Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Golf's New Era is Here

Golf fans awoke sometime last weekend and realized that the page had been officially turned on the Tiger Woods era. It was rather painless and not nearly as bad as all the naysayers had predicted. The good news is that the dawning of this new era had nothing to do with Woods. It was all about a host of other greater and younger players.

When did this transformation start? Rory McIlroy laid the foundation for the process last year with his stellar play late in the season including two major championship victories. He rose to #1 in the World Golf Rankings, a spot he still holds despite his ankle injury which could sideline him for the remainder of the 2015 season.

Jordan Spieth caught everyone’s attention with his win at The Masters. Rickie Fowler proved that he could win a big one with his phenominal finish in May at The Players Championship. Spieth’s second major title at this summer’s U.S. Open put him in a class few 21-year olds have ever seen. Guys like Jason Day and Dustin Johnson keep knocking on the door of golf’s biggest prizes.

In the meantime, Woods continues to flounder after another comeback. His play has been so pitiful that fans have lost interest making it easy to migrate to golf’s five hotshots- McIlroy, Spieth, Fowler, Day and Johnson.

“When he took off his hat on the 18th green to shake hands with Jason Day and Louis Oosthuizen, he looked as close to broken as I've ever seen a truly great athlete look. He entered this event thinking he had a real chance to contend. He wasn't even close to making the cut,” said Kevin Van Falkenberg of observing Woods after missing the cut.

John Huggan, another golf writer said, “Right this minute, Tiger is not capable of winning major championships. Nor is he capable of winning a regular tour event. He is, in reality, a well-below average PGA Tour player.

“The numbers are instructive. So far in 2015, Tiger has hit 52.86 per cent of the fairways he has aimed at. That would make him the 194th most accurate driver (out of 199) on the PGA Tour. In ‘greens in regulation’, his percentage is 61.11, “good” enough for 190th spot. But the most egregious figure is his stroke average of 72.796. Only former Masters champion Mike Weir is worse. Little wonder then, that Woods is ranked the 241st best golfer on the planet,” concluded Huggan.
Enough of the negative.

Zach Johnson won the Open Championship and he is now a two-time major champion who solidified his position in the World Golf Hall of Fame. He is 39-years old and hails from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Johnson is too old to be considered a young gun, but not old enough to be looked at as an old veteran. He is Midwest through and through. Loaded with guts and determination, Johnson should be an inspiration to anyone who ever attempted to play the game.

Few golf fans were not rooting like crazy for Spieth to win the Open Championship and continue his quest for the elusive Grand Slam- winning all four majors in the same season. But, he failed and joined Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer as the only players in the history of golf to win The Masters and the U.S. Open and lose the British Open by a single shot. That is an impressive club for Spieth to join.

Uncharacteristically, it was the putter that betrayed Spieth. He had five 3-putt greens in the third round and 4-putted the 8th hole in the final round. St. Andrews has fourteen double greens and players can find themselves with very lengthy putts, especially in windy conditions.
“My stroke was good. I had really good practice. On these practice greens you're not able to get a good feel for the touch. It's tough to get pace practice because they're so small, so I didn't have much of it this week, and I kind of had to go off my feels, when typically you've got enough room -- I did plenty of work on the golf course”, said Spieth.

“It's no excuse, but as far as right before the round getting a pace for that day and the conditions and how the greens are cut, it's tough. You have to kind of go with it after you have one long putt. That was the struggle for me in this tournament was what my -- I think my biggest advantage over anybody in the world is, and that's my first putt proximity, and that was -- I think on the lower half of the field this week, and it certainly cost me at least a couple shots,” Spieth concluded.

There are many impressive things about Spieth besides his abilities on the course. He speaks in a tongue well beyond his years. He has earned the respect of his peers and everyone in the game.
Jim “Bones” Mackay is Phil Mickelson’s caddy. When his final round with Lefty was completed, Bones went back to the 17th hole to watch Spieth finish.

"I just think the kid is special," Mackay said. "I think he's gifted between the ears. When I say gifted, I mean like Jack Nicklaus-gifted. Jordan is going to do amazing things because he's such a killer between the ears."

This is a special time for professional golf. Who would ever imagine that the Open Championship would provide such drama without McIlroy- the defending Open champ and top player in the world? This current cast of characters could be a legendary list in a couple of decades. Tiger who?

Sunday, July 12, 2015


It’s been another eventful week for golf and the action has unfortunately again been off of the golf course. Donald Trump, who inside of golf, is viewed as a successful golf course developer and owner of premier golf facilities. He is also highly connected to all of golf’s major organizations as a host of events ranging from major championships to PGA TOUR events.

Trump is now a 2016 Republican candidate for President of the United States. He recently created a firestorm of controversy and criticism for the following comments he made a couple of weeks ago regarding illegal aliens entering the U.S. from Mexico.

“The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Trump was referring to illegal aliens, not Mexican-American citizens who earned their right to live in this country. A few days after the highly controversial remarks, Trump tried to clarify his position.
“I like Mexico. I love the Mexican people. I do business with the Mexican people, but you have people coming through the border that are from all over. And they’re bad. They’re really bad,” he said. “You have people coming in, and I’m not just saying Mexicans. I’m talking about people that are from all over that are killers and rapists and they’re coming into this country.”

Interestingly, Trump has risen in the polls since speaking out on the immigration problems that face the United States. Currently, he is second in the Republican polls with 12% voter approval. He trails Jeb Bush who has 19%. If Trump fails to get the GOP nomination, there is a good chance that he might run as an Independent candidate. He claims to be worth $8.7 billion which gives him the financial foundation to complete the race.

This week, USA Today explored the Trump political appeal. Several things surfaced. “He says what everyone else thinks but is afraid to say because they want to be politically correct. For every candidate who is pushed and prodded by political consultants and polls, there is a Trump sound bite. Trump is not in it for the money. He doesn’t have to pander donors, because he is paying for his campaign himself. He just wants to fix the country.”

But it wasn’t all positive. “Trump will eventually say something destructive to his candidacy. Trump mocks and insults his opponents, from Mitt Romney (who he says is worth less than Trump’s Gucci store) to Rosie O’Donnell, whom Trump called “Fat Little Rosie” during a feud.

Safe to say, in many ways that you never know what you are going to get with Donald Trump. I was the President of the PGA of America when it entered into a business deal with Trump. That included the 2022 PGA Championship at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster, the 2017 Senior PGA at Trump National GC Washington DC, as well as a four-year Trump sponsorship of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf beginning in 2015. We were all happy to do business with Trump.

During my PGA Presidency I spent time with Trump. I have been in his office at 725 5th Avenue in Manhattan. We have discussed renovation plans and looked at blue prints for Turnberry GC in Scotland which Trump acquired over a year ago. We played golf together at Trump National in Bedminster and I had the privilege to be his guest at Trump International in Scotland a year ago this week during the Scottish Open. I have spoken on the phone with Trump numerous times on a variety of subjects. I feel like I know the man and understand him- as much as anyone can.

I do not believe that Donald Trump is a bigot. I do believe that he shoots from the hip at times and he is certainly a polarizing individual. Trump is generous and well-liked by the people who work for him. He flaunts his successes which turns a lot of people off. Can he be the President of the United States? Voters will make that choice.

This week the PGA of America yanked the upcoming Grand Slam of Golf from Trump Los Angeles. However, it decided to let Trump properties continue to host the remaining three Grand Slams and both Majors. That is a curious reaction from the PGA who has been all about political correctness, diversity and inclusion. It’s surprising that the PGA’s approach to Trump was not “all or nothing at all.”

Trump was fired last week by NBC after his Mexican remarks. No more “The Apprentice” or any of the Trump-owned beauty pageants. In turn Trump is suing NBC for $500 million and he has banned network employees from the Doral resort which he owns. NBC/Golf Channel has the television rights to the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. NBC is also a major media partner with the PGA of America stemming from the Ryder Cup TV rights through 2030. NBC means more to the PGA than does Trump. Stayed tuned to see what eventually happens with the last three years of the Trump sponsored PGA Grand Slam of Golf.

Trump has certainly put the PGA Tour, USGA, PGA of America, the LPGA and the R&A in a tough spot. Some are saying that Turnberry may now be dropped from the Open Championship rotation and that would be a shame. The PGA Tour faces tough decisions with its WGC event at Trump-owned Doral. That event is sponsored by Cadillac which has factories in Mexico. The USGA is scheduled to play the U.S. Women’s Open at Trump Bedminster in two years.

Can Donald Trump be a Presidential candidate and stay active in professional golf? It doesn’t appear that will be the case. But knowing Trump, he has that figured out, too.           

Friday, June 12, 2015

US Open- Preview

This week’s United State Open might turn out to be the most interesting and unique major championship of the 2015 season. Chambers Bay, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., is located on the Puget Sound in University Place, Washington. Golf fans will find the viewing to be spectacular and like nothing they are used to seeing in the U.S.

In preparation for this story I reached out to Michael Bamberger, my good friend and noted writer for Sports Illustrated. What can you tell me that I need to know about Chambers Bay?
“Phil (Mickelson) told me he is going to Chambers Bay looking to win his second British Open- that says it all,” said Bamberger.

The terrain at Chambers Bay is rugged and wind-blown. Mickelson’s analogy is spot on because this U.S. Open venue takes on the characteristics of many of the courses in the British Open rotation. Players will be required to bump and run, but at the same time deal with obstacles such as Hell’s Acre which abuts an old quarry wall.

Several holes are extremely narrow and an errant tee shot will find a waste bunker in the sand dunes or thick and gnarly fescue areas. The 17th Hole is a long par three with the winds of the Puget Sound likely staring players in the face. To add that element of quirkiness, freight trains will pass along the back edge of the green.

This will be the second major championship played at Chambers Bay. The 2010 U.S. Amateur Championship was held here and during the competition twelve spectators suffered broken ankles. This is one of those major championship sites where you have to seriously ask, “Why would you attend this when you can sit in the comfort of your living room and watch others- players and spectators- battle the elements?”

From the time the USGA announced that it would be taking the U.S. Open to Chambers Bay it has been a controversial site. If need be, this par 70 course can stretch to 7,795 yards. The Front Nine can measure 4,019 yards from the tips. Factor the wind, firmness of the ground and the roll out that balls with the uneven terrain and this could be more entertaining that anything golf fans have witnessed in years. 

Golfers are somewhat sadistic by nature and they love watching other golfers suffer. Back in April, USGA Executive Director Mike Davis threw gasoline on the fire when he said, “The idea of coming in and playing two practice rounds and having your caddie just walk it and using your yardage book, that person’s done, will not win the U.S. Open.”

Webb Simpson scoffed and said he would be playing for second place. Ian Poulter said that other players told him the course was “a complete farce.” Rory McIlroy asked about Davis’ handicap when questioning the Exec’s predictions on player preparation. Most experts on course setup fear that windy, dry conditions could cause the USGA to lose control of the course, similar to what happened at Shinnecock Hills in ’04. 

Tiger Woods evidently took heed to Davis’ warnings as he reportedly spent seven hours playing his first 18-hole practice round at Chambers Bay. Mickelson also added, “The first time you play, it’s like St. Andrews. You don’t know where to go. The more you play it, the more you like it.”
The problem the players had in preparing for Chambers Bay was getting there. The PGA Tour schedule was tight and being played in the Southeast. A trek across country to University Place was not easy. So, despite Davis’ warnings many will show up, do their two practice rounds and head to the tee on Thursday.        

I applaud the USGA for its selection of another unique U.S. Open venue. Critics said Merion was too short for a national championship in 2013. Davis proved otherwise. His brilliance in course setup demonstrated that the USGA had found a formula for transforming courses which were once considered obsolete due to a lack of length.

Without question the most prepared individual at Chambers Bay this week will be Davis. His neck is on the line for a couple of reasons. The obvious we just covered. The other will be the debut of FOX Sports and its coverage of U.S. Open. Not only will it be FOX’s debut, but the challenges inherit with a site as rugged as Chambers Bay will test the network’s lack of production experience. 

Finding much of the U.S. Open coverage will be a challenge for golf’s TV viewers. FOX Sports 1 will do much of the telecast this week and it’s still not a “regular channel” in many households. As a service to the USGA here is the schedule for the week. All times are EST.
Thursday, June 18- First Round Noon-8 pm FOX Sports 1 8-11 pm FOX
Friday, June 19- Second Round Noon-8 pm FOX Sports 1 8-11 pm FOX
Saturday, June 20- Third Round 2-10 pm FOX 
Sunday, June 21- Final Round 2-10:30 pm FOX
Monday, June 22- Playoff Noon-4 pm (if needed)

 “I’d love to see Phil complete the career Grand Slam. He’s been great for golf and deserves it, but I don’t see it. He’ll be 45 and Opens are hard to win. They’re 72 holes of sheer grinding and I don’t think that is Phil’s specialty. Majors are a young man’s game,” concludes Bamberger who favors McIlroy to win.

This U.S. Open is far too difficult to handicap. My only prediction is that it will be the most entertaining major of the 2015 golf season and the USGA gets all of the credit for that. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Jack Nicklaus

Fifty years ago in 1965 Jack Nicklaus won five tournaments on the PGA Tour, more than any professional golfer in that season. He was the leading money winner on the PGA Tour with earnings of $140,752. The 1965 season consisted of 40 official money events starting on January 11 with the Los Angeles Open and ending on November 28 with the Cajun Classic. 

Nicklaus’ five victories came at The Masters where he won $20,000; the Memphis Open which had a winner’s share of $9,000, the Thunderbird Classic where he pocketed $20,000; the Philadelphia Golf Classic where he won $24,300 and the Portland Open which gave the Golden Bear a check for $6,600 after he won. 

Besides the $20k that Nicklaus won at The Masters, the winners of the other 1965 major championships received the following. U.S. Open Champion Gary Player won $26,000. British Open winner Peter Thompson got the equivalent of paltry $4,600 in American currency and Dave Marr received a $25,000 check for winning the PGA Championship. Tony Lema received the biggest winner’s paycheck in 1965- $35,000 at the Carling World Open.  

The Top Ten money winners on the PGA Tour in 1965 were:

1. Jack Nicklaus $140,752
2. Tony Lema $101,816
3. Billy Casper $99,931 
4. Doug Sanders $72,182 
5. Gary Player $69,964 
6. Bruce Devlin $67,657 
7. Dave Marr $63,375  
8. Al Geiberger $59,699 
9. Gene Littler $58,898 
10. Arnold Palmer $57,770

Nicklaus played in 20 tournaments that season. He did not miss a cut and had 17 Top-10 finishes. In addition to his five victories, Nicklaus was runner-up five times in 1965. His Masters’ victory was by nine shots and his 72-hole score of 17 under par were both records at the time. 

Amazingly, Nicklaus finished as runner-up in the Player of the Year Award to the gregarious Marr. Over the years Nicklaus has transformed his image. At an early age he was the overweight, abrasive kid that overthrew “The King” Arnold Palmer from golf’s throne. But, how could Jack not be the Player of the Year in ’65? 

Dan Jenkins was covering golf for Sports Illustrated at the time. His recollections were interesting.

“I didn’t realize that. I’ve always that it was a PGA vote and for its champion. Your organization did that quite often. I was very much around then and do not recall Jack being hated by us writing slaves. We still favored Arnold. He was taking the game to a new level of popularity, but we recognized that Jack was younger and longer and unstoppable. Wish I could be more help at this stage of my development,” said the 85-year old Jenkins. 

Next week Nicklaus will host the PGA Tour at The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield GC in Dublin, Ohio. This is a course that Jack built and owns. Fifty years after he was the most dominating player in the game Nicklaus and his wife, Barbara, will serve as gracious hosts to most of the world’s top players. Barbara will personally supply her own chocolate chip cookies and homemade milk shakes to any player that is obliged to consume them. For most of the world’s best players it will be like spending a week with your favorite grandparents.

This will be the 40th edition of Jack’s Memorial Tournament. The purse will be $6.2 million. Defending Champion Hideki Matsuyama won $1.116 million in 2014. 10th place paid $167,400- more than Nicklaus won in 1965. 

Several years ago I was in a meeting with Nicklaus and Ian Baker-Finch. The subject of career earnings came up and Jack told Baker-Finch and me that the biggest winning paychecks he ever had were $150,000 when he won The Tradition in 1995 and ’96. 

Golf has changed a lot in the last 50 years. The PGA TOUR is now run by the players and not the PGA of America. The players took over in 1968 and the TOUR is better for that. But, it’s refreshing to see the most dominant player of the modern era still involved as Nicklaus is. The Memorial is more than one of the top TOUR events. It’s a celebration of Jack’s great career.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Last week Rickie Fowler won arguably the most exciting professional golf event of the year at The Players Championship. He did so by making eight birdies in his final ten holes of play. This included a four-hole playoff. Fowler finished with six straight birdies in regulation. Three times in less than two hours, Fowler birdied the famous 17th hole, an island green par three (twice during the playoff). That feat probably ruined Mother’s Day for Pete Dye, the diabolical golf course architect.

It was a sweet win for Fowler who was recently voted as “co-most overrated player on the PGA Tour” by his peers in a poll released last week from SI’s Fowler received 24% of the vote along with Ian Poulter. Bubba Watson finished third with 12% and Hunter Mahan was fourth with 8%. The poll was conducted anonymously with players from the PGA TOUR, the LPGA Tour and the Champions Tour. It’s easy to say things anonymously.

The term over rated is defined as “having a higher opinion of someone or something than is deserved.” The fact that the poll was anonymously conducted raises plenty of questions on its validity. The poll provided a constant back drop during The Players, particularly by Golf Channel on Fowler and Poulter. A large portion of the stories written after Fowler’s win contained a headline with ‘overrated’ in it. These were sarcastic references to the poll validating Fowler’s win and the instant status he now has earned with his Players Championship.

In 2014 Fowler finished in the top five of all four majors. His peers saying that he was overrated was probably because prior to Sunday he had only had one PGA Tour victory. Saying Bubba Watson is overrated is ridiculous given his two Masters wins and a WGC title. In Hunter Mahan’s case, some people would say that he should have more wins given his talent.

And how about Poulter as co-over rated? Poulter is a lot of things. He is colorful, brash, outspoken, cocky, a fierce competitor, the modern day American Ryder Cup nemesis and a man who has 1.8 million followers on Twitter. For a guy who actually started working in golf as a club pro, Poulter has achieved two PGA Tour wins and 12 European Tour wins. Ian Poulter is anything but over rated.

As I watched Fowler’s remarkable performance on Sunday afternoon I sent several Tweets containing #overrated, which was my way of taking a slap at the poll. That night after Fowler’s win I sent the following tweet.

“Rickie Fowler- the legend is made. Only one over rated player left…..” The intent was to put into perspective what the win would mean to Rickie and to take one last shot at the “over rated” poll. It was never intended to slam Ian Poulter.

While my wife and I were enjoying a Mother’s Day dinner, Poulter responded to my Tweet. He obviously took offense and thought I was taking a shot at him.
“Oh Ted Ted Ted…. I thought you learnt you lesson the last time. Obviously not.”
Poulter followed that up with another Tweet containing a screen saved text I sent him last Thanksgiving setting up a phone call to apologize for our first social media encounter last October. He underscored it with, “I guess @tedbishop38pga is still confused. I should have replied to this message the way I wanted to.”

Literally moments after Pouter’s second Tweet, I received a text from Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press. It said, “I know you can’t be impeached twice J but the sarcasm was missing. This is gaining traction.”

To which I responded, “The whole ‘over rated’ poll was a farce as Fowler proved today. I never said Poulter was over rated, his peers did.”

After my text exchange with Ferguson, it was obvious that some were misinterpreting my Tweet. I then sent another Tweet trying to clarify the issue, “I guess my sarcasm on the ‘over rated’ poll went right over some people’s head like @IanJamesPoulter.  Fowler proved it was a farce. #relax”.
I spoke with Ferguson on Tuesday. He never wrote a story. He said he texted me Sunday night because he thought the sarcasm might have been missing and wanted to hear from me.

On the other hand, Golf Channel decided not to run my second Tweet in its web site story, which attempted to clarify my position. None of their television commentators referenced it or ever reached out to me at any time during the days that followed when they put me on the smorgasbord of criticism. No other media outlet contacted me besides Ferguson and many wrote about the Twitter altercation between Poulter and me.

Due to the popularity of social media, today’s society is more about written communication than it is verbal. Unfortunately for me, my social media communication lacks facial expressions and voice inflections. Good natured sarcasm is a staple in my arsenal and those who know me will validate that. Ian Poulter and I do have that in common.

The end of this story is simple. Ian Poulter sure as hell is not over rated. And thanks to Doug Ferguson for making the effort to clarify his interpretation of the situation before reporting about what he thought he saw.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Jordan Spieth

One of my early encounters with Jordan Spieth was in an elevator in Columbus, Ohio during the 2013 President’s Cup. He had been chosen as a Captain’s pick by Fred Couples and it was Spieth’s first experience with international team golf competition. I introduced myself and offered some long-term encouragement.

“I just want you to know that all of us at the PGA of America, and in particular, Tom Watson were really pleased to see you get named to this team. Watson really wants you on next year’s Ryder Cup team,” I said.

“Mr. Bishop, that is my main goal for next year- to make that Ryder Cup team,” said Spieth.
Mr. Bishop? Not too many 20-year olds would have even remembered a name after a brief introduction. It was very clear to me during that 30-second encounter that there was something very special about this kid.

I watched him during the week and at times he was clearly nervous and struggled with the magnitude of the moment. He was strategically paired early in that President’s Cup with veteran Steve Stricker. A week after the U.S. won the competition I had a chance to talk with Stricker.

“I really enjoyed playing with Jordan. He is a special talent. It was kind of weird playing with a guy as a partner who is young enough to be my son,” quipped Stricker. “But, hey, Tom Watson is old enough to be his grandpa if Jordan makes the Ryder Cup!”

Spieth did make that 2014 Ryder Cup team and despite all of the scrutiny of Watson’s inability to relate to his younger players that was definitely not the case with Spieth who was 2-2 at Gleneagles. Spieth and his playing partner, Patrick Reed, became stalwarts in the first couple of days at that Ryder Cup.    

Stricker’s observation of Watson being old enough to be Spieth’s grandfather was prophetic in many ways. During that week at Gleneagles, Spieth listened to Watson, sought his counsel and spring boarded it to a successful Ryder Cup debut. It was definitely like watching a grandson proudly glean history and insight from a grandfather.

But that would be Jordan Spieth who is definitely a product of a solid upbringing by his mom and dad, Chris and Shawn. Both parents were athletes in their own right. Chris was a women’s college basketball player at Moravian College while Shawn was a former baseball player at Lehigh. They created a highly grounded family environment for Jordan and his brother, Steven, who starts on the Brown basketball team- as well as 14-year old Ellie, the youngest sibling who has a neurological disorder that has led to autism.

In an story on the Friday of The Masters, Chris Spieth wanted people to know that Ellie has shaped her brother more than any swing coach ever could.
“Jordan wouldn’t be where he’s at today if he didn’t grow up with Ellie. She always thought that her brothers won at everything,” said Chris. “So, there’s no way they were allowed to be down around her. No way. Jordan realizes this isn’t real life at The Masters. Trying to sit around and have dinner when his sister doesn’t want to eat when everybody else is eating and has a fit, that’s real life.”
“She is the funniest member of our family,” Jordan said. “I really love when she’s able to be out there. Love spending time with her. It’s humbling to see her and her friends and the struggles they go through each day that we take for granted- their kind of lack of patience or understanding, where it seems easy for us and it’s not for them.

“But, at the same time, they are the happiest people in the world, and when I say they, I speak to special-needs kids. And my experience with her and in her class and with her friends, it’s fantastic. I love being part of it and helping support it.”

Spieth’s rise to professional golf fame has come quickly. He left college after his freshman year at Texas when the Longhorns won a National Championship. In 2010, at the age of 16, Spieth was a member of the U.S. Junior Ryder Cup team. Little did any of us know at the time what was ahead in the next five years for this kid from who would win three times on the PGA Tour including a Masters and as well as the Australian Open- plus a spot on the President’s Cup and the Ryder Cup.

In the days that followed the Masters, Spieth went on a whirlwind tour which included numerous media stops in New York City. He had previously committed to play the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head. Everybody would have understood if Spieth had backed out of that the week after his win at Augusta. In the first round he shot 74 and appeared fatigued. On Friday he rebounded with a 62 and wound up finishing 10th. He played in this tournament because it had given him a sponsor’s exemption earlier in his career when he needed it.

On that Sunday night, Spieth boarded a jet and flew to Dallas to help present the Female Vocalist of the Year Award at the American Country Music Awards. He wore his green jacket onto the stage in front of a standing ovation from his hometown fans. Spieth looked awkward in the moment, but if you know Jordan it was his humility shining through.

Miranda Lambert won the award and never so much as acknowledged Spieth during the presentation. She probably wondered who the usher in the green jacket was. It was a telling moment and it put golf celebrity status into proper perspective.

But, it was another defining moment in the great personal life of Jordan Spieth. Golf fans will have decades to enjoy the evolution of the next American superstar. My prediction is that it will be a glorious ride not marred by any off-course controversies. Speith is the stuff that real heroes are made of.       




Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Masters Preview

It’s tough to beat this week in sports. The NCAA basketball finals. Opening Day for Major League Baseball. The Masters week. There is something for everyone and even many casual or non-golfers will tune into The Masters this weekend. This golf tournament has become the biggest in the world.
For many golf operators in the Northern States this week kicks off another new season. There is something about the pristine beauty of Augusta National that motivates all of us associated with the sport of golf. Everybody will optimistically approach 2015 next week and we can thank The Masters for that. 

As compelling as the telecast of The Masters is, golfers will have a hard time staying in front of the TV this week and not heading to the course to play or hit golf balls. I was a victim of that in 1986 when Jack Nicklaus became the oldest winner of The Masters at the age of 46. The finish that year was going to be a good one with Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman and Bernhard Langer all in the mix. Nicklaus had played the first eight holes in even par and it looked like he was a non-factor.

Some of my buddies and I were watching The Masters at the Phil Harris Golf Course in Linton. We were itching to get out and play ourselves. So, we hit the links mid-afternoon only to miss one of the most historic finishes ever. Nicklaus would make a birdie on #9 and then fire a six-under par 30 on the Back Nine to edge Norman and win his sixth Masters title.

The 2015 Masters story lines are numerous. Rory McIlroy will be trying to win his career Grand Slam. He has won the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship. Only a Green Jacket at Augusta eludes the lad from Northern Ireland when it comes to major championship victories.

Bubba Watson will attempt to win back-to-back Masters. The last time this happened was in 2001-’02 when Tiger Woods did it. Nick Faldo (1989-’90) and Jack Nicklaus (1965-’66) are the only other players to win two consecutive Masters. With another victory Watson would join the elite group of Faldo, Jimmy Demaret, Sam Snead, Gary Player and Phil Mickelson as three-time winners.

Lefties have won six of the past twelve Masters starting with Mike Weir in 2003. Mickelson did it in 2004- ‘06- ’10 and then Bubba in 2012- ’14. All three are right to left players and today’s Augusta National demands that ball flight. A win this year would also mean Watson has won three of the past four Masters. Only Nicklaus has equaled that feat by winning in 1963- ’65- ’66.

The hottest player on the PGA Tour right now is Jordan Spieth. In the last three weeks he has a victory, a runner-up and a sudden death playoff loss on Sunday at the Shell Houston Open. A year ago at The Masters, Spieth had a two shot lead early in the final round, but he fell to Watson and ultimately finished tied for second. Spieth just seems to improve every week.

Jimmy Walker has five PGA Tour victories in the past 18 months, a feat unmatched by any player including McIlroy. Walker won as recently as two weeks ago at San Antonio. He has what it takes to win at Augusta. Walker has length and a great short game. Of local interest, his caddy is Andy Sanders whose father, Greg, graduated from Franklin High School.   
There will be plenty of attention on Ben Crenshaw who will playing in his final Masters. He won this event in 1984 and 1995. Crenshaw will probably make his final stroll up the 18th Fairway at The Masters on Friday. Gentle Ben will be playing in his 44th Masters this week and he has recorded a top five finish on eight occasions. Crenshaw who is considered as one of the finest putters in the history of the game won the ’95 Masters and never recorded a three-putt- a rare feat on Augusta’s tricky greens.

You can always count on some quirky drama at The Masters. Even though the course has gotten longer over the years, in 2014 Miguel Angel Jimenez and Bernhard Langer, both Seniors, finished in the Top 10. Two years ago during the second round Woods hit a perfect third shot into the par-5 15th Hole only to have his ball hit the flagstick and bound backwards into the lake in front of the green. He took an incorrect drop which led to a controversial penalty being assessed the following day forcing him out of contention with an 8 on the hole.    
Speaking of Woods, he will be making another comeback this week. I have lost track of Tiger’s comebacks. It’s getting old from a legend who has all of a sudden become long in the tooth for a 39-year old. Don’t expect anything out of Woods this week. His recent chipping woes set him up for failure with Augusta’s green side undulations and tight lies.

In a recent poll conducted by Geoff Shackelford of Golf Digest, 68% of the 1,000 plus who voted said that Woods would either miss the Masters cut, not finish the first two rounds or never even make it to the tee on Thursday. Woods has taken lots of time off to work on his game and get ready for The Masters. Sadly, I am afraid we will again see a man who is only a shadow of himself.

Conversely, The Masters won’t let us down this week. It always delivers lots of special moments filled with beautiful scenery. Whatever the story lines that are about to unfold, they will be historic and we will talk about them for years to come. After all, this is The Masters.     

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer is 85 years old. This week he will again serve as host to his own Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando. For true golf fans this is one of the most precious weeks on the golf calendar. Not even the great ones like Palmer can defy age. Who knows how many more of these Bay Hill events The King will be able to host?

The top five players in the Official World Golf Rankings- Rory McIlroy; Bubba Watson; Henrik Stenson; Adam Scott and Jason Day will all be in this week’s field. This is a fitting tribute to Palmer and what he did to forge the modern day game. Still, many of golf’s top players will not be at Bay Hill this week and that is too bad because this should be an event that all PGA TOUR players mark on their calendars. 

Spending a week with Arnold Palmer at this stage in his life is being in rarified air. Even his age, Palmer has a lot to offer today’s players. He is still a mentor, a great sportsman and someone who players can learn from. But, more than that, playing in the Arnold Palmer Invitational is a fitting way to say thanks to the guy who made today’s multi-million dollar purses possible.

Several years ago during the week of Bay Hill, Palmer talked about his commitment to the PGA TOUR during his early days as a professional golfer. He spoke of the obligation that he felt to attend cookouts and cocktail parties early in the week of TOUR events as a display of support to the tournament sponsors who put up the hard work and dollars. Playing in the weekly pro-am was something Palmer said he looked forward to.

More revealing was hearing Palmer say that he felt an obligation to play in every PGA TOUR stop at least once in a three or four year period of time. He admitted that it was impossible to commit to every tournament in a given year, but Palmer recognized the importance of his presence to all tournament sponsors.

Many of today’s top players will commit to a schedule that only includes 15-17 events per year. This includes the four major championships, The Players Championship plus the five World Golf Championship events. Unfortunately for the rest of the regular TOUR stops that doesn’t leave much support from the game’s top players. This was evident during the West Coast swing earlier this winter when most of the top players skipped all or most of the events.

Granted the landscape of today’s professional game is different than it was back in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s when Palmer was making his mark on the TOUR. Today’s players are earning millions from outside endorsements and they simply don’t need to play in 25-30 events per year. This is unhealthy for the long-term stability of the professional game. 

To Palmer’s credit, even at age 85, when his game has deserted him, he shows up at Augusta National and plays in the Par 3 tournament. He fell this winter and injured his shoulder, but he will still attempt to hit the ceremonial first tee shot to start the 2015 Masters. People don’t care where the tee shot goes. So what if Arnie tops a shot in the Par 3? This might be your last chance to see Arnold Palmer swing a golf club. 

On two occasions I had the opportunity to meet with Palmer in his second floor Bay Hill office overlooking the course he built. The first time was on the Monday after his tournament in 2013 and the subject was the proposed ban of the anchored stroke. The next time was in May 2014 and the subject was his father, Deacon, and the formation of an award by the PGA of America to recognize Palmer’s father for his accomplishments in golf.

Each time I entered Palmer’s office my heart was pounding with anticipation knowing that I was in the presence of possibly the most influential person in the sport’s history. His office is cluttered with memorabilia and family photos. Two large leather arm chairs sit in front of his desk. His big yellow lab, Mulligan, will either greet you in the receiving area outside the office or quietly keep an eye on you while softly panting on the floor next to The King. 

Palmer still has the charisma and the charm. He can still stare you down with that stern look that makes your knees tremble. His hand shake is extremely firm. The twinkle still exists in those aging eyes. The infectious smile that won the hearts of millions still comes easy for Palmer. But, sadly Arnold Palmer is entering the winter of his great life.

This is a very special week in golf. We never know when an Arnold Palmer Invitational might be the last of its kind. These are the final pages of history being turned.       

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Billy Casper

Billy Casper passed away Saturday at the age of 83. He was one of the finest gentlemen in the history of the game and one of the sports’ most underrated players. His record speaks for itself. Fifty-one PGA career wins ranks him seventh all-time. He won two U.S. Opens and one Masters. He won at least one tournament a year from 1956-71 which was a record exceeded by only Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

Casper played on eight Ryder Cup teams and his 23.5 points are the most won by an American player. He also served as Captain in 1979 at The Greenbrier when the U.S. beat Europe by a score of 17-11.

Casper’s greatest victory came in the 1966 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco when he entered the final nine holes seven shots behind Arnold Palmer. Let’s hear the rest of the story in Casper’s own words from a 2012 interview I did with him for a previous story.

“I’d played the front nine in 36, one over par. I was still the closest of anyone in the field to Arnold, but that wasn’t saying much. I was seven shots behind with nine holes to play.

“You could practically feel the energy generated by Arnold’s front nine. Every hole, the crowd got bigger- until it reached a certain critical mass and actually began to get smaller as some people, their views completely obscured, gave up and left the course for home so they could watch Arnie win on TV. I couldn’t leave, but I was as ready to place the U.S. Open crown on Arnold Palmer’s head as anyone. At that point I was two shots ahead of Jack Nicklaus and Tony Lema and as we stood on the tenth tee about to start the final nine, I said to Arnold, ‘I’d like to finish second.’

“He answered, ‘I’ll do everything I can to help you.’

“It was a light-hearted exchange; mine an acknowledgement of his commanding lead and his an acknowledgement that of course he’d help me finish second- by finishing first,” said Casper.

Over the next couple of hours, Palmer’s game unraveled and Casper slowly but surely picked up ground and eventually made up the seven-shot deficit. It was one of the most incredible comebacks in the history of the U.S. Open. Both players were tied after 72 holes and an 18-hole playoff would begin the next morning at 10:30. Casper picks up the story.

“As impressive as anything Arnold Palmer did in his entire career was the way that he handled the press conference that followed. Over the years, as I have watched countless heartbreaking losses at sporting events, live and on television, and sometimes seen the victims of those skip out on press conferences or give surly one-word responses to the media, I think of Arnold that day at Olympic,” said Casper.

Dan Jenkins was covering the U.S. Open for Sports Illustrated and on Sunday he told me the following.    

“I just remember how pissed off Arnold was (mostly at himself) and yet how sportingly he held it in. As I just tweeted this morning, nobody during Casper's peak years ever wanted to copy any part of his game, but all he did was win tournaments and finish high. If anyone ever came close to hitting as many fairways and greens as Hogan, it may have been Billy,” said Jenkins.
“I watched that last nine holes and I still can't believe what I was seeing. Most of us in the press were rooting for Arnold, of course, and rooting for him to break Hogan's 72-hole record. Arnold did confess later that he was thinking more about breaking the record than making sure he won the championship. 

Arnold took that loss real hard, but I'm not among those who thought he never got over it. He went on to challenge and came close to winning the PGAs of '68 and '70,” added Jenkins. 

And Casper saw it the same way, “For almost an hour they grilled Palmer about this shot and that shot and this decision and that decision. He sat there and took it until the last question was asked. When it was over a USGA official asked him if he wanted to exit by a side door so he could avoid the crowds out front. ‘Naw,’ he said, ‘The way I played, I deserve whatever they do to me.’”

After the press conference Palmer and Casper went their separate ways. Palmer went to a friend’s house in the city and had a quiet dinner. Casper previously agreed to do a fireside chat at a Mormon meeting house approximately 40 miles north of San Francisco. Little did Casper know when he agreed to do the fireside chat that he would be involved in an 18-hole playoff the following day for the U.S. Open. 

“A deal’s a deal. I changed and drove straight to the church, arriving almost an hour late. The chapel was full. No one had left. I can remember the length of every putt and exactly what club I hit on every shot that Sunday, but to this day the most I can remember about that fireside chat is talking about my trip to Vietnam. But I must have said something mildly interesting because it was after eleven o’clock when the meeting ended,” recalled Casper.

Casper returned to the house where he was staying in San Francisco. He hadn’t eaten since lunch. His wife, Shirley, turned on the grill and he had a midnight dinner of pork chops, green beans and salad. Then, in his own words, “I went to bed and slept like a man with nothing to lose.”

On Monday Casper fired a 69 compared to Palmer’s 73 to win the U.S. Open title. For his efforts, Casper won $25,000 of which he gave 10% to the Mormon Church. A forgotten stat from the ’66 Open is that there were only 15 rounds under 70 the entire week and Casper had four of them.
Only Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have a higher percentage of Wins and Top Ten Finishes per start than Casper. Only Woods (8) has more Vardon Trophies than Casper (5). Many would place Casper among the ten best golfers in history. 

More importantly, he is considered to be one of the finest men ever to play the professional game. He and Shirley raised eleven children. The Caspers devoted their lives to their church, family and others who needed help. That is how Billy Casper would like to be remembered.