For Team USA the 2014 Ryder Cup will be remembered as the gift that kept on giving — giving players fits. Giving Tom Watson fits. Giving everyone at the PGA America fits. So it was natural to blame the endless Ryder fallout for then-PGA of America President Ted Bishop’s firing last week. After all, Bishop was targeting Europe’s Ian Poulter with his rash and disastrous “lil girl” tweet — itself part of Bishop’s strange defense of another Euro Ryder Cup star, Nick Faldo, just before they had dinner last Thursday.
But while Ryder Cup frustration surely stoked Bishop’s ire, his quick dismissal may have owed more to another event hosted by the PGA of America: The third annual Sports Diversity and Inclusion Symposium at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., last Tuesday and Wednesday. (The NFL hosted the first such symposium in 2012, and the USOC took over last year.) Before Bishop’s tweet, the SDI Symposium — which also included representatives from the NFL, Major League Baseball, NASCAR, NBA, NHL, Major League Soccer, the NCAA and the USOC — had left all involved in a fine mood.
“It’s an incredibly proud moment for the PGA of America to host this great event,” said PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua, who opened the symposium and who would help facilitate Bishop’s dismissal, by a vote of the PGA board, three days later. “We need to be more diverse, we need to be more inclusive. It’s critical that we get out ahead of this for the health of our organization, and it’s critical that golf changes its own story.”
Out Sports founder Cyd Zeigler, who moderated a symposium panel, tells Golf.com that members of the golf firmament did not shy away from the sport’s monochromatic makeup, even nearly 20 years into the professional career of Tiger Woods.
“I think everyone knows that’s going to be an issue going forward, since the demographics 20 years from now are going to look very different from today,” Zeigler said. “But I think the fact that golf hosted this sends a very positive message.”
Palm Beach County Sports Commission Director of Marketing Kayla French, who also attended the symposium, said talk turned to diversity as not just a social issue but an economic one, too, since it makes good business sense to include kids and seniors, gay and straight, rich and poor, the disabled, men and women, and boys and girls.
“Some of these are very good growth markets,” French said.
Symposium attendees included Golf Channel’s Scott Walker; Zeigler; Dottie Pepper (participating remotely); Bevacqua; NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent; U.S. Paralympics Games gold medalist April Holmes; and many others.
“It may take five or 10 of 15 years,” said NASCAR’s David Higdon, an attendee, “but the way to change the world is from the ground up. Kids today see things differently than people 10 or 20 years older. They expect a story that is diverse.”
The irony is that this was still Ted Bishop’s PGA of America hosting the event, and that he is the father of two women who work in the golf industry (who were once, presumably, little girls), and that as co-owner of a course in Indiana he had made his reputation as a populist.
I played nine holes with Bishop in April, at an event hosted by TaylorMade Golf. It was the day after the Masters and we were at Reynolds Plantation, west of Augusta, and in putting to 15-inch cups we all enjoyed knocking several strokes off our usual scores. That was the type of stuff that made Bishop come alive. He liked to think outside the box, whether it was embracing Hack Golf’s attempt to reinvigorate the sport; hiring Tom Watson to become the oldest-ever Ryder captain; or fighting the USGA and R&A’s decision to ban anchored putting. (Thus giving the PGA Tour cover to do the same.)
He was a proud maverick, but it all started to go wrong at the PGA Championship (a mad dash in the dark) and the Ryder Cup (strategic lapses, finger pointing, hurt feelings). Then, just as his colleagues were basking in the après-conference glow of last week’s SDI Symposium at PGA National, Bishop authored his “lil girl” tweet, which he tried to take back but which instantaneously became the screen grab that ate his job.
You can make the case that Bishop did more to shake up the staid, old PGA of America than any of his predecessors, and you can argue whether or not his punishment fit the crime. But in light of what had just wrapped up at PGA National just 24 hours earlier, all that talk of diversity and inclusion and empowerment of all golfers, little girls included, there’s no escaping the fact that the timing of Ted Bishop’s fatal tweet couldn’t have been worse.