Leadership can be a thankless job

By Randall MellOctober 27, 2014, 6:05 pm

Somebody hand Derek Sprague a Kevlar vest.

The next president of the PGA of America should be properly equipped for the changing nature of leadership.

Actually, check that, he should be prepared for the changing nature of followership.

You want to lead in the game today? You better be a black belt in spiritual Aikido, or some higher form of self-defense. We’re seeing leadership more aggressively challenged than ever before. With social media giving more voices to criticism and discontent, with players and fans more emboldened to speak their minds than ever before, leadership has never been more difficult, or more vital.

Welcome to the foxhole that is sports governance, Mr. Sprague, keep your head down for incoming criticism and cover your ears. The noise can be deafening.   

And, oh yeah, Mr. Sprague, remember that golf holds itself to a higher standard as “the gentleman’s game.” You have to be better than Roger Goodell. As the leader of a sports organization, you have to be more agile than an NFL commissioner. You have to be prepared for issues that would not register in other sports becoming a crisis in your sport.  

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We saw how dramatically the rules are changing just last month, when Phil Mickelson turned a post-Ryder Cup news conference into a post-mortem, shattering all the old rules of decorum by publicly challenging the leadership style of his American captain, Tom Watson. The notion that discontent is better delivered on a public stage than within locker-room walls is becoming par for the course in and out of golf.

With Twitter, Facebook, with public commentary at the bottom of web-based stories, every action and every word you utter, Mr. Sprague, will be sliced open and examined in autopsy-like fashion, a process that turns so many ideas into corpses.

Ten years ago, your predecessor would still have his job. There was no Twitter, and Facebook was only a few months old. Dinner companions and close colleagues would likely have been the only ones to hear his disparagement of Ian Poulter as a "squealing little girl." If the ex-PGA president was lucky, a friend would have pointed out the troubling way his depiction of Poulter undermines the work of his membership on the front lines.

If you look around the game today, Mr. Sprague, you will see some highly skilled leaders in golf, but the threat of crisis is a constant companion, poised to break out when some weakness or flaw is revealed.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is a marvel, a master of the measured word and a genius at navigating safe passages through mine fields, but he isn’t exempt from scrutiny. Vijay Singh’s lawsuit, his challenge of the PGA Tour’s drug-testing policy, looms as a threat to blow up into a P.R. crisis at any moment. If it does, the commissioner may need that Kevlar vest.

R&A executive director Peter Dawson has skillfully juggled political hot potatoes for 15 years, but he narrowly avoids a blistering assessment of his reign when he retires next year, thanks to the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews’ recent vote to end its exclusionary all-male membership policy.

USGA executive director Mike Davis is an articulate, master strategist on and off the course, but a private internal political struggle for control of the governing body, and a public stance in the banning of anchored strokes have tested his leadership agility.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan is showing a golden touch, rebuilding and strengthening his tour while garnering the trust of players and sponsors alike, but defense of his women always comes with backlash from certain old-guard sensibilities.

Just under a year into the job, PGA CEO Pete Bevacqua didn't have to wait long for the sternest test of his career.  

In today’s golf circles, a green jacket may be even better protection than a Kevlar one.

More than any other leader, Augusta National chairman Billy Payne is able to take stances with less fear of reprisal than any other leader. The walls of the club seem impenetrable to outside pressure, much less social media pressure. The outside demands on the club to admit women as members didn’t force Payne’s hand, though his fingerprints were clearly all over the ultimate decision to admit women. The club just waited until it was good and ready.

With scrutiny and challenges building on golf’s leadership in uncomfortable ways, there has to be temptation for leaders to say less publicly, to button up the Kevlar vest and keep their heads down. There’s a strategy in politics that says the fewer strong stands a candidate for office can make, the better off he or she will be. Fewer voters are alienated that way. But that isn’t leadership.

The more scrutiny grows, the more unchecked criticism becomes and the noisier challenges grow, the more the game needs smart, strong voices to cut through it all. You may have to be smarter than ever to lead today, and you certainly have to be braver.

It probably isn’t as much fun to be in a leadership position in the game now, but it’s never been more important.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.