Outside the Orange County Convention Center there was nothing but bright sunshine, but inside, in the extreme dark of a backstage area, enclosed by black curtains, various movers and shakers in golf were preparing to step on the stage. Country rap was playing, if such a category exists, and Sir Nick Faldo, in a black T-shirt, was hanging around. So were the various panelists, including Finchem, Pepper and Mark King, the TaylorMade CEO. Bishop was on stage, and Bevacqua sat with the spectators, a lot of them club pros and teaching pros and others with intense interest in golf’s welfare. Can such a forum produce news? Not usually. Depends, of course, on the participants and what they say. Can it make you see things in a new way? A good panel discussion can, and this one proved to be a good one. Is it a way of bringing people together? Of course it is.
Bishop is a planner and a worrier and a man of considerable ambition. He has been basking in the positive response to the naming of Watson as Ryder Cup captain, and why wouldn’t he? It was his idea, it was original (Watson, 63, will be the oldest Ryder Cup captain ever), and he pulled it off. Could the bright lights blind Bishop? He will have to be careful—he’s kind of a show-off. In the meantime Bishop and Bevacqua were eager to have a representative from the USGA on the panel, since anchored putting would surely be discussed. (It was, extensively.) They hoped for Davis or Nager. The USGA passed, to Bishop’s frustration. He wondered what would be the appropriate response should someone ask why the USGA did not have a representative. Bishop is nothing if not a planner.
He decided the best answer would come from the USGA itself. Julius Mason, a PGA of America communications official, contacted Goode, who sent this response by e-mail: “The USGA has a number of senior leaders in attendance at this year’s show. Mike Davis, however, is preparing for the Association’s Annual Meeting.” During the proceedings, Mason wrote Goode’s response in a reporter’s notebook, ripped out the page and handed it to the panel’s moderator, Damon Hack of Golf Channel. Nobody asked about the USGA’s absence, and the statement was never read. A lost opportunity all the way around.
Was Bishop being political in proceeding as he did? Practical? Sensitive? Most likely all three. He’s an unusually insightful and observant man.
Your neighborhood PGA professional is not typically a modernist. Bishop—married to Cindy for 36 years with two daughters in the golf business—is. Before assuming the PGA presidency he hired Inga Hammond, the former Golf Channel broadcaster, for intense media training, paying for it himself. Before Watson was named Ryder Cup captain, Bishop again hired Hammond to work with Watson, himself and Bevacqua. When Watson was asked about his relationship with Tiger Woods, he had a canned answer all teed up. The basic message of Hammond’s coaching is to encourage her clients to be open. It seems to come naturally to Bishop.
He really is out of the ordinary. On the PGA of America website, Bishop has his own blog, called One Shot at a Time. Some of the writing is truly interesting, as when he describes the Ryder Cup team flying from Atlanta to Wales in 2010. Most people in that position would be petrified to make any sort of public observation of Woods in private, no matter how benign it might be. Bishop wrote about how Woods showed up 30 minutes before the flight, dressed in black from head-to-toe, and seated himself next to Jeff Overton, who had never met Woods. As Bishop described it, Woods tapped Overton on the shoulder, whereupon the Ryder Cup rookie turned around and exclaimed, “It’s Tiger Woods!” It was good stuff. There were people within the halls of the PGA headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., who urged Bishop to cool it with the writing. Didn’t work. In ’10 he made eight entries. In ’11 the number was 29. Last year it was 44. Apple wishes it could report such growth.
For this year and next, Bishop will be the president of a blue-collar trade association. Just two years. He refuses to look at his term as a ceremonial, same-old, same-old stint with a rubber stamp in hand. Bishop is not built for that. At the PGA Merchandise Show, Bob Joyce, a lifer club pro from Long Island, put it plainly: “His job is to do what the members want him to do, and he’s doing it.” Others, surely, don’t like Bishop’s style, but you cannot beat his agenda: protect jobs, raise salaries, improve working conditions. Give me that old-time religion. Bishop doesn’t want to be the president who presides over the decline of the 27,000 number. He reminds you repeatedly that the average salary for a PGA pro is $62,500, a nice sum that isn’t enough when you have two in college and a third playing girls’ lacrosse. Last week, at the robust PGA Merchandise Show, Bishop said again and again, “If we lose even one player because of a ban on anchored putting, that’s one player we can’t afford to lose.”He has his eyes on the prize. The prize, he says repeatedly, is to “grow the game,” for himself and his 26,999 brothers and sisters. That sounds sort of grand, but it is not. In different costumes, his fellow club pros are school teachers and nurses and plumbers. What’s unique about Bishop’s constituency is that they’re trying to do it on the back of a crazy, impossibly challenging game that drives its parishioners to such extremes they will stick putters in their bellies and will go down swinging in their attempt to defend their right to do it.