Task Force last October.

The five players on the Task Force are Rickie Fowler, two-time Ryder Cupper who represents the generation in their Twenties. Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker are veterans who are liked by their peers and both are viewed to be pensive, methodical thinkers. No Ryder Cup Task Force would have credibility without Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Both have expressed enthusiasm and great interest at being involved. All five of these players could someday be a Ryder Cup Captain.

While this is a PGA of America Task Force, the former captains and players will set the course. In the end it will be the decision of the PGA to accept or reject the direction of the players and former Captains. The formation of the Task Force was a bold statement from the PGA in that it was willing to hear what other people think- most notably the players. 

In my opinion (and not Ryder Cup Task Force) the solutions to a winning Ryder Cup formula are obvious.
1. Develop a system where an individual should be a Vice Captain before they are named as a Ryder Cup Captain. Since 1990, only Love was a Vice Captain before being Captain. Paul McGinley was a Vice Captain four times before being picked to lead the Euros in 2014.  
As the President’s Cup Captain, Fred Couples never lost a match. He was a Ryder Cup staple as a player. Why not name Couples as the 2016 Ryder Cup Captain? He will need administrative help from his Vice Captains and that could come in the form of people such as David Toms, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker. This trio could focus on what Couples won’t administratively. All are likely to be Captains someday.

2. In 2016 the PGA should not announce the “guaranteed” spots on the Ryder Cup team at the PGA Championship because the event will be played in late July due to the Olympics. It would be a catastrophe to announce a good portion of the team two months ahead of the Ryder Cup.
I would keep the Ryder Cup Points the same as they are now, but I recommend ten guaranteed spots in 2016. Those should be determined on Labor Day after the Deutsche Bank, which is in the second round of the FedEx Playoffs. The remaining two picks should be up to the Captain after the Tour Championship. Since the competition is a domestic Ryder Cup the PGA should be able to handle the “same week” logistics of clothing, travel, tickets for the final two players. This gives our Captain the strongest U.S. team possible.

3. Put the players in a better position to win the week of the Ryder Cup. They need more practice time and the schedule during the week limits that. Do some of the player interviews before the Ryder Cup week. Don’t make the players spend hours on a bus going to and from Milwaukee to the Gala Dinner.

Long-term we need to prepare U.S. players to compete in formats like Alternate Shot. The PGA should implement Alternate Shot into the State, National and Regional competitions of PGA Junior League. The PGA JL is 9-hole matches played in three-hole segments by kids 7-13 years old. Play 3-holes Alternate Shot, 3-holes Best Ball and 3-holes Scramble. Someday a U.S. Ryder Cup player will recall his first experience playing Alternate Shot and it will be in the PGA Junior League.  
Finally, some will say that this Task Force needs input from an “outside” entity like USA Basketball which transformed losers into winners at the Olympic level. I could argue that we never lose the President’s Cup so our players do know how “to win as a team.”

At Gleneagles the U.S. lost by thirty-some shots. A mad scientist could have concocted Azinger, Vince Lombardi, Joe Torre and Red Auerbach into a Ryder Captain and the results would not have changed.  I would use a little Bubba Watson logic to close this out. 

“I was 0-3 in the Ryder Cup because I didn’t make enough putts. That’s not the Captain’s fault,” said Watson at the PGA Grand Slam. Those are the truest words spoken since September 28.                              

Saturday, November 29, 2014

John McDermott, First American-Born U.S. Open Champion

Golf was born in the United States in the late 1880’s. Like virtually everything else in this country, golf’s roots can be traced to Europe and the early impact of the sport came from Scotland and England. The United States Golf Association was founded in 1894. The PGA of America did not exist until 1916. 
When I spoke at the Opening Ceremonies at the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, I pointed out that the PGA was founded by thirty-five golf professionals and fourteen of those were native born Scots. There were fewer than ten native born Americans among those 35 PGA charter members. Englishmen and Scots migrated to this country in the early part of the 20th Century and dominated the U.S. golf scene as professionals. The first sixteen U.S Opens had been won by British golfers. With an assist from Bill Fields, golf historian, here is the story of the birth of American competitive golf. 
In 1909, a teenager named John McDermott made his debut in the U.S. Open. The 17-year old shot a four round total of 322 and finished 49th. Much to the chagrin of his father who was a Philadelphia mailman, McDermott had dropped out of school his sophomore year to pursue his interest in golf under the tutelage of Walter Reynolds, the pro at Aronimink Golf Club.
McDermott improved his game dramatically over the next year and lost in an 18-hole playoff to Alex Smith in the 1910 U.S. Open, held at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. In 1911 McDermott became the first American to win the U.S. Open at the Chicago Golf Club where he outlasted two other golfers in a three-way playoff. At age 19 years, 10 months and 12 days he remains the youngest U.S. Open champion of all-time.
In 1912 he retained his title at the Country Club of Buffalo in New York when he shot 294 for four rounds on a par 74 course, a score of two under par, making him the first man to break par for 72 holes in a major championship. Following his second straight national championship McDermott’s finances blossomed with golf clubs being marketed under his name. He got endorsements for golf balls and there was a high demand for his presence in lucrative exhibition matches. At 21 years of age McDermott was on top of the world.
He continued to perform well on the course during the next couple of years, but McDermott lost heavily in the stock market. After a win at the Shawnee Open in 1913 he boasted excessively and was criticized heavily by his fellow players. The USGA actually considered denying his U.S. Open entry. In 1914 McDermott went to the British Open, but because of travel difficulties he arrived too late and missed the competition. On his way home his ship collided with a grain vessel in misty conditions on the English Channel.
Shortly afterward, upon his return to the U.S. he blacked out when entering the clubhouse at the Atlantic City Country Club where he was the club professional. On June 23, 1916 less than two months from his twenty-fifth birthday, McDermott’s mother committed him to the Norristown State Hospital for the insane. She was ordered to pay $1.75 per week “for support of said lunatic in said Hospital until further notice.”
The Norristown hospital opened in 1880 and was overpopulated with 3,000 residents when McDermott was committed. Patients could play baseball on Wednesdays and movies were shown once a week. Ice cream was served every two weeks and Easter eggs were given on Easter. The Red Cross provided packages for soldiers and cigars were available thanks to a local businessman. This is where John McDermott would spend the rest of his days for the next 55 years.
According to hospital reports McDermott was one of “the calmer patients” and was labeled as paranoid, delusional, catatonic, hallucinatory, incoherent, apathetic, silent, retarded, passive, preoccupied and reclusive. He received hydrotherapy which was wrapping him tightly in a sheet drenched in water so it would shrink and bind him even tighter.
In 1922, Norristown installed a makeshift six-hole course measuring 1,232 yards. Following a local fundraiser Walter Hagen came to the hospital and played golf with McDermott. On occasion McDermott would emerge from Norristown wearing a suit and tie with his golf shoes, playing with friends at local courses. Miraculously, he could still break 40 on a consistent basis. After these rounds his friends would take him back to the hospital.
With age McDermott looked scrawny because of his 5’8” and 130 pound frame. He didn’t know what year it was and would often make random statements like, “I saw Bobby Jones at Merion the other day. I think he is going to be pretty good.”    
On the 60th anniversary of his U.S. Open win McDermott attended the event at Merion and was kicked out of the golf shop because no one recognized him. In August that same summer, a day after he played nine holes, McDermott died. He was eleven days short of his 80th birthday and his funeral was sparsely attended. He was buried in the Holy Cross Cemetery and the inscription on his tombstone read: “First American Born Golf Champion 1911-1912”     
In 2011 Rory McIlroy, age 22, won his first U.S. Open at Congressional in record-setting fashion. Over a hundred years earlier John McDermott had won his two U.S. Opens before turning twenty-one. To this day McDermott remains the youngest champion in the history of the U.S. Open. 
Few modern day golf fans have ever heard of McDermott. He was portrayed in the 2005 golf film The Greatest Game Ever Played and appears prominently in one scene where dressed dashingly he is celebrating with a few drinks. He issues a loud, boastful challenge to a group of golfers in the clubhouse before the start of the 1913 U.S. Open won by Francis Ouimet. 

John McDermott has yet to take his place in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Granted his career was short, but the magnitude of his accomplishments before the age of twenty-one are unsurpassed in the annals of golf.  

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The First Day of the Rest of My Life

One British journalist called it the most rapid and unceremonious fall from grace in the history of golf. Jim Bishop, a deceased barber from Logansport, is probably looking down from his perch in Heaven and saying with a grin, “Ted that really was stupid.” But, Jim never shied away from an opinion either.  
It seems that everyone knows by now that I was impeached as President of the PGA of America on October 24 for comparing Ian Poulter, European Ryder Cup nemesis, to a little girl. It was a poor choice of words on my part. Some thought the remarks were sexist. My intent was to say that Poulter’s recent remarks about Tom Watson and Nick Faldo were childish. 
Sexist? Honestly, that thought never occurred to me. Less than two hours after my Facebook and Twitter comments  it was apparent to me that I had made a huge mistake. I immediately removed the social media posts. The PGA of America released a rather impersonal and vanilla statement that included no apology and my fate was sealed. I wanted to deeply apologize, but the PGA denied me the opportunity to make two appearances on Golf Channel early the following morning.
Ted Bishop became the latest casualty to PC- political correctness. Funny because two weeks ago I though PC was a personal computer. But, as President of the largest working sports organization in the world I had to be smarter. The PGA gave me plenty of media training. It afforded me the freedom to openly speak and express opinions. My term was scheduled to end on November 22, itself an infamous day. I shot myself 29 days ahead of schedule. 
Some have said my punishment did not fit the crime. Not only was I removed as President, but I lost my Honorary President status and was told that I would never have the rights and privileges of a PGA Past President. is  a subsidiary of Sport Illustrated and it ran a poll this week. The question: “Did Ted Bishop deserve to lose his job?”  77 percent responded “No” and 23 percent said “Yes.” It doesn’t really matter because the PGA said yes. I was a volunteer in a non-profit Association. I did not get paid and spent over 370 days on the road in the past 23 months. Those who play golf at The Legends Golf Club can testify to that. PGA Officers only get reimbursed for travel and incidental expenses.  I took this on because I loved the PGA and what it stands for.
Do I still love the PGA? Honestly, not as much. Do I still believe what it stands for? I do, which is getting more people to play golf as well as promoting diversity and inclusion. In my 38-year golf career I have been an advocate for women in golf.
I am proud to say that I have two daughters who chose golf as a career. My 7-year stint as a volunteer assistant golf coach for the Franklin High School girls’ team was so much fun. We started the Indiana Women’s Open at The Legends and hosted it for 10 years. We were the home to the IHSAA Girls State Finals for 15 years. The list of girl’s and women’s events that The Legends has hosted is too long to list. The Central Indiana Chapter of the Executive Women’s Golf Association began at my course.
During my time as PGA President I called out the R&A for its exclusion of women as members. The PGA started a wonderful PGA Reach with the PGA Tour Wives Association at the last two PGA Championships which supported Habitat for Humanity and Blessings in a Backpack. The most gratifying thing I did this summer was coach my PGA Junior league team at The Legends, which included five little girls.
Sophia Bunker, mother of 6-year old Ava Bunker, who was on that PGA Junior League team sent me the following email last week. “I just wanted to send you and your family a major sincere Thank You for letting Ava be a part of the PGA Jr. League. When we moved to Indiana from Missouri with the Military it was really hard on Ava. When she heard she would be able to play in the PGA Jr. League she was so excited! We are so blessed that we had the opportunity to be part of an amazing team with such encouraging leaders! Thank you for all you did for Ava and believing in her! We SUPPORT you 100% and Ava can’t wait to play on your team next season! PS- Today was career day at her school, she dressed up as a Professional Golfer and says someday she dreams to be a LPGA President.”
The inspiration for this piece of writing came from Glen Nager, former USGA President. He called me Tuesday and offered friendship, encouragement and consolation. Ironically, Nager’s departure from the USGA was nearly as tumultuous as mine with the PGA. Both of us won’t be seen at future events for our respective Associations. Neither care. We were outspoken and progressive leaders for organizations we once loved.
Glen and I locked horns on the anchoring debate. We became public rivals and at times we were very combative as we argued for opposing stances that we sincerely believed in. We played golf together at Augusta National during the highly publicized “comment period” in the winter of 2013. As Nager departed a van we were riding in, my hand accidentally brushed his face and his glasses were knocked to the ground.
Nager smiled in the dark and said, “Wait until the press gets a hold of this.”
His advice to me was simple. Turn the corner and look forward. Appreciate my wonderful family and enjoy going to work every day at my golf course. He wisely advised me that you don’t get “do overs” in life. 
“Those who are fearful of mistakes don’t take the opportunity to make change,” Nager told me. “You should be proud of what you accomplished and the lives that you impacted. You have a forum in your writing and I encourage you to stay public and use it for the betterment of everyone who enjoys golf.”

And thanks to Glen Nager, of all people. He has helped me turn the corner and start the rest of my life.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

2014 PGA Championship

When I arrived at Valhalla on Sunday night I told the audience of PGA 
Championship Committee Chairs that this week's PGA would be the greatest week of professional golf in 2014 and nothing has happened to defuse that point.

This week the PGA of America established a new PGA Championship ticket sales record. We expect 45,000 spectators each day from Thursday through Sunday when the tournament takes place. Valhalla, which was renovated in 2011, is in perfect condition. It's a big championship venue and many are saying that it is the best presentation of a major in recent years. 

Tuesday night was the annual Champions Dinner hosted by defending champ, Jason Dufner and his wife, Amanda. Many are saying that it was the best Champions Dinner in years because of Dufner's speech and the humbleness that he showed throughout the evening. He grew up in modest surroundings. His dad was an assistant manager of a grocery store.

"My grandfather played golf and belonged to a country club. I loved playing with him when I was a kid because the course was nice and I could ride in a golf cart," recalled Dufner. "My dad didn't have a lot of money and when we played together it was always at a beat down 9-hole course where I had to carry my clubs."

Dufner continued, "When I was younger I always liked playing with my grandfather better because of the course and the cart. But, now if I had one round of golf left to play it would be with my dad (now deceased) on that beat down 9-hole course."

Dufner is battling a neck injury and if he does play well enough to make the Ryder Cup team on points this week, he will shut it down through theFedEx Cup playoffs. The most notable injury of the week belongs to Tiger Woods.

In the most heralded practice round entrance of all-time, Woods showed up at Valhalla shortly after Noon on Wednesday. The world had been waiting for word on whether or not he would be in the field. The Golf Channel televised nearly every minute of the 2 p.m. round which Woods was joined by Steve Stricker, Davis Love III and Harris English. 

Around 12:30 p.m. On Wednesday, Rory McIlroy exited the clubhouse and headed to his Mercedes courtesy vehicle. There were 25-30 reporters and photographers standing near Rory's parking spot. The media herd was guarding Tiger's spot in the past champions parking lot. McIlroy was carrying the Claret Jug, the hoist from the Open Championship, and not one reporter or photographer acknowledged this special moment. Talk about the Number One player in the world flying under 
the radar......

At the same time Tom Watson was starting his Ryder Cup press conference. During that time he announced Stricker as the third Vice Captain to join his Ryder Cup staff. Stricker is suffering from a hip ailment and it was a smart move by Watson to name a contemporary vice captain to join Andy North and Raymond Floyd.

On Thursday morning,  Matt Kuchar who has a guaranteed spot on the Ryder Cup team withdrew from the competition due to a back injury. This further raises questions about the U.S. Ryder Cup team which has many health issues. The Europeans, on the other hand, are in top form with McIlroy, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia playing as well as anybody in the world.

Another great storyline to this PGA is Kenny Perry playing in what could be the final major of his career in his home state of Kentucky. It was my privilege to offer Kenny the special exemption from the PGA back in May. I had the chance to play here at Valhalla with Kenny back in June and we had a great time. He won the Champions Tour event last week in Minnesota and comes here as a sentimental favorite. 

Finally, on Wednesday night the PGA of America presented President Bill Clinton with our Distinguished Service Award. It was a special night to honor a man who has made golf a major part of his life. the Clinton Foundation has raised $88 billion dollars for people worldwide. 

Clinton has resurrected the Humana Challenge, the former Bob Hope Classic, and his impact with humanitarian deeds through golf is incredible. What a thrill it was for me to present him with the DSA. 

Lots of drama and many intriguing plots here at Valhalla.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May 14, 2014

Every Monday morning I anxiously await the latest Ryder Cup standings which are distributed by the PGA of America. Captain Tom Watson and I receive this each week. He probably will spend more time looking at the numbers with each passing week leading up to Sunday, August 10 which is the final round of the PGA Championship when the nine automatic spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team will be determined.

On Tuesday, September 2, Watson will be situated somewhere in the Northeast and he will announce three Captain's picks rounding out his squad. No doubt he will spend Labor Day with Andy North and Raymond Floyd watching the final round of the Deutsche Bank Classic and collaborating on who the last three players should be.

Ryder Cup points are based on prize money earned. One point is awarded for every $1,000 earned in the 2013 major championships and all 2014 PGA Tour events beginning with the Fall Season last October. In 2014 the major championships receive two points for every $1,000 earned. Also, this year there are a couple of Tour events opposite the major championships and they earn 1/2 point for every $1,000 earned. It's actually a lot simpler than it sounds.

As of last week's Players Championship here are the top nine U.S. Ryder Cup players and their points earned.

1. Bubba Watson  6,283
2. Jimmy Walker  4,772
3. Matt Kuchar  4,060
4. Jordan Spieth 3,988
5. Jim Furyk  3,909
6. Dustin Johnson 3,781
7. Patrick Reed 3,038
8. Phil Mickelson 2,821
9. Zach Johnson 2,787

Based on the past couple of Ryder Cup teams the projected total needed to make the top nine would be approximately 4,500 points. Watson and Walker have secured spots while Kuchar, Spieth and Furyk are knocking on the door. Dustin Johnson is not far behind which means there will be a lot of scrambling for the last three guaranteed slots on Tom Watson's team.

Rounding out the current top 20 in the Ryder Cup standings are:

10. Jason Dufner  2,692
11. Harris English  2,680
12. Chris Kirk  2,526
13. Ryan Moore  2,334
14. Webb Simpson  2,243
15. Kevin Stadler  2,165
16. Rickie Fowler  2,150
17. Matt Every  2,102
18. Gary Woodland  1,902
19. J.B. Holmes  1,865
20. Keegan Bradley  1,847

Notably missing from the top 20 are Hunter Mahan (25th); Brandt Snedeker (33rd); Steve. Stricker (48th) and Tiger Woods (57th).

It is safe to say at this point that 2014 could be a transitional year for the Ryder Cup when the competition takes place at Gleneagles in Scotland, Sept. 23-28. Currently, there are six Ryder Cup rookies in the top thirteen on the American points list. Europe's team is still unfolding and it looks like there could be 3-4 rookies there, too.

Both Watson and Paul McGinley, the European Captain, could have some tough choices come September. If both teams have a high percentage of rookies making their top nine, will the captains look for experience to round out their teams?

In 1993 at The Belfry, Watson captained the last U.S. Ryder Cup team to win on foreign soil. He had two captain's picks and he used them on Raymond Floyd and Lanny Wadkins who were ranked 22nd and 32nd on points. For sure, Stricker and Woods will be down the 2014 points list based on Stricker's limited playing schedule and Woods' injury. It could be tough choices for Watson.

As I said, the majors count double and three of those remain. Lots of things could change and most likely will. The PGA Championship raised its purse to $10 million dollars with the winner receiving $1.8 and 3,600 Ryder Cup points. That means the PGA Champion could jump from somewhere around 50th to 9th and be an automatic pick. Currently, that brings into play names like Erik Compton, Chesson Hadley, Martin Flores and Indiana's Jeff Overton.

You can follow the standings each week on It will be an interesting three months leading up to the PGA. Bubba Watson proved the value of winning a major and three more Americans could do the same and make moves. But, in the past month or so, the Europeans have been in better form and they are winning some tournaments as evidenced by Germany's Martin Kaymer last week.

Stay tuned. The Ryder Cup drama is just beginning.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Players Championship

This week is The Players Championship from Ponte Vedra, Florida. The TPC at
Sawgrass is most noted for its Stadium Course and the Seventeenth Hole, an
island green that was famously designed by Hoosier Pete Dye. The Players has a
purse of $10 million and equals the PGA Championship as the richest tournament
in professional golf. The winner's share is $1.8 million and will be awarded on
Mother's Day. Somebody's mom will be happy late Sunday afternoon.

In a spring when many golf courses suffered turf losses from severe winter
weather TPC at Sawgrass has five greens that are suffering from the application
of a growth retarder. Early in the week these greens were closed in practice
rounds and no doubt they will be a topic of conversation all week here at The
Players. It just shows that even with the best of management and healthy
budgets, things can still go wrong.

Across the country many courses in the North have experienced severe cases of
winter kill. A story last week out of Chicago indicated that 65 percent of
greens in the Chicagoland area had been effected and 80 percent of tees and
fairways were hit with winter kill. Some courses in Northern Indiana have
suffered the same fate, but to date I have not heard of any significant damage
in Central Indiana.

Two of the most devastating cases of winter kill that I am aware of involved PGA
Vice President Derek Sprague from Malone, NY and Jim Remy, former PGA President
at the Okemo Valley Golf and Ski Resort in Ludlow, VT. Sprague had to reseed all
40 of his putting greens and hopes to open in early June. Losses are estimated
at near $300,000. Remy had to reseed 15 of his 18 championship course greens.

One of the biggest problems with the massive winter kill will be a seed
shortage. This speaks to the magnitude of how wide spread and torturous the
winter kill has been. We have seen some effects of this at The Legends in terms
of a shortage of ryegrass seed that we would use for fairway divot mix. Imagine
a golf course who had its turf wiped out and now you can't buy grass seed to
restore your course. These are very tough circumstances, so appreciate the good
quality turf at your local course.

On a positive note, if you are looking for a way to get your kids or grand kids
involved in golf look no farther than the PGA Junior League which is being
offered locally at Dye's Walk CC, Hillview CC,  Gongaware Golf Academy and The
Legends Golf Club. This program is for boys and girls ages 7-13. The season will
involve six round robin matches at the four facilities mentioned.

The format is 9-holes and the matches are played as a Scramble in three-hole
segments. Players can be substituted in and out. There is a weekly practice
between matches and a social component that makes this a great interaction for
parents and family. If you are looking for some competition, golf instruction,
fun and a very welcoming environment the PGA Junior League is it.

The cost of the program is between $75-$150 per player depending on the
facility. Each kid gets a golf shirt with a number on the back and some other
goodies besides golf lessons and competition. Last year the PGA Junior League
had almost 10,000 kids participate nationwide. To the credit of PGA pros in
Indiana, we led the nation with 60 teams and it looks like that number will
double in 2014.

Don't let the fact that your favorite kid hasn't played golf or is
inexperienced. In the case of The Legends and Gongaware we have enough kids for
two teams and will be setting up a "JV" schedule for those that fit the mold. I
encourage you to reach out to these Johnson County courses and be part of the
PGA Junior League.

Finally, thanks to all of the moms out there. Most area courses are running some
kind of promotion for Mothers Day. The weather looks good and what better way to
top the day off than playing 9-holes with your family!

Thursday, May 1, 2014


I had never been a soccer fan. For years I have driven by soccer fields and seen
the masses and thought to myself,  this is a detriment to golf because all of
these kids were playing soccer and not Junior golf. My perception changed with a
text I received from my daughter Ambry while I attended the PGA Merchandise Show
at Orlando in January.

That text is still on my phone. "You need to talk to Tom Morton (PGA pro in
Sacramento) about FootGolf. Playing using a soccer ball. Only 45 facilities in
the country doing it because it is so new, but it would be a home run at your
facility. You could set up the FootGolf on the par three course and it wouldn't
interfere with regular play."

I Googled FootGolf and watched a 3-4 minute YouTube video showing the sport being
played at Haggin Oaks Golf Course which is Morton's facility. What I watched was
amazing. It was a bunch of young people playing FootGolf at an outing and using
golf cars. They were kicking a soccer ball to a 21-inch hole. To say the
FootGolfers were having fun was the understatement of the year.

The next thing I did was to reach out to Roberto Balestrini from Southern
California. He founded the American FootGolf League. Sign me up. Balestrini's
magnetic personality was all it took and I have become the leading spokesperson
for FootGolf in the American golf population. In January there were only a few
dozen courses and today that number has swollen to over 100 nationwide. FootGolf
is now in over 30 States and in January the number was only 11. Let the craze

This Saturday, May 3 will be "FootGolf Day in The North America" thanks to
Balestrini. If you have interest in seeing an Indiana first come out to The
Legends Golf Club on 2555 North Hurricane Road in Franklin. If you want to play
this Saturday in the event call 317/736-8596 and we will take the first 12
players at no cost!

Franklin Mayor Joe McGuiness has declared Saturday as "FootGolf Day in
Franklin." HBO and Golf Channel have arranged for film crews to capture the
historic event which will be conducted on the Dye Course Par 3 at The Legends.
Last week Franklin College soccer coach Shaun Mahoney brought his team out for a
trial run and said, "FootGolf is awesome. My guys loved it."

When I decided to incorporate FootGolf into our program at The Legends, I was
introduced to Dan Kapsalis by my son-in-law Ted Davidson. Kapsalis was a member
of two NCAA soccer championship teams at Indiana University. He lated coached
Carmel to  a State Championship  and has founded the Indianapolis area youth
soccer programs.

"I immediately fell in love with the concept. For decades we have been playing a
form of FootGolf in our soccer practices. But, we kicked to stationary objects
such as goal posts, trash cans are lamp posts," said Kapsalis. "Now to be able
to go to be real live golf course and play to a 21-inch hole is unbelievable.

"I had a chance to play a The a Legends FootGolf course lady weekend and it is
great," remarked Kapsalis. "Soccer people are going to love this. We played 18
holes in just over two hours."

According to Kapsalis there are over 65,000 kids playing soccer in Central
Indiana. Nationwide there are over 50 million soccer players which is twice the
number of golfers in the U.S. Soccer is growing at an 8% rate per year while
golf has seen a slight decline each year over the past five. From my vantage
point, this is the classic form of- if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

FootGolf is an affordable activity. 18-hole green fees are $15. The Legends is
offering a Junior Rate for kids 18 and under of $8. Players can walk or ride.
FootGolfers are encouraged to bring their own soccer balls or they can be rented
at the facility which also has Junior sized balls for kids. The dress is
encouraged to be the official uniform of FootGolf which is shorts with
knee-length argyle socks and a special FootGolf cap. Collared shirts are
preferred. However, this dress will not be required for casual play at The

The Franklin Chamber of Commerce is the first golf outing to offer a Foot golf
component on June 5 with the idea of giving non-golfers a chance to be part of
their outing. As of now, The Legends has booked five stand alone Foot golf
outings including one on June 21 with the Brickyard Battalion, the fan club of
the Indy Eleven our pro soccer team in the North American Soccer League. The
club has picked a Saturday during the World Cup competition and will use it as a
fundraising opportunity.

This Saturday will be primarily known for the Kentucky Derby or the Mini
Marathon. However, there is a historical element to this week being the premier
of FootGolf in Indiana. While it will be the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby
it will be the initial launch of FootGolf in the Hoosier State. Soccer combined
with golf to form a sporting thoroughbred.

What will they be saying about FootGolf in 140 years?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

HackGolf- April 22

There has been a movement in golf since the PGA Merchandise Show. On a Tuesday night in late January, Mark King, the CEO of TaylorMade Golf, introduced a concept called “HackGolf.” King’s idea was not based around hacking- like in bad shots. His vision was hacking computerese into the game of golf and changing the way people view the sport.
Since then the floodgates have opened on ways to make golf friendlier, more relaxed and a fun game. King’s HackGolf gemstone was based around the concept of a 15-inch cup versus the traditional 4 ¼ inch cup that golf uses. There have been several 15-inch cup events in the past few months and I had the opportunity to join King in one such event at Reynolds Plantation on the day after The Masters.
Making the Reynolds Plantation 15-inch cup outing even more intriguing was the fact that Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose, the reigning U.S. Open Champion, also played. Garcia, Rose and I marveled at how much fun we had playing to the 15-inch cups. Not to mention, how much it speeded the round up.
Fresh from The Masters, Garcia shot 30 for 9-holes and wanted to go lower. “I had three chances to chip in and didn’t,” he said. “So obviously I was quite disappointed.”
Rose shot 33 for 9-holes. “My mind set changed completely,” Rose said. “If I hit a poor drive, I’m trying to figure out how I can best save par. Here I’m thinking if I can just get the ball up near the green somewhere, I can still make birdie.”
I was so impressed with the 15-inch cup idea that we will use it on occasion at The Legends Golf Club this season. We have designated May 3-4 as “HackGolf Weekend” and the 15-inch holes will be in play as well as the Indiana premier of FootGolf, a sport that combines soccer and golf.
These are just two examples of ideas that have spawned from HackGolf and the PGA of America exploring ways to make the sport more fun and inviting. The goal is not to change golf as we know it, but to introduce innovative ways for people to play and stay in the game. Golf has reveled in its standards and rich traditions.
But increasingly a victim of its own image and hidebound ways, golf has lost five million players in the last decade according to the National Golf Foundation. Predictions are that 20 percent of the existing 25 million golfers are apt to quit in the next five years. Panic time? Maybe it is and certainly a time to re-examine the sport and its future.
I take my hat off to the leadership of the Franklin Chamber of Commerce, most notably Lisa Buening and her golf committee. They are running the 36th Annual Franklin Chamber of Commerce Golf Outing. Organizers had felt the outing was stale and tired. They were looking for some new energy and life to energize its annual fundraiser. The Chamber’s golf committee has decided to use the 15-inch cups on June 5. They didn’t stop there. A 9-hole FootGolf outing is scheduled simultaneously for non-golfers.
My prediction is that players will leave the outing saying it was the most fun day of golf they ever had. The 15-inch cups will speed up the pace of play by 30-45 minutes. It will reduce time spent on the greens and lower scores. Who won’t enjoy a faster round of golf with lower scores? The FootGolf part of the day gives “non-golfers” a chance to join in on the fun of the day, dinner and the camaraderie of the outing. This will be the first outing of its type in the United States.
The PGA of America recently named a Growth of the Game Task Force which I am proud to serve as Chairman. We hold our first meeting today in New York City. I will be joined by Pete Bevacqua, CEO of the PGA along with Dottie Pepper, Independent PGA Director and LPGA legend. Also in the group will be Arlen Kantarian, former CEO of the United States Tennis Association. Kantarian resurrected tennis during his time with the USTA when he did innovative things like lowering the nets, creating larger racquets and painting the U.S. Open courts blue.
Bode Miller is the most decorated skier in American history. He is an avid golfer and Miller brings the perspective of extreme sports. Tom Dundon is the founder of Top Golf, a driving range on steroids which features video games, golf balls with sensors, loud music, food and drink. It’s one of the most successful business models in golf. King from TaylorMade brings his public web portal to the PGA Task Force. Anyone can submit an idea to the PGA Task Force through this crowd sourcing concept of HackGolf.
Ashley Mayo, a 25-year old digital strategist from Golf Digest, will add a youthful and energetic perspective. Damon Hack, co-host of the Golf Channel’s Morning Drive, joins former Indianapolis Colt, Melvin Bullitt in providing insights on minority golf participation. Last but not least, Commissioner Tim Finchem of the PGA TOUR will have a seat on the PGA Task Force. The TOUR brings the most powerful voice in all of golf.
This PGA Task Force is charged with three basic concepts. The first is to redefine the golf experience and offer the consumer a 30-90 minute activity that is something besides a 9 or 18-hole round of golf. Secondly, introduce people to alternative forms of the sport such as FootGolf (more on this next week). Thirdly, offer a relaxed set of guidelines that help recreational golfers enjoy the sport. Most who play the game are golfers who do not have handicaps or compete even at the local level.
We want to convert as many golfers as we can into players- they are the people who do have handicaps, play by the Rules and like to compete. In the meantime, let’s keep the game fun and interesting. It’s now time to recognize that more than one type of golf exits. I have used the analogy that if I go to a basketball court and play a game of H-O-R-S-E that is basketball.
Golf needs to get up to speed and now is the time!       



Wednesday, April 2, 2014

April 2, 2014

Is it the end of an era or the beginning of a new one? It’s hard to imagine Tiger Woods regaining the dominating form that he once enjoyed in professional golf under any circumstances at the age of 38. The golf world was jolted this week with the news that Woods would miss The Masters after undergoing back surgery on Monday.
In all likelihood, Woods might not be back at all in 2014. Graham DeLaet, Canadian player, who made his presence known in last year’s President’s Cup missed an entire year with a similar injury. It seems almost certain that Woods will be a no-show at the U.S. Open and the Open Championship. It’s a long shot that he will be in the field at the PGA Championship in Louisville later this summer.
So, life goes on in the professional golf world. Certainly there is a void without Woods, but look at the last five Masters and you will see great, dramatic finishes that did not include Woods. Start with Angel Cabrera’s playoff victory over Kenny Perry in 2009. Phil Mickelson hit the famous shot out of the pine straw on the 13th hole in 2010 and beat Lee Westwood.
The next year it was Charl Schwartzel finishing with an unprecedented four straight birdies to win the 2011 Green Jacket. Bubba Watson beat Louis Ooosthuizen with that incredible second shot from deep in the woods on the 10th hole to win in 2012. Adam Scott canned a putt in the rain on the 10th green to win a thrilling playoff victory over Cabrera last year.
At no time in the past five years has Woods really been in contention at The Masters. Since he was knocked off by Y.E. Yang on the final hole of play at the PGA Championship at Hazeltine in 2009, Tiger has pretty much been a non-factor in all of the majors. He has suffered two severe injuries during that time, the latest to his back while an earlier injury to his knee also forced surgery.
We all root for Woods to have a speedy recovery because the sport needs him. “In all likelihood, he’s done for the year,” said Golf Digest’s Geoff Shackelford this week on The Golf Channel.
I have said for months that 2014 is a transitional year for golf. Many new faces are emerging and some of the familiar ones are seemingly drifting away. Phil Mickelson is out of this week’s Shell Houston Open with an oblique injury. His presence at Augusta could be in doubt. Steve Stricker hasn’t been nearly as effective this year as he was in 2013 playing an abbreviated schedule.
Granted, Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed, Harris English and Jordan Spieth are far from household names. It’s been a weird year as many of the top named players have been out of form. It begs the question, who are the favorites next week at Augusta National?
The betting favorite is Rory McIlroy. He is due again to win a major championship. If he duplicates his wins in the U.S. Open and PGA, it will be in record-breaking fashion in terms of his margin of victory. Could that happen next week? I think it can.
Adam Scott figures to be a factor even though it will defy the odds to win back-to-back Masters. Dustin Johnson has played well at times, but will he put all facets of his mental game together over 72 holes. Nobody has played more consistently of late than Bubba Watson who finishes in the top ten in virtually every event he plays in. Zach Johnson has won before at Augusta and he could be primed for another Green Jacket.                
Whatever the case, this Masters will be well worth the watch.
It’s a special year at The Masters with the first Drive, Chip and Putt Championship to be conducted Sunday morning on the hallowed grounds. Last year nearly 16,000 kids competed in ten qualifiers around the U.S. with the hope of being one of the 88 boys and girls, ages 7-15 years old, to make it to the finals at Augusta National.
You can watch the competition live on The Golf Channel beginning at 8 a.m. Sunday. Nels Surtani from Noblesville will represent Indiana. The 12-year old had two aces last year and shot 72 on Pinehurst No. 2. Believe it or not, nine of the competitors in the Drive, Chip and Putt have recorded holes-in-one.    
Drive, Chip and Putt Championship will be expanded to all 50 states this summer. It is anticipated that over 50,000 kids will compete with the hopes of making the trip to Augusta National in 2015. Registration opens on Sunday, April 6 at Two of Indiana’s local qualifiers will take place at The Legends Golf Club on June 27 and July 3.

Making this competition even more unique is the fact that the putting finals will actually take place on the 18th green at Augusta National. The Masters will allow a limited number of spectators on the grounds Sunday. The initiative is collaboration between The Masters Foundation, the PGA of America and the United States Golf Association.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sochi Final

In my lifetime I have been very lucky to attend virtually all of the sporting world's great events. Super Bowls, World Series 7th games, NCAA Finals, Indy 500's, all of golf's major championships and the list goes on and on.

Saturday 's thrilling USA victory over Russia in men's hockey ranks up there with everything- except maybe the Ryder Cup. TJ Oshie put his team on his shoulders and scored four overtime shoot out goals to give the Americans only their second victory ever over Russia in Olympic hockey history.

Two key plays in regulation set the stage for Oshie's heroics. An overturned Soviet goal with 4:40 left in the third period followed by a thwarted American breakaway shot with a little over a minute to play forced the game into the overtime and eventual shootout.

The Bolshay Ice Dome was filled to the brim on Saturday including Vladimir Putin, Russian Premier. It was apparent that this was not just another hockey game. The crowd was probably 2/3 pro-Russian and the atmosphere was cordially intense.

Constant chants of "Rush-She-U" filled Bolshay all afternoon. While the game was not of the same proportion as the famed Miracle on Ice in 1980 at Lake Placid the atmosphere was electric and the voltage increased as every period unfolded into the thrilling finish.

Jimmy Roberts, of NBC Sports, had the dubious distinction of leaving that Miracle on Ice game in '80 in the first period. It seems he had a date with a woman. When I saw Roberts on Saturday night I asked him if he stayed until the end.

"Are you kidding? I was working and wasn't even at the game. But I watched it all," laughed Roberts.

He then went on to say that he met Oshie later that night and as they chatted, the St. Louis Blues star told Roberts that he played golf. When asked what his index was, Oshie responded it was a 2.3.

"But I am really playing like a 5 right now," Oshie quickly added in the truth spirit of an avid golfer.

Lost in Oshie's dramatic performance was that of US goaltender Jonathan Quick would successfully defended 5/8 Soviet shootout attempts. The Los Angeles Kings' star was solid in goal all afternoon and clearly made a case for the game's MVP.

Safe to say that after Saturday Oshie will be a household name and there will be many #74 jerseys floating around America this week as casual hockey fans turn into rabid USA supporters. For those of us in golf , we can only wish that we could impact the interest in our sport as quickly as Oshie did for his on Saturday.

It's a long day of travel beginning at 10 am Sochi time, which is actually 1 am EST on Sunday. If everything goes right I will be back in my driveway in Franklin, IN at about 11 pm  Sunday night.

This has been a week beyond words. It's been like being on a movie set because you don't know what this place will look like in a few months. It's hard to believe that much of the infrastructure will endure the post-Sochi Olympics.

But, for one incredible three week span, Putin and his countrymen put on the show of a lifetime.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sochi Part Two

The weather is really the story here in Sochi, but the opposite of what you are all experiencing. It's real warm here, borderline hot. This morning we headed up yo the Alpine competition only to have it postponed until 3:30pm due to extremely warm conditions. Even atop the mountains here in Sochi it was nearly 60 degrees.

Projections are that it will be close to 70 degrees in the Olympic Village today. All of the vents down there are indoors, so there is no impact. But, I will have to say that it doesn't seem like this is the Winter Olympics. It's another weird chapter in the weather annals of 2014. Go to Russia and get a suntan at the Winter Olympics.

On Thursday we went to the United States versus Slovakia hockey game. The Americans opened the game up in the second quarter and posted 7-1 win. International hockey is played on a rink that is about 20 feet longer and 15 feet wider than a NHL rink. As a result, the U.S. Team is built for speed and they clearly outclassed their rivals yesterday. The final event that we see Saturday night will be the U.S. Men against Russia and that should be great.

Following the hockey game we went to the set of the Today Show which is at the Olympic Village. It was my first meeting with Matt Lauer since I announced Tom Watson as the Ryder Cup Captain in Rockefeller Center back in December 2012. There were a bunch of present and former Olympic athletes on the set including our pairs ice skating team.  Evan Lysacek who won the Gold in men's figure skating Vancouver was there at Today. He and Johnny Weir another renowned U.S. Men's figure skater are doing a lot of work for NBC.

As I scanned for an English speaking TV station last night I stumbled across a British feed which was doing a segment on security here in Sochi. The report was openly critical of the Russian government for not investing more marketing dollars into telling the story of the iron clad security precautions that it has successfully instituted. It's really true. When you consider that the Russians spent $51 billion on this Olympiad- more than the past 21 combined- they surely could have spent another billion on marketing.

In fairness, to the Russians the American press blew way out of proportion many things surrounding this Olympic games including the security threat. As I said in the last report, no one here is even talking security risks. The "Ring of Steel" has truly been just that. We have experienced good accommodations, decent food and very friendly treatment from hotel staff and Olympic volunteers.

Friday night will find us at the finals of the men's figure skating. The typical evenings end around 2 a.m. Mornings begin at 8:30 a.m. It's an easy bus ride to the Olympic village. Going up top to the mountains for the skiing or extreme events is another story. It's a couple of gondola rides to the venues and a pretty intense hike wherever you go. The elevation makes breathing tough and it is physically draining. The weather has made it hard to dress and it's been easy to get over heated at these events.

It has been a once in a lifetime experience. Thanks to my friends from NBC and The Golf Channel for making it happen. Jon Miller is in charge of programming for NBC Sports and. Mike. McCarley is the president of Golf. Channel. They are great PGA of America partners and have rolled out the red carpet for us.

Finally, we do stay in touch with golf this week. We know that Watson named Ray Floyd as an assistant. We have discussed golf, bifurcation and the Ryder Cup on many a late night. There are lots of good things on the horizon when we get back to the States.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sochi 2014

How would I describe my first two days in Sochi, Russia at the Winter Olympics?

I guess, relief, would be the first word. After hearing weeks of the American news media talk about numerous security threats I can honestly say that has been a non-issue. In fact, no one here is even talking about it. Admittedly I was relieved to see our NBC charter approach Sochi over the Black Sea rather than the mountain ranges that a Washington Post report said grenade launchers could target approaching planes.

Once we touched down the presence of the 40,000 security and military personnel was very visible. The "Ring of Steel" that has been labeled as the secure area by the media actually extends about 70 miles around the Olympic Village. We are staying in a Rosa Khutor which is about a 45 minute bus ride from the Olympic Village. Our Radisson Hotel is near the ski and extreme winter sports area in the mountains.

The road we travel to the Village is newly built in the last two years. It was part of the $51 billion in infra structure that Vladimir Putin invested in these Sochi Olympic Games. Along that stretch of road are thousands of Russian soldiers. They dot the landscape. They sleep in camouflaged tents and carry guns. Interestingly, there is still a lot of unfinished construction near Sochi and it makes me wonder if it will ever be completed once these Olympics are concluded.

Stalin made Sochi a summer home in 1954. It's a weird, but beautiful location for the Winter Olympics which has adopted the slogan "" which is indicative of the variation in temperatures. On Thursday the Olympic Village hit a high in the mid 60's, but on Tuesday night when we attended the Halfpipe competition it was well below freezing.

Many here at the NBC compound are suffering from upper respiratory infections, no doubt from the fluctuation in temperatures along with all of the construction dust which is still in the air. My only medical issue stems from nearly chopping off the end of my left thumb while cutting a piece of  the delicious, hard crusted Russian bread.

Tuesday was our arrival day. It was a long day after the 9-hour flight from Newark. We grabbed a couple hours of sleep and went to watch Shaun White try to win another Gold in the Halfpipe. That didn't happen and the most memorable part of the night was the trek back from the venue at Midnight which included ascending 520 stairs separated by slippery rocks and steep inclines. Grueling to say the least and the knock out punch on a marathon two days.

I didn't set my alarm on Wednesday because I never have a problem waking up. On this morning I woke up and checked the clock on my cell phone only to find the time of 1:05 p.m. We has slept 12 hours and our bus was scheduled to leave for the U.S. versus Canadian women's hockey game in 25 minutes. To make matters worse there was no water in my hotel room. Long story made short- we made the bus.

After watching the American women blow a 1-0 third period lead and eventually lose, we killed an hour at NBC Hospitality and went watch the finals of Pairs Skating. This was a great event and it was exciting to see the hometown Russian skaters capture the Gold and Silver medals.

Being here is like being on a cruise ship. It seems the biggest meal of the day is the Midnight buffet at the NBC hospitality suite in the hotel. The witching hour seems to be 2 a.m. When most retire for the night.

This is truly the experience of a lifetime. The Russian landscape is dreary, stark and pretty basic. The military presence makes it appear even more Third World. I can't help but wonder what happens to all of these structures that the Russians built here in Sochi once the Olympics are over and life goes on. While Sochi is located in a moderate climate on the Black Sea it certainly doesn't appear to stand the test of time as one of the world's premier resort areas.

But, I will take my hat off to the Russians and their people. They are going out of their way to offer us Americans the best hospitality experience they know how to deliver. The people have been friendly, smiling and extremely cordial to Americans.

I look forward to seeing the U.S. Men's Hockey team play two games including Saturday night against USSR. As a casual hockey fan I discovered that the international hockey rink is approximately 20 feet longer and 15 wider. The American team is built on speed to accommodate the larger Olympic dimensions.  We are still hoping to see Americans win some kind of medal.

While we are 9 hours ahead of EST, we seem a world away from the United States. This has been the worst case of jet lag I have ever experienced. But, The most prevalent feeling that I have this week is the appreciation of being an American citizen. Appreciate what we have and don't take anything for granted.
Pete- PGA, Jon Miller- NBC, Ted,  Mike McCarley Golf Channel

Ted and Cindy

US vs. Slovakia
Matt Lauer

Today Show

Alpine Skier

Figure Skaters

Sunset Sochi

Ted and Pete