Tour Confidential: Should the PGA Have Fired Ted Bishop?

October 28, 2014

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. PGA of America President Ted Bishop was booted from office after taking to Twitter and calling Ian Poulter a “lil girl” for Poulter’s comments about Nick Faldo. Was Bishop’s punishment an overreaction by the PGA, or did he get his just desserts? 

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I could see the firing. He’s the president of the PGA of America. His public comments should have at least the hint of dignity. But stripping him of his place in the PGA’s official history? That’s crazy overkill.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Firing seems harsh for those comments, but that said, Ted Bishop had no business defending Nick Faldo. Who asked him for his opinion? Bishop was also the guy behind Tom Watson’s failed Ryder Cup captaincy and the major screw-up at the PGA Championship where he allowed the last group to hit to the 18th green to finish before dark — totally against golf protocol but the only way to save face and finish on Sunday. Three strikes and you’re out.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, (@eamonlynch): Whether Bishop deserved to be defrocked of his presidency seems less interesting than why he engendered such contempt among the upper echelons of his own organization that he will be erased from the PGA’s history books. It’s one thing to be ousted two months shy of his term expiring, but being denied the customary Honorary President role and not even being recognized as a past president going forward, that’s so disproportionate to the offense that it can only be a twisting of the knife. Bishop often exhibited two traits that make for a combustible combination: a volatile personality and a fondness for media grandstanding, so the only surprise is that it took him so long to self-immolate. But having his entire tenure be stricken from the record carries a strong whiff of Stalinist erasure that reflects poorly on the PGA of America. The lesson here is that it’s better to be a Tour pro than an administrator: Bishop fell over a bland slur directed at a man who is regularly guilty of much worse behavior on social media.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@Jeff_Ritter): Well, you can find far more offensive stuff than Bishop’s tweet in social-media land, but a leader should rise above all of that. Impeachment felt right. Wiping out his presidency from the history books seems harsh. Not that the two men — or their actions — are comparable, but Americans do still acknowledge Richard Nixon as an ex-President.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): The PGA made the right call. Never mind that the comment was inappropriate. Nobody cares what Ted Bishop thinks about Ian Poulter. He should have realized that before he hit the “Tweet” button.”

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Well, he only had one month left in his term, so the expulsion isn’t all that harsh. However, Bishop self-reported that the term he served as president would be expunged from PGA records — that is to say, he would not be acknowledged as a past president by the PGA. That strikes me as overkill, just like the NCAA yanking away coaches’ victories after the fact. Bishop did something inexcusably stupid, but he didn’t commit a crime. The PGA did right by expelling him, wrong by banishing him from history.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): When you consider reactions to dinosaur-ish behavior in other sports of late (top heads NOT rolling in the NFL after the Ray Rice and other domestic violence fiascos; the head of the Russian tennis federation getting fined but not fired after calling Serena and Venus the “Williams brothers”) this seems extreme to say the least. Bishop’s tweets were moronic. But canning him and then expunging him entirely from the historical record? What is he, Kim Jung Un’s uncle? All the more regrettable is that Bishop was responding to Ian Poulter, a guy who you could easily take down in so many clever ways. And ‘lil girl’ was all Bishop could come up with? They might have also fired him for lack of imagination.

2. Prior to his Poulter tweet and the subsequent fallout, Bishop had been known for taking outspoken stands on a variety of matters, from growing the game to equipment regulation to choosing a Ryder Cup captain. Yet, it’s undeniable that he kept the PGA of America newsworthy and relevant. What will Bishop’s legacy be?

GODICH: Granted, he kept the PGA relevant with his stance on the anchored putter debate, but in the end he’ll have the same legacy as his predecessors. How many PGA of America presidents can you name? That’s not meant as a shot, but the PGA would be wise to get back to its roots — and do more for its club professionals.

SENS: Within in the industry, he’ll be remembered as a smart guy who did a lot of good but who also picked the wrong fights and chose the wrong words. In the general public, where the “legacy” conversation matters more for the game, he’ll be remembered as an out-of-touch fogey, first for the Tom Watson Ryder Cup captaincy, and now for this. One of the ironies of this whole affair is that it has stirred up a great many trollish complaints that golf culture has become too politically correct. Golf can be accused of many things. But I don’t think anyone who really knows golf culture would say that hyper-progressivism is a major issue.

LYNCH: Bishop’s showmanship kept the PGA of America in the news. The organization’s relevancy is owed to its CEO, Pete Bevacqua, who ranks among the most able sports executives in the country. For all of his “grow the game” enthusiasm, Bishop’s legacy will not be favorable and is defined by the Ryder Cup. For fans it was just a loss, but for the PGA of America it was a humiliation: it exposed the amateurish process that allowed Bishop to indulge his boyhood hero worship in pushing through an ill-advised choice as captain, it exposed fissures on the American team that stained Tom Watson’s legacy, and it forced the next PGA president to spend his entire term cleaning up Ted’s mess with an unnecessary “task force” and endless posturing about reform. Worst of all, Bishop’s actions brought Paul Azinger back out in public thumping his chest about his “pod” theory. That alone was an impeachable offense.

VAN SICKLE: His legacy will be one of talking a good game, especially his strong stance against the anchored putting ban, but not backing it up. His legacy will unfortunately be one of big mistakes.

RITTER: It’ll be defined by back-to-back blunders that closed his term: the failed gamble on captain Tom Watson, and the Tweet-That-Ended-It-All.

PASSOV: Bishop was an activist president, at times an annoyingly self-interested one, but at least he stood for something. That he raised the profile of a mostly vanilla organization was impressive – at least until this past week. Unfortunately, he’ll be remembered for his flawed selection and defense of Tom Watson as Ryder Cup captain, and for a silly, stupid Tweet.

BAMBERGER: That you do not have to accept the status quo. And that is a significant accomplishment. I like Ted, and I like what he stood for: bringing a great game to more people.

Editor’s Note: On Monday the PGA of America said that Bishop’s record as the organization’s 38th president will “remain intact” but confirmed that he would not serve as Honorary President or be granted the customary rights afforded past presidents. In an interview with golf writer Jaime Diaz, Bishop insisted that he was told by a fellow PGA of America official on Friday that he would never be recognized as a past president.

3. It’s Halloween this week. What’s your pick for scariest shot/scariest hole/scariest course in golf?

PASSOV: The scariest shot is the drive at the Road Hole, the 17th at The Old Course at St. Andrews. It freaks me out to aim at a real, working hotel, where people are staying — with windows. Scariest hole is the par-3 17th at TPC Sawgrass (Players Stadium). It’s such an “easy” shot with a short iron, yet when the breeze is up, there’s nowhere to hide. Scariest course if you’re hitting it crooked is Royal County Down in Northern Ireland, with all of its wind, blind shots, deep, eyebrow-fringed bunkers and wrist-fracturing rough. Scariest if you’re at all yippy on chips, bunker shots and putts is Oakmont. You can shoot a million there without finding water or OB.

BAMBERGER: This isn’t it, but it’s up there: the tee shot on 11 on Sunday at Augusta when you’re trying to win the Masters. The way they have it now, there’s nowhere to hit the ball. How anyone finds that fairway impresses me.

VAN SICKLE: Any third putt that’s not in the gimme range is golf’s scariest shot.

SENS: Ko’olau, on the lush windward side of Oahu, will give you the heebie-jeebies from start to finish. Jungle, jungle everywhere, and not a spot to miss.

GODICH: The three-footer. The comeback putt ranks a close second.

LYNCH: The next one.

4. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said this week that one of the “silver linings” of Team USA’s loss (and 7-1 loss at foursomes) at the 2014 Ryder Cup is that it could be an opportunity to play more foursomes (aka, alternate shot) in the United States. Would you like to see more alternate-shot events and what would be the best way to do it?

BAMBERGER: Yes. The camaraderie that comes out of two people playing golf together, known to so many Sunday golfers, is one of the greatest things in the game, and vastly underused in American golf.

SENS: Nah. Every now and then is enough for me. The scarcity is partly what makes it great as a spectator event. I have no great urge to watch any more of it, but I wouldn’t mind playing more of it. It’s a blast. Especially fun to ram your putts hard at the hole, knowing that you don’t have to worry about the come-backer.

RITTER: I think we can all agree that professional golf has plenty of 72-hole stroke-play. Any event willing to break the mold with a new format that creates fresh excitement is worth a gamble. I’d like to see two-man alternate shot (or even two-man scramble) based on nationality, sort of like what the Olympic competition should’ve been — and hopefully will be in the future.

VAN SICKLE: Finchem missed the point. Yes, the Americans got pounded in foursomes play this time. Did anyone suggest that the Americans needed to practice playing singles when the Euros crushed them at Medinah in singles by winning nine and a half points? Foursomes play was a symptom, not the cause of the loss. There’s always room for an early-week special event, like a celebrity-pro foursomes match on Tuesday at a Tour event, where four twosomes could maybe play a three- or four-hole match, and it would give fans a reason to come out to watch. But I really don’t see the point. The Euro team was simply better, as it has been in almost every matchup this century.

PASSOV: Noble thinking by Mr. Finchem that more alternate-shot (foursomes) would be good for American golf. However, Americans like posting a score on their own ball. Until we allow that match play is actually more fun, and that alternate shot is a quicker (and perhaps preferred) form of golf, we won’t see it. It would be fantastic if some deep-pocketed sponsor stepped up to support a high-profile foursomes event, an idea Robert Trent Jones Jr. broached with me three weeks ago. I think it would be a blast for PGA Tour Pros to team up, or mix and match with LPGA and/or Champions Tour players.

LYNCH: Finchem talked about adopting the format for a pro-am day at a Tour stop, which doesn’t promise great exposure. If we want to generate interest in alternate shot, have an event that pairs Tour pros with mid-handicappers. I have little interest in watching Phil Mickelson hit from where Keegan Bradley places his drive. But if Phil’s hitting the result of a tee shot by a 15-handicap making his national TV debut, then I’m going to watch.

GODICH: The format isn’t the issue. Whether it’s alternate-shot or fourball or singles, these team competitions come down to hitting shots and holing putts. Look at the last two Presidents Cups: The U.S. holds a 15.5-6.5 edge over the Internationals in alternate shot. Maybe the Americans just need to quit trying so hard in the Ryder Cup.

5. 19-year-old Australian Antonio Murdaca won the Asia- Pacific Amateur Golf Championship this past week, earning him a berth in the Masters. Does the winner of this event really deserve a spot in the Masters?

VAN SICKLE: The Masters is marketing golf and itself to the world. There is great golf in Asia, so if the British and U.S. Am champs get Masters bids, an Asian amateur champion should, too.

GODICH: Probably not, but it’s not like the winner is stealing a spot in the field from a more deserving player.

SENS: Sure. The winners of the event mostly acquitted themselves very well at the Masters, and it makes the tournament feel more global still. How can that be bad?

PASSOV: I don’t fathom why every year, one Australasian teenager qualifies to play in the Masters on the basis of one tournament, when so many legitimately world-class players don’t get in (see Ernie Els, 2012, for example and dozens of worthy U.S. college players). Yet, the Masters had long represented policies of exclusion, so I’ll give props to them for trying to grow the game in Asia by offering this plum. And hey, Hideki Matsuyama twice qualified this way, and he turned out to be pretty good.

LYNCH: Murdaca stands a better chance of winning the Masters next April than a great many former champions who will compete at Augusta National, so yes.

BAMBERGER: Of course! It’s a little springtime invitational tournament, and the descendants of the people who invited the Master are the people who invented the A-P Am. Antonio Murdaca, come on down!

6. Our own Travelin’ Joe Passov played the new Trump Ferry Point, a New York City-owned/Donald Trump-managed course in the Bronx, and Joe said it will be one of America’s best municipal courses when it opens next spring. What’s your favorite muni?

LYNCH: America’s oldest muni, the gritty Van Cortlandt Golf Course, also in the Bronx. I haven’t played it in more than a decade but can recite every hole from memory. That’s because I had ample time to memorize holes since every round took almost six hours. Which is also why I haven’t played there in a decade.

GODICH: Stevens Park is a quaint, quirky track in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas with views of the downtown skyline. It has been called the “Little Augusta” of North Texas, and while that might be a stretch, I guarantee that the green fee isn’t anywhere near as steep as it will be at Ferry Point.

BAMBERGER: The village-owned course in Bellport, L.I., where I started playing. I could get there by bus, bike and thumb, and a junior membership in the ’70s was $50 a year.

VAN SICKLE: The Links at Pacific Grove, just off 17-Mile Drive near the gate to Pebble Beach, may be the most fun per-dollar you can have in America. It’s quirky — it opens with back-to-back par 3s, and has scenic ocean views on the back nine, which features a lighthouse, dunes, ice plant and atmosphere.

SENS: Love George Wright, an old Donald Ross course in the Boston area, and a course that was known as Putterham in Brookline when I was a kid. Fond of it because I learned to play there, and because there was a hole in the fence you could sneak through and make your way (briefly) onto the Country Club for a glimpse of how the other half golfed.

PASSOV: I think Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point will be one of America’s best public courses, period, let alone one of the best munis, even if it lacks the drama of Chambers Bay or the scale of Bethpage Black. Trump Ferry Point boasts cityscape panoramas that you’ll never forget. Since you asked for “favorite” muni, not “best,” my go-to is California’s Pacific Grove Golf Links, the “Poor Man’s Pebble Beach.” It’s easy walking, stress-free, joyful golf for less than $60 with a back nine that sports linksy ocean holes, deer, giant sand dunes flecked with ice plant and a lighthouse.

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.