News & ToursOctober 31, 2014

Five undeniable truths we learned from the Ted Bishop Affair

Aside from the obvious -- that the presidency of the PGA is an inappropriate position from which to launch silly attacks on professional golfers, and that Ted Bishop's ego is so enormous that he thinks he can save Nick Faldo from himself -- we learned some important lessons in the "Lil Girl" affair:

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1. Hell hath no fury like an organization disrupted. The PGA ousted Bishop not with regret, but with near-glee, because Bishop, in his zest to brand the PGA as remade, reformed and dedicated to average golfers everywhere (and be the one given credit for that) had committed at least three sins. First, he took on the USGA on the anchoring issue, arguing that average golfers should be able to use any length putter they wished to deal with the ridiculously fast greens Americans must putt on, a maverick stance supported by only some. The idea of opposing the USGA or separating weekend golf from the PGA Tour, made many others uneasy, to understate it. Second, he stood up with Mark King and Joe Beditz at last year's PGA Merchandise Show, a kind of celebration of the industry, and declared that golf was in deep trouble and that it would take people outside the game to fix it. Some of us thought it was a sign that golf had grown up, laid its numbers on the table, and was determined to fix them (kind of like the auto industry acknowledging that perhaps there were a tad too many dealers). For others, advocates of the Trump School of Media Relations, this was just an embarrassment. How dare he! Then he was part of a characteristically unconventional choice of Tom Watson as Ryder Cup captain, leading to a lopsided defeat and player mutiny. Strike Two and a Half. One foul tweet and you're gone. When he was fired, there was no sense of "what a shame, he was a good guy, he did so much for the sport." No, this was good riddance.

2. Golf takes itself very, very seriously. Illustrator and humorist Bruce McCall once said that "Not even Barbra Streisand celebrates itself as tirelessly as golf celebrates itself." And when it does tragedy, it is equally committed. My wife looked over my shoulder at Golf Channel as the PGA Board removed Bishop and asked: "Did someone die?" Yes, perspective and common sense. Obviously, Bishop had to go, and what he said was dead wrong, but there was, in the PGA's response, a solemnity that suggested the death of a Pope.

3. The PGA is not the NFL! The removal of Bishop reflected, it seemed, the PGA's worry that it might be seen as anti-female in the vein of, say, Ray Rice. Its dour announcements were determined to show how seriously we take any slight against women: Domestic violence? Hell, we lop off fingers for stupid tweets!

4. The Ryder Cup is officially and totally out of whack.  The fact that all this began because Ian Poulter cast aspersions on two Ryder Cup captains -- Oh my God! -- suggests that we've gone completely overboard in our obsession with what used to be a great exhibition. At the time of his demise Bishop was to preside over a "task force" to solve the problem of weak USA performances. Really?! Why not just send someone down to see Jackie Burke and ask him what to do? Bishop's feeling that he had to stand up for Faldo and (his captain) Tom Watson is symptomatic of the inane importance we place on the Ryder Cup and the senseless pressure we put on anyone involved. Enough.

5. Ted Bishop's tweets had nothing to do with sexism in golf. Bishop's demise was opportunity for a few columnists to remind the world of "golf's sexism problem." Because the PGA treated his stupidity as not a venial sin but a mortal one, it gave itself (or its allies) no chance to point out that golf is an open sport, where women may and do play a lot, just not as much as we think they should. Ninety-nine percent of clubs welcome play by and memberships of both sexes. More important, nine out of ten golfers play at public courses and some 85 per cent of all rounds are recorded there -- where women may play whenever they like. Could we make it more convenient and fun for women? You bet. But golf's problem is not sexism, it's difficulty and time. We're a game run by traditionalists, mostly better players, who are committed to 18-hole stroke play (the hardest form of golf) and inanely difficult conditions, beginning with super-fast greens. That's golf's macho problem, not Ted Bishop's tweets.

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