Seth Waugh
PGA Championship Preview

My Shot: Seth Waugh

The PGA of America CEO has big thoughts on golf, business, new ideas and the NJA ruleMay 9, 2019

I'm the youngest of five brothers. Al, who is just ahead of me and was always big for his age, did most of the brotherly hazing. He invented a two-player football game he called Cut-down. We each got four downs, and on my possession he'd let me get to the equivalent of his five-yard line, and then he'd steamroll me. It wasn't designed so much to prevent me from scoring but rather to humiliate. Completely humiliate. When he had the ball, he'd pretend to struggle, but he'd drag me across the goal line, pumping his knees into my chin. We played in all the same sports leagues, and to get in the games I had to “play up” and overachieve. It was good for me, though I can't say the memory of those Cut-down games is a pleasant one. Al, who has long been my best friend, just laughs about it.

• • •

A friend of mine from Boston recently sent me a picture of his teenage son holding up a sign that read, “16 years old, 10 parades,” referencing how many times he'd been to celebrations for the Patriots and Red Sox. I thought, This kid doesn't know pain. Neither of those teams won championships my entire childhood. I came out of that experience tending to pull for the underdog not just in sports, but in business and life. One of the coolest things about the PGA Championship—and I had this opinion long before I became CEO—is following the PGA members in the field. Watching them is irresistible because it's serious stuff, something they aren't accustomed to doing every week. They go from being stars at their clubs and state events to arguably the biggest underdogs in pro sports on one of the biggest stages. Cool stuff.

• • •

A month after the Sept. 11 attacks, I took my son, Clancy, to Yankee Stadium for Game 5 of the World Series against the Diamondbacks. It was emotional for me in so many ways. I was a longtime New Yorker with Deutsche Bank Americas and knew hundreds of people who were in the towers. I lost two of my absolute closest friends. It was a time of soul-wrenching sadness and trauma but also heroic acts. Clancy was 7 then, and he knew only the Yankees. They hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to tie things up and then won it in extra innings. An incredible moment to share with your son. But the real story came the next year on opening day. Clancy and I were watching “SportsCenter” going through the scores when he turned to me and said, “Dad, I don't think I want to be a Yankees fan anymore.” I said, “Why's that?” He said, “They're just too good.” I tousled his hair and said, “Welcome to my world.”

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• • •

When I was about 10, I got my hands on a little transistor radio. From our home in New Jersey, I could pick up Boston Celtics broadcasts if I oriented the radio just right. My favorite player was John Havlicek, who wasn't particularly flashy but invaluable in all kinds of ways. He was the consummate team player. Much later I was fortunate to play golf with John, and he was the type who looked harder for your lost ball than he did his own. In business, I came to value people who were like John. Those who make everyone around them better. The lone-wolf star types can be highly productive individually, but their selfishness can be disruptive in ways that diminish the team, not make it better. As an executive, I've always tried hard to weed out those types and reward those who put the team first. I've always believed that life is a team sport.

• • •

In business and certainly the people I choose to hang out with on the golf course, I abide by the NJA Rule: No Jerks Allowed. It's my golden rule. Jerks come in a lot of forms but are generally easy to spot. It usually takes about three holes in golf and life. They're sort of the anti-Havlicek—they don't look for your ball or compliment your good shots because usually they haven't actually watched you take a swing all day. It's all about them. Too often, they're caddie haters as well. No fun. It's even worse if it happens to be a player who's treated deferentially, not because he's a great guy but because he's a good golfer. It's not OK to be a jerk, no matter how you play. They might be invited to a lot of member-guests by people who are trying to “buy the tournament,” which is kind of a jerk move, too. It's much more important to have your phone ring a lot because of what you're like to be around, and not how you play. Every day in golf is another opportunity to make a new friend, to learn something about yourself and whomever you're with.

Finlay Mackay

• • •

My favorite type of golf is the simple two-on-two stuff you see in every foursome. But two or three times a year, I'll tee it up individually, in tournaments—the club championship at Seminole, the singles events at National or, in the past, the Travis at Garden City. I like to feel on occasion that uncomfortable sensation that comes when you have to post a number, no Equitable Stroke Control, no excuses and nowhere to hide. It's a little scary, given my day job and a Handicap Index of 8.6, and there's always the possibility I could go completely off the rails toward Humiliation Station. But I like it. My friend Vinny Giles said it best: “Golf's a lot different when you've got a pencil in your hand.”

• • •

Vinny would know, because he won the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur titles in the 1970s. He's 76 now and is one of those guys to whom age is just a number. His knowledge of what's going on at every golf organization, the scuttlebutt and inner workings of the game, is staggering. On the course he'll just work you to death, and he practices so hard you'd think he was preparing for a major. There are an increasing number of people like that in my life who inspire me. Sam Reeves, a fellow member at Seminole and mentor to so many, won the pro-member with Nick Watney a couple of years ago at age 82. I'm 60 and fairly active, but I always feel so inadequate, unworthy and sloth-like when I'm around Sam. Guys like those two inspire you to think young and get after it, doing good for yourself and the world.

• • •

One of the coolest things about being CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas was helping the company's entry into golf. In 2003, the first year of our sponsorship of our PGA Tour event in Boston, I got a call from Jay Monahan, whom we'd brought in as tournament director. We had a sponsor's exemption left to give out under the foreign-player category, and we agreed that Justin Rose, who'd struggled early on in Europe, would be a great choice. Neither of us had met Justin, but early that week at the pro-am draw party, which was at the Massachusetts State House, I met him for the first time. After several of us, including then-governor Mitt Romney, gave our speeches, I walked into an adjoining room and saw this tall, skinny kid standing alone, nibbling at a tray of shrimp. I approached him and said, “Excuse me, but aren't you Justin Rose?” He replied that he was. As we made a little small talk, I learned he was staying down in Providence, R.I., a good 90-minute drive away. I said, “It's nice to meet you, but why in the world are you here?” Justin said, “Well, Deutsche Bank was so nice to invite me, I just thought I should thank somebody.” That blew me away.

• • •

Justin and I became good friends—stayed at each other's houses; we've won the Seminole pro-member three times together as partners. In one of the great honors of my life, I'm the godfather to his and Kate's daughter, Charlotte, who lights up my life. I know that in my new job I'm not supposed to play favorites—I'm lucky enough to call many tour players a friend—but you can guess which one has a special place in my heart.

Finlay Mackay

Westhampton Country Club on Long Island, 1985. Big member-guest with some prestige and a lot of bragging rights. I was a very raw 12-handicapper or so back then. My great friend and host, Tim Thornton, and I play our way into contention and wind up in a sudden-death playoff. On the par-3 third hole, both our opponents are on the green. Tim hits into a greenside bunker and whispers to me, “I need you, partner.” With maybe 40 people watching, I hit a shank into the forest. Silence. We lose. There was no hole big enough for me to crawl into. The embarrassment was overwhelming. After everyone had gone home, I took a bag of 50 balls and hit them into the ocean, trying to cleanse myself. It didn't work. I was so traumatized, I couldn't sleep. I sought out Ed Kelly, the pro at my home club, Cherry Valley, for a lobotomy. Ed not only was sympathetic in the way only a special club pro can be, he truly cared. He worked with me, invested himself in me. He gave me a game and changed my life. It was the hours I spent with Ed that made me fall in love with the game. Over the years that followed, I've been honored to have many extraordinary pros and human beings like him in my life, but Eddie will always be my first love.

• • •

When Tiger was at the peak of his powers, he revealed something about his game to me I think is so telling. He said he devoted 80 percent of his practice time to his short game. Of that parcel, 80 percent he spent chipping. He said he ended his sessions by throwing 20 balls randomly into crappy lies. When the 20 balls were finished, he threw down several more and didn't quit until he holed one.

• • •

The PGA professional is the most revered person in the game. He or she is admired and respected, much the way doctors, teachers and football coaches are in our communities. They come into contact with a lot of charities, civic leaders and business people. At its core, it's a noble profession, because they're always serving. They can have a huge influence, they're trusted and they care. They're sort of ministers with a different pulpit. I took this job for the opportunity to make 29,000 members' lives better, and because of how that can impact the lives of the millions of people that they touch every day. I'd like to utilize these traits more to their benefit. It's just an idea, but say your PGA member drove a Cadillac. Could he or she, as a local thought leader, drive sales for the nearby dealer through club members and benefit from that in some way? Can we do this on a national scale? Everyone wins.

• • •

Are there limitations to what the PGA can provide for its members? Of course. We're not the members' employers—the clubs do that, or else they're entrepreneurs. We're an umbrella organization whose role is to spread educational resources and best practices, provide them with guidance and the tools to succeed. Our job is to foster an environment where they can perform their best. It's the talent, hard work and determination of the members themselves that ultimately make the difference.

• • •

‘When I think of the future of golf … creativity is going to be key, because golf is facing some serious existential threats that can't be solved by policy or any single mandate.’

Phones have obviously become a constant companion in today's life, and golf is adapting to that reality. Many places have relaxed policies; some have not. I would say one thing, I'm pretty sure I've never hit a good shot after checking my phone. I get that it's hard to unplug for a few hours, but it's healthy to do so. Hopefully it's a time to live in the moment, to enjoy the walk, the company, the beauty of the surroundings and the game. And appreciate the reminder that golf's greatest weakness is also its greatest strength. Much of golf's appeal is the meditative thing, silence interspersed only with conversation, our thoughts and the game's unique sounds. I hope it always remains a primary reason for playing.

• • •

Clancy is 24 now, and I still caddie for him just as I did whenever I could for junior golf. As he gets older, better and more experienced, the dynamic between us has also evolved. Last year, when he attempted to qualify for the PGA Tour Canada, he asked me to be on his bag. We came up with three ground rules. One, he's the boss. I provide the yardages but club him only when asked. Two, I read putts but only offer my opinion when asked. Three, if he ever behaves like a jerk, I'm his dad. Clancy missed qualifying by one, and I'm happy to say I didn't have to invoke the third rule.

Getty Images (2), Boston Globe

Waugh's involvement in the game before becoming PGA of America CEO connected him with many tour pros, including Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Rickie Fowler.

• • •

Coming to the PGA of America has exposed a weakness of mine. I'm not an on-time person, and the PGA happens to be the most punctual organization I've ever seen. The principle of always making your tee time must have sunk in, because every meeting starts on the dot. At Deutsche Bank, I was on time first thing in the morning and then late the rest of the day because I tend to take on one extra task or have one more conversation. Our president, Suzy Whaley, doesn't work that way. Not only does she start things on time, she moves through an agenda like no one I've ever seen. She's helped me restructure the way I work.

• • •

A lot of ideas for improving the game are going to come from outside of golf. Arjun Chowdri, who we just named as the PGA of America's first Chief Innovation Officer, told us recently about a discovery prompted by the problem of waste in grocery stores. The amount and cost of produce going bad before it moves off the shelves is staggering. Arjun noted that scientists have developed a safe polymer that, when sprayed on fruit and vegetables, makes them last several days longer. Arjun is wondering if there might be a use for that polymer on golf courses. Could it mean less water usage, which we know is an increasingly critical issue in golf? Can it keep the azaleas in bloom at the Masters a week longer? Maybe, maybe not. But we're going to be encouraging and investing in that type of alternative thinking. One benefit of moving our headquarters to Frisco, Texas—we'll have golf courses and other state-of-the-art facilities—is to create a laboratory for the game in all forms. It will be the canvas to incubate ideas, and to test and develop concepts in real-world settings.

‘Coming to the PGA of America has exposed a weakness of mine . … The PGA of America happens to be the most punctual organization I've ever seen.’

• • •

My father, Jim Waugh, taught English at the Groton School in Massachusetts and later at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey. He had a Socratic method of teaching in which the students became the teachers, often of themselves. He would ask the questions, not provide the answers. He exposed multiple paths toward some answer—your answer. The goal was always to light the flame and then remove himself from the conversation and let it do the teaching. Not quite Lord of the Flies, but a way to learn. Because you found your answer in your way, you then owned it, not just accepted it. The school sits students and teachers at an ingeniously devised, oval-shape table called a Harkness table, perfect for discourse, especially in smaller groups. Fifty percent or more of a student's grade is based on the quality of their participation at the table.

• • •

Many sat at the table, including our two daughters, some more famous than others. At an AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am some years ago, I introduced myself to Huey Lewis, knowing he'd been a student of my father's. “Your dad was Jim Waugh?” he said. He turned to Alice Cooper. “Alice, get over here. You see this guy? His dad is the man—best teacher ever!” Huey is a brilliant guy, scored 800 on his math SATs back in the day. He majored in engineering at Cornell. He also played a little music along the way.

• • •

My dad is my hero, my role model, because of how many lives he's impacted, how many lives he's made better. At 92, he's still doing that every day. Our dining-room table at home? A Harkness, of course.

Finlay MacKay

• • •

When I think of the future of golf, the Harkness table comes to mind. Creativity is going to be key, because golf is facing some serious existential threats that can't be solved by policy or any single mandate. All sports face challenges today, and golf is no exception. Our sport has issues with time constraints, societal ADD, access and sheer difficulty. It's complicated, and we've been too preoccupied with protecting successful formulas of the past rather than looking creatively toward the future. The PGA of America can do better here. I'm not making a call to blow anything up, because golf obviously remains an incredible engine for good. Charity, health, social opportunities, material benefit for people in the industry and the pro game come immediately to mind. But preserving the status quo is dangerous. Wayne Gretzky says players should skate to where the puck is going, not where it's been, and that applies to how we look at golf.

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• • •

So where's the puck going? In South Korea, there are two million green-grass golfers and three million virtual golfers. In America, Topgolf is growing at 20 percent per year. I believe the PGA of America was afraid of Topgolf's onset and initial popularity; it just wasn't what we did. A few years later, here we are partnering with Topgolf, even staffing them with PGA professionals. Far from being intimidated or confused by Topgolf, we're embracing it. I'd like to see us not merely utilize these innovations, but expand on them and perhaps originate some of our own. I'd like to see traditional golf as the end point, but how we get there is wide open.

• • •

Remember the scene in “Back to the Future” where Michael J. Fox plays “Johnny B. Goode” and the crowd goes wild at the innovation? And how he breaks into Jimi Hendrix-like stuff, and suddenly there's silence, and he realizes he's gone too far? That's where we are, risk-wise, in golf. Topgolf is rocking it, found a sweet spot, been the perfect disrupter. We're going to support inventions like it, and we'll likely hit a Hendrix-like chord or two. We'll learn from it and move on. Success never comes at zero risk; it doesn't work that way. We want to be a part of the inevitable disruption, not a victim of it.

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