October 26, 2014

The End Of Ted Bishop's Reign

The behind-the-scenes story of the crazy 22 hours that led to the dismissal of the controversial PGA of America president

As Ted Bishop began recounting the details of the 22-hour period in which his presidency of the PGA of America—commonly considered the most transformative in the organization's history—swiftly unraveled last Friday, it didn't escape him that his demise was entwined with the event that he had hoped would bring his tenure its culminating glory: the Ryder Cup.

In an hour-long phone call from his home in Indiana, the 60-year-old Bishop, who had only 29 days left on his two-year term when he was dismissed by the PGA's board of directors Oct. 24, related the frustration he had been harboring since U.S. captain Tom Watson had been skewered by Phil Mickelson in the Sunday-night press conference at Gleneagles in late September.

"I thought the PGA of America kind of abandoned Tom after we lost, and I've told him that," Bishop says. "Tom had poured his heart and soul into the job, done everything we'd asked, and I don't feel we gave him the show of support that we needed to when he could have used it."

Those festering feelings became heightened last week as Bishop was spending a few days with Nick Faldo at the six-time major winner's golf academy at The Greenbrier in West Virginia. Things came to a head last Thursday night after Bishop had seen Ian Poulter's autobiography that included sharp criticism of Faldo's captaincy of the European team at the 2008 Ryder Cup.

"I've become friends with Nick and seen the great work he does with kids," Bishop says, "so when I saw another player from today's game showing a lack of respect for an icon of the sport, my emotions absolutely got the best of me. My comments were directed totally in that vein."

Those comments were fashioned in a tweet followed minutes later by a longer Facebook post while Bishop was waiting in front of the hotel for a ride to Faldo's house at about 5:30 p.m.

In the tweet, after citing Faldo's playing record, Bishop directed the following to Poulter: "Yours vs. His? Lil Girl." In the Facebook post, Bishop wrote, in part: "Sounds like a little school girl squealing during recess. C'MON MAN!"

Bishop had no second thoughts about his choice of words for more than an hour. But before joining his party for a 7:30 dinner at the hotel, Bishop went into a restroom and, while checking his phone, saw tweets calling him a sexist.

"To be honest with you, there was no hesitation when I typed 'Lil Girl,' " Bishop says. "Because I kind of grew up in a generation where when my dad hit ground balls to me in the back yard, if I pulled my head up, he told me I was fielding like a girl. But in that restroom at The Greenbrier, the light went on, and I thought, Oh my God, I didn't even think about that. How stupid could I be? I felt like throwing up." Bishop adds: "I was for inclusion of women in the R&A and for their equality in the game. I'm not a sexist."

Bishop immediately erased the offending tweet and post. On his way to his table, he received a call from the PGA of America's senior director of communications, Julius Mason. Bishop said Mason told him that Golf Channel had asked the president to appear on "Morning Drive" to address his social-media mistakes. "But Julius said that the PGA had spoken internally and thought I would be better off not doing any interviews," Bishop says. "Julius said, 'Let us release a statement on your behalf.' "

Mason subsequently released a statement that read, "Ted realized that his post was inappropriate and promptly removed it." Bishop recalls seeing it and telling his wife, "You know, I'm not crazy about this. There's no quote from me, and there's no remorse in this whatsoever."

After dinner, Bishop received an email from Associated Press golf writer Doug Ferguson asking him about his comments. Bishop, saying he tried to follow what he perceived as the PGA of America's low-key public-relations game plan, admitted he could have used different terms, but showed no contrition. Several commentators later called this "non-apology apology" a fatal blow to Bishop's presidency.

"Obviously, bad move on my part," Bishop says, "but I was trying to stay consistent." Bishop said he barely slept as his phone kept buzzing on the nightstand. When he arose at 6:45 a.m., he saw a text from PGA of America board member and former LPGA player Dottie Pepper: "From one friend to another, from somebody who's been through a similar situation [Pepper's "choking-dog" reference about U.S. Solheim Cup players], you need to get out in front of this and apologize."

It was one among many bits of public-relations advice Bishop would receive, some from professionals, all urging him to offer a more contrite apology. "My biggest regret in all this is not getting my own apology out," Bishop says. "I've gotten killed from some people saying that I never apologized, or I waited too long to apologize, but that was totally out of my control."

Soon after, he was on the phone with Mason, who recounted criticism Bishop was receiving on "Morning Drive," saying, "It's really bad."

Bishop said he was shaken and asked Mason, "Where do we go from here?" "Julius told me, 'Let's circle the wagons, and I'll get back to you.' " But Bishop says he didn't hear from anyone from the PGA for hours. He exchanged texts with Pepper, asking her counsel in how to craft his own apology, telling her, "I don't want to blow this." He forwarded the texts to Mason, along with a request for Poulter's cell-phone number, but again received no reply.

Later at the Greenbrier Valley Airport, where Bishop was awaiting a flight to his home in Franklin, Ind., he said to his wife, "They've cut me off. There is something going on." When he received an email on which he was inadvertently copied from one of the PGA's directors that demanded immediate action against him, Bishop said, "These guys are going to ask me to resign." Shortly after, PGA vice president Derek Sprague, next in line to succeed Bishop as president, sent him a text saying "this serious situation" required a conference call at 1:30 p.m.

After arriving home and getting on the phone, Bishop said Sprague "clearly read from a script" during the conference call, stating that Sprague had the support of the board in asking for Bishop's resignation. Then, Bishop said, Sprague told him the PGA was "getting a lot of fallout from PGA members and from partners, that I've embarrassed the association, and that this is the only course of action."

Later, in a private call, Bishop says that Sprague told him whether he resigned or was removed by the board, he would be unable to serve as an honorary president, would never be recognized as a past president, but could continue as a PGA member.

"I said, 'Wow,' " Bishop recalled. Rather than resign, he decided to make a statement to the 21-person board in a 4 p.m. teleconference. "I apologized to the board, reiterated that I had very much wanted to make a public apology. And I said I don't think the punishment fits the crime. And that doesn't mean I don't have remorse for what I did. Trust me, I abused my platform. I know I made a huge mistake. I'm the first to say that. I let my personal feelings for two guys get in my way, and used a bad choice of words in trying to convey my frustration."

The statement was over in five minutes. Bishop says he received no feedback or comments, recused himself from further proceedings and hung up. About an hour later, after sources say the vote came in with no votes in favor of Bishop retaining office, Sprague called Bishop, urging him to resign. "If I do that, I make it easy for the PGA of America," Bishop said he answered.

Bishop says Sprague then said, "Well, it will save your career, save your reputation." Bishop says he adamantly responded, "No it won't. My reputation has already been ruined. As far as my career, I'm going back to run my golf facility [The Legends]. I'm not going to run for another office in the PGA. So there's nothing in it for me to resign."

"You're going to regret that," Bishop says Sprague replied.

To which Bishop says he concluded, "I think the PGA of America needs to be in position to explain why this thing came down as it did. I don't think it was totally fair."

That fell largely to the CEO, Pete Bevacqua, who had worked closely with Bishop, the two forming an effective Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside team. "Professionally, this was absolutely the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with, and personally it was more difficult than that," says Bevacqua, who adds that Bishop is mistaken in believing the organization intends to expunge his presidency from its history. "Ted did some amazing things for the PGA, and he will always be our 38th president, but his public words as the head of our organization were so contrary to our mission of seeking diversity and accessibility, we felt the need to do something swiftly and fairly."

Over the weekend, Bishop says he has answered hundreds of emails offering support, including some from players and administrators. "The outpouring of support that I've gotten in the last day and a half has probably been greater than anything I've done in my 23 months as president," he says before acknowledging it had been a dark few days. "This has just been an unbelievable ending to what had been the best two years of my life. Very tough on my family, in particular. It's also difficult because this situation wasn't dealt with in the more open way our staff has consistently done in the past. Instead, they went underground on me."

Why that occurred might in part lie with Bishop's history as an official who could go his own way in his public comments rather than stay on a pre-agreed message, engendering a fear that on sensitive topics he might dig a deeper hole. "We didn't know if any additional public comments on Ted's part would serve the organization well," Bevacqua says.

Asked to speculate on why his board resisted allowing him to defend himself, Bishop acknowledges that he has been aware of resentments harbored against him because of the high profile he achieved during his presidency, which became more pronounced later in his term.

"One thing that really bothered me after the Ryder Cup was some people in our organization complaining that they'd had no voice in the captain selection, and that 'Ted Bishop got us in this situation, and we have to distance ourselves from him,' " Bishop says. "The outcome of the Ryder Cup created a lot of dissention internally. That was apparent."