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Golf leader reflects on memorable initial year in charge

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PGA of America President Ted Bishop addresses attendess during the 97th PGA Annual Meeting at The Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina in San Diego, Ca. Bishop is the director of golf and general manager of The Legends Golf Club in Franklin. Photos courtesy PGA of America.
PGA of America President Ted Bishop addresses attendess during the 97th PGA Annual Meeting at The Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina in San Diego, Ca. Bishop is the director of golf and general manager of The Legends Golf Club in Franklin. Photos courtesy PGA of America.

Ted Bishop’s first calendar year as PGA of America president included a total of 194 travel days.

It’s yet to be determined how many suitcase packings and drives to the airport Bishop’s second and final year will entail, though the numbers should be comparable.

Since being elected to the two-year term Nov. 10, 2012, Bishop — like the 37 individuals who preceded him — has been presented unique challenges as the PGA of America continues its quest of growing the sport of golf.

Bishop’s tenure officially concludes Nov. 22. This gives the general manager and PGA director of golf at The Legends Golf Club in Franklin 10 months to continue increasing the PGA of America’s reach as it pertains to important matters within the sport.

Bishop’s first order of business came a month into his term, when he named four-time Ryder Cup veteran Tom Watson to captain the United States Ryder Cup team in September. The announcement was universally well-received. Watson, 64, previously captained the victorious 1993 American team.

Also newsworthy in Bishop’s first year as president were his efforts to block the ban on anchored putting during tournament competition.

Unsuccessful in this venture, Bishop’s voice has nonetheless been heard. So much so, in fact, that last month’s issue of Golf World ranked Bishop No. 12 in its list of the sport’s top 25 newsmakers of 2013.

Daily Journal sportswriter Mike Beas recently caught up with Bishop at the Legends to recap the PGA of America president’s first year:

Did your first year as PGA president go fast or slow?

I think it went pretty fast, actually. It seemed like we had some major development take place about every month, so it went by pretty quick.

What to this point are you the most proud?

It’s hard to identify one single thing that stands out, but I would think at this point in time I feel like the greatest accomplishment might be this relationship between the PGA Tour and the PGA of America. You really have to know a little bit about the history of the organizations to understand that, because we had a pretty ugly split back in 1968, and the relationship was contentious for many years.

For whatever reason (PGA Tour) commissioner Tim Finchum and I have really just hit it off since Day 1. We have been able to, I think, accomplish a lot of great things for both of our organizations in the past year. Truthfully, our relationship probably became solidified early on when the Tour took the same stance on anchoring that the PGA of America did.

Whether it was the PGA of America recognizing the fall season for Ryder Cup points to the PGA Tour in turn condensing the Fed Ex Cup schedule into four straight weeks in 2014 so our Ryder Cup team will have a week off after the Tour Championship to the PGA of America announcing a $2 million increase in the purse in the PGA Championship, which is significant. I mean, we went from $8 million to $10 million and became the richest major championship in all of golf.

I just think when you look at the ramifications of everything we got accomplished with the PGA Tour, and really kind of the position or the place we had been with them in November of 2012, it’s pretty incredible. In a year when not all the leading organizations in golf were working together, this was a classic example of what can happen when you get two who do work together.

That being said, there are a couple of other things right behind that that are significant. First of all was the position we took on anchoring. Even though we lost the battle, so to speak, I think at the end of the day maybe we won the war from the standpoint that the PGA of America is going to have a greater voice in the composition of the rules of golf going forward.

And the selection of Tom Watson as Ryder Cup captain was a groundbreaking selection because it broke down some barriers that the PGA of America had had in determining who was going to be our Ryder Cup captain. Whether we win or lose the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, it broke the mold in a lot of ways on how we select captains, so I think there is going to be a far-reaching affect of that.

MB: Do you ever find yourself looking back and saying, “Maybe I could have done that better?”

TB: You know, not really. There’s nothing I would have done (better.) ‘Differently’ would have really been the word I would have used instead of better. Like with anchoring, we polled our members, and that’s the first time we’ve done that, so the stance we took was not my stance. It was an organizational stance.

I’d like to think part of my legacy as president would be my preparation and my thoroughness and attention to detail that really helped us make some great decisions.

In the beginning, because I was outspoken on some topics and I wasn’t afraid to express an opinion that, I got labeled as a maverick, and maybe an extremist in some regards. The thing that was really interesting was that kind of subsided, and I think there were a lot of people out there who had a lot of respect for how I handled things. How I came to making decisions.

The thing you have to understand when you sit in this position is you represent 27,000 men and women of the PGA of America. You’re front and center all the time. What you say and what you do is always going to be observed. There is no margin for error. You can’t be misquoted, and then have to spend three or four weeks trying to backtrack.

We have a tremendous media and communications department, and they’re on it each and every day. Every day I have some kind of communication with them pertaining to things I’ve said or questions I’m going to get. I’ve probably done more interviews than anybody who has been in my position. I enjoy the interaction with the media. I took the approach with the media from Day 1 that these people, I needed to have them as my friends. If they were going to have any respect for me and ask me a question, I needed to answer the question and not give them some big answer that didn’t have any substance to it. I felt that was an important priority.

MB: Is there a young golfer you truly expect to have a breakout season in 2014?

TB: I think Jordan Spieth is a guy who could really have a breakout year. You could make a case he had a breakout year last year. He’s a guy who could win a major championship. I think he’s a guy we all hope is on the Ryder Cup team. But you know what? Golf’s a fickle game. Now that there are expectations on him, it will be interesting to see how he performs in 2014.

MB: Is anchoring always going to be a controversial issue, at least in the eyes of the general golfing public?

TB: No, I think it’s over with. Obviously, the rule is going to go into play in January of 2016. I think the biggest thing that looms out there is, will the USGA and the R&A do anything in the future with the rules change that has the potential to affect the enjoyment of the game or the business of the game? I think that was the message that hopefully we conveyed, along with the PGA Tour, to them.

I have no issue with bifurcation of the rules, which means we play by two sets of rules. I really don’t see anything wrong with that. I think a lot of that is going on in golf today, anyway, at the recreational level.

MB: Are you more excited now about the decision to make Tom Watson the United States’ Ryder Cup captain in 2014 than when you first made the announcement in December 2012?

TB: Tom Watson ... what you see is pretty much what you get. One of the main reasons we picked him is we knew he was a tough guy who is organized and has strong opinions on how it should be done, and he continues to have that as we go into the Ryder Cup build-up. He’s going to do some things totally different. He’s not going to have four assistant captains, he’s going to have two. He’s a guy who is going to take complete control of the pairings. He’s not going to let players tell him who they want to play with. He’s going to tell the players who they’re going to play with.

There has been nothing about Watson that has surprised me. He has been very consistent with how I thought he would be as Ryder Cup captain. Obviously, he won’t be hitting a single shot at Gleneagles, but I do believe he does bring some intangibles to the table. And when you look at how close these Ryder Cups have been, I think a guy like Watson could make a half-point or a point difference based on something that he might do.

You’ve got two things with Tom. You have respect, and I think you also have a level of intimidation. That’s just his nature. It’s who he is. He can be abrupt. He can be pretty direct.

That’s the interesting thing about the makeup of our Ryder Cup team. You’re going to have guys on that team like Phil (Mickelson) and Tiger (Woods) and possibly (Steve) Stricker or (Jim) Furyk. These guys are old enough to be Jordan Spieth’s dad, so it’s like you’ve got two generations of players, and that’s a challenge for anybody as a captain to know how to handle all those people differently. They have different needs.

MB: How much does Ryder Cup success, or lack thereof, ultimately affect how a PGA president is viewed?

TB: I don’t think my legacy is going to be determined by how our Ryder Cup team does. I get two PGA Championships in my term, and I get only one Ryder Cup. I get two Senior PGA Championships, so basically you’ve got four major championships in a term as president, compared to one Ryder Cup.

In my case, I won’t say the pressure is on in this Ryder Cup with who the captain is. But I think if we don’t win a lot of people in the golfing world are going to look at the United States and they’re going to say, ‘OK, they pulled out all the stops. They picked Tom Watson as the captain and they still didn’t win. Now what’s going to happen?’ I don’t worry about that, but that’s what they’re going to say.

At the same time, if we do win the Ryder Cup, I’m probably going to get a lot more credit for being a genius than what I really deserve.

MB: What is the biggest challenge you have ahead of you in these remaining months as president?

TB: My main objective for 2014 is we need to promote this concept of a golf experience to the general public. Golf for years has been viewed as either a 9- or 18-hole round, and when you talk to people who don’t play the game, they will talk about the time it takes to play. What we need to do in the industry is to create this golf experience that can be anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes at a golf course. It’s a combination of instruction and play. What we need to do is get buy-in, particularly from public operators, on how they can figure out how to deliver this product to their constituency.

I do think there are a lot of people who are watching golf today and have some level of interest in the game, but who don’t go do it because they have this perception that it’s going to take two to four hours to be involved with golf. That’s the biggest challenge I see, to break down this time barrier.

If we can do that and get more people hooked on the experience of being at the golf course, and they can find out what a fun environment this is, ultimately those people become 9- and 18-hole players.

It’s like a feeder system into the game, and we’ve got to get away from thinking that golf has to be a 9- or 18-hole round. In a game that’s been around for 600 years, that’s a huge challenge to get people to think that way, and an even bigger challenge to get operators to promote that experience.

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