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.