He has been off and running ever since. He knows that Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods (32 majors between them) are in favor of the ban. But Bishop has Tim Clark and Adam Scott! (Almost one.) Bishop polled Lee Trevino on the subject when he happened to be seated next to him on a flight from Dallas to Orlando last week. (Trevino to Far Hills: Let the belly be!) This week, the PGA expects to release another poll of its pros, about whether they support bifurcation, two sets of rules, in the case. If Bishop sees you at your neighborhood Starbucks, he’ll poll you. The man’s poll-crazy.
Just the other day he signed up Amy Wilson and Stacy Hoffman, and their hubbies (Mark and Charley) don’t even anchor. How’d he do it? He looked into their future. Did you know that nearly half the players on the Champions tour anchor? Do you realize your husbands are about 15 years away from the big five-0? Do you think the future of the Champions tour would be jeopardized if some of its great players couldn’t play without anchoring?
You could argue that’s crazy talk, that Bernhard Langer would figure out a way to putt no matter what you made him use, that Freddie’s shaky even when he bellies, and that the senior circuit could survive if Mark Wiebe, with his colorful vocab and his split-gripped putter, never made another C-tour start. Still: Ted’s been on a roll for a while, and his excellent adventure continued last week at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. He was everywhere, except at the annual outdoor Demo Day, where pros and other industry insiders get to sample the year’s new toys. It’s a colorful scene. “The USGA is worried about how anchored putting looks,” Davis Love III said last week, “and everywhere you turn there’s a white club with racing stripes on it. Is that look protecting tradition?” This from the man who on Feb. 2 is being honored with the USGA’s highest prize, the Bob Jones Award.
Bishop missed Demo Day last week because he was flying back from a one-day trip to San Diego for the Tour players’ meeting there. Now that had to be interesting. Davis was there to talk to the players about the proposed ban. Bishop, who as PGA president has a spot on the PGA Tour policy board, attended the meeting with the PGA of America’s new CEO, Pete Bevacqua, who in an earlier life spent 11 years at the USGA.
Bishop and Bevacqua were having dinner at the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines when Davis and Glen Nager, the USGA president, asked if they could join them. The four talked for the better part of an hour about their many shared interests: speeding up play, increasing junior participation, making golf more accessible to disabled players, water usage, the many people they know in common. Henry Kissinger likes to say that history is dictated by personality, and it’s possible this amicable hour of golf chat will prove to be significant. But not likely. Two days later, when referring to a Golf World story about Davis and Nager that ran under the headline Trail Blazers, Bishop was almost smirking. He doesn’t think they are trailblazers. Of course, Nager and Davis don’t see themselves as trailblazers, either. They are trying to defend challenge as an essential golfing value. And for Bishop, that’s where the conflict arises.
There’s something funny about PGA presidents. Very few of them have had a high profile in the game beyond their organization. USGA presidents serve for two one-year terms, yet a good number of them have become names you might recognize: Sandy Tatum, Trey Holland, Buzz Taylor, Walter Driver, Fred Ridley, Judy Bell among them. Arnold Palmer (who is strongly in favor of the anchoring ban) said last week he could name only one PGA president who really had a major impact on national golf: Leo Fraser of the Atlantic City Country Club, the PGA president in 1969–70 who helped pave the way for the Tour pros who broke away from the PGA of America and formed the PGA Tour in late ’68. Bishop could be the next Fraser.
This anchored putting debate, in its own weird way, is probably the most important issue the PGA has faced since the breakaway, not counting the 1990 Shoal Creek debacle. That was rooted in social progressiveness. This one gets to the heart of how the game is played, administered and governed. It would have been a big issue without Bishop, but he has made it much bigger and he has been comfortable through it all. He looks as if he has stood in front of rolling cameras all his life. “He’s comfortable because he’s prepared,” Love says.
The real issue in the debate goes much deeper than whether the butt end of the putter depresses human flesh. Bishop believes that if the ban goes through without a major hitch, it will empower and embolden the USGA. “I think their next step will be to try to slow down the golf ball,” Bishop said last month in his pro shop at Legends. A lot of people, of course, think that would be a good thing, but Bishop is not among them.
Asked if the USGA has any plans to try to slow down the ball, Davis declined to talk about it, and a USGA spokesman, Joe Goode, issued this statement: “Distance remains a subject the USGA continues to monitor as part of our joint governance of the game worldwide. While distance at the elite professional and amateur levels has stabilized, we continue to review the relevant science, data and research that are available to us, and engage the broader golf community on the subject. The USGA continues to study the golf course footprint beyond the playing of the game, exploring a wide range of factors to determine how reducing distance and modifying course size could impact the long-term economic and environmental sustainability of the game.” Take a minute to parse that statement if you feel the urge. It did use the phrase “reducing distance.”
Based on his comments last week, both in San Diego and Orlando, Finchem indicated that even if the USGA bans anchored putting, the PGA Tour could decide not to abide by the ruling. If that happened, the balance of power in the game would change markedly. Bishop thinks it already has. He believes the PGA Tour is the real power base for golf in the U.S. The Tour, he says, sets the tone for how American golf is played. If Tour players anchor, why wouldn’t the rest of us? Tour players plumb-bob and so do we, even though we don’t know what we’re doing.
As for the USGA and the PGA of America, they govern differently. “We govern from the bottom up,” Bishop says, meaning that the PGA takes its cues from its 27,000 men and women professionals, and those professionals take their cues from the golfing needs of what Bishop calls their “amateur customers.”
The few dozen key volunteer USGA committee members as well as the organization’s professional staff members are a group of men and women steeped in the game who make decisions about rules, equipment and the handicap system by which millions of us play. In other words, they govern from the top even though they were never elected. Still, their motives are pure. That can’t be overstated. Resort owners, Tour players, teaching pros, publishers of golf magazines, they’re all trying to make money from the game. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the chase for money has a long history of clouding judgment. The PGA Tour is a nonprofit outfit in name only. All sorts of people are getting rich through it. The USGA is a true nonprofit. It’s a think tank and a university. It’s a church. To be relevant, it needs believers.
Which leads to this question, the same one the PGA Tour will ask itself: If the ban goes through, will the 27,000 men and women PGA professionals support it? The answer to that is partly dependent on what the PGA Tour does, and partly dependent on what Bishop and the PGA leadership encourage them to do. Bishop knows what we all know, that golf without a codified system of rules would be bedlam. But in these tense and interesting times can the USGA continue to be the beacon on the hill for how we play? At the very least, Bishop is urging 27,000 men and women professionals to question authority. Damn rabble-rouser. Along the way, he’ll either help make the USGA stronger or be part of its demise. If that happens, then say hello to Joe Ogilvie, the first chairman of the PGA Tour Rules Committee for Lost Amateurs, sponsored by Verizon. Slogan: Joe O. rules the game; Verizon rules the air.
For the PGA, and maybe for everybody, the secret weapon in this whole thing is Bevacqua, who joined the PGA of America in November, hired by a committee on which Bishop sat. (Bishop also was instrumental in recruiting Dottie Pepper to the PGA board of directors; eliminating the catchphrase “Glory’s Last Shot” from the PGA Championship marketing playbook; and initiating a thorough examination of the PGA’s TV contracts.) Bevacqua knows the culture of the USGA, and he also knows the sensibilities of regular-Joe golfers who get up in the dark to play the better public courses, because he and his dentist father were among those people. Bevacqua is a legit break-80 golfer who was a club caddie in New York through high school, college (Notre Dame) and law school (Georgetown). He likes the lively debate on the subject of anchored putting, but he also knows that golf thrives on consensus. At the PGA Merchandise Show he convened a Friday morning state-of-the-game panel that was unusually interesting. He expects it will be an annual event.