The Real Ted Bishop

October 25, 2014

In this totally needless fiasco that led to Ted Bishop's forced removal as President of the PGA of America, he will be derided as a clown, as a man in constant need of attention but unsure what to do with it, and as a sexist, for his ridiculous comment about Ian Poulter, whom he likened to a "lil girl."

In reality, he was none of the above. His two daughters work in the golf industry: Ambry is the women's golf coach at St. John’s University in New York and Ashely works at Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Ind., the public course Bishop co-owns. Legends G.C. has a thriving junior program under Bishop's direction that stresses the importance of being inclusive of women, minorities and kids from modest economic circumstances. He comes at golf as a populist.

"I have great remorse that my comments contained the words “little girl” because I have always been a great advocate for girls and women in golf," Bishop said in a statement he emailed to me and other golf writers. "My two children, both girls, have made their careers in golf. I have a 4-year old granddaughter who I hope will someday play the game," he said. "In my 37-year career in golf, I have worked with many women to grow the sport and I have been a champion for inclusion and equal rights for women in golf."

Bishop’s “lil girl” comment was not consistent with his actions throughout his career, but it was consistent with what he has shown throughout his 23 months as president: he liked the warmth of the fire, and then he got too close to it.

"This is a classic example of poor use of social media on my part and if I had the chance to hit the delete button on the things that I sent out yesterday, I would without hesitation," Bishop said.

The PGA of America did the right thing in forcing him out. There is nothing to be gained by defending someone who makes a stupid, impulsive comment like the one Bishop committed to Twitter. You can't say that, not when you are the president of the PGA of America, and a voice for 27,000 men and women who work in the game. But Bishop could not help himself. For all his good intentions, he really did not have a full and mature understanding of his place in the game.

In the winter of 2012, he misread the true balance of power in the game and thought the PGA of America could cajole the USGA into backing off its proposed ban on anchored putting, which goes into effect in January 2016. There were powerful forces ranged against him, including Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods. He thought he had an ally in Tim Finchem, but he was not in Finchem's class when it comes to deft political maneuvers.

Bishop’s motivations were pure: he thinks anchored putting helps more people enjoy the game he loves, and he wants to see that game grow and prosper. But in the end he didn't see coming the two blows that proved fatal to his campaign: the LPGA Tour was not going to support the PGA of America’s position, and the European Tour was going to play by whatever rules the R&A set. Golfers at every level want someone to tell them how the game must be played. The PGA of America found itself isolated.

What Bishop will be best remembered for is his selection of Tom Watson as Ryder Cup captain. It turned out to be a borderline disaster, not because the U.S. lost for the eighth time in the last 10 Cups, but because there seemed to be little rapport between Watson and his players. The PGA has since announced an 11-man task force in an attempt to improve American chances, a committee that includes Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, but not Ted Bishop or Tom Watson.

Bishop's decision to bring his hero Watson in from the cold — at 63, he was the oldest Ryder Cup captain ever — was welcomed as innovative when it was announced in 2012. The Americans were desperate to try something new, and now you had an icon of the game, a winner of five British Opens, captaining a team that would be playing in Scotland. No one in the PGA of America was dismissive of the idea at the time.

The reason it did not workout was generational more than anything else. Watson simply thinks American players are not the tough guys who played the game when he was in his prime, and though he tried to hide that view for a long time, as the match unfolded at Gleneagles he could not.

Bishop's final tweet as PGA president failed along the same lines: he did not realize that in 2014 you can't dismiss a world-class athlete by likening him to a "lil girl." Not in golf you don't. In boxing, sure. In football, maybe. In golf, no.