Going rogue was the central theme of Ted Bishop’s tenure at the PGA of America. From his principled stand against the anchored-putting debate to his fateful tweet last Thursday, the ousted president lived his term off-script.
“I lived on the edge for two years,” Bishop conceded on Tuesday’s “Morning Drive.”
In the end, it was that body of work that drove the PGA’s board of directors to remove Bishop from office less than a month before he was scheduled to step down. His insensitive tweet in response to Ian Poulter’s criticism of Nick Faldo will be remembered as the proverbial nail in the coffin, but Bishop knows he’d been undermining himself 140 characters at a time.
On Sept. 28, for example, he sent a tweet following the U.S. Ryder Cup team’s five-point loss, “Victory has a thousand fathers and defeat is an orphan.” A day earlier he’d taken to Twitter to announce, “Clubhouse at Gleneagles being evacuated. Real fire. Can this day get worse?”
Things got worse.
Much worse, and the building fallout from the American rout had reached a tipping point when Bishop arrived in West Virginia to spend a few days with Faldo last week at The Greenbrier.
As he waited for his ride to Faldo’s house for dinner on Thursday, Bishop thumbed out his response to Poulter’s criticism, “Faldo’s record stands by itself. Six majors and all-time (Ryder Cup) points. Yours vs. His? Lil Girl.”
He was angry at Poulter for his lack of reverence when it came to Faldo’s legacy, but the underpinnings of that anger reached back to Gleneagles and how quickly public and private opinion turned on Watson following the U.S. loss.
“It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, these were two icons of the game,” he said.
On Tuesday morning Bishop recounted a conversation he had with PGA CEO Pete Bevacqua before play began in Scotland. “If we win why wouldn’t we consider bringing Tom back (to captain)?” Bevacqua asked.
Less than a week later, however, “PGA people started jumping off the ship,” Bishop recalled.
“There were clearly lines drawn in the sand and people were trying distance themselves from me,” he said. “I told Tom, ‘The PGA owes you an apology.’ I felt the PGA could have made a far stronger statement of support for him.”
From those frayed friendships grew Bishop’s discontent and led him to a tweet that will haunt him forever.
Perhaps things could have been handled better. Perhaps Bishop, and the PGA’s senior director of communications Julius Mason, could have been more proactive in assessing the seriousness of the situation and would have issued a stronger apology.
But none of that happened and by 9 a.m. on Friday Bishop could sense the tide turning against him. After two years of “living on the edge,” the maverick was what his record said he was, outspoken and unedited.
In a five-minute conference call with the entire PGA board on Friday, Bishop apologized and explained how things transpired. He even offered to stay off social media and out of the mainstream press until he stepped down on Nov. 21, but the die had been cast.
“I’m off. I’m off. I’m done,” Bishop said of his self-imposed exile from social media on Tuesday.
It was five days too late.
In an emotional interview on Tuesday, Bishop conceded the point and acknowledged that his presidency would now be defined by those 118 characters, not his fight against the USGA’s ban on anchoring, not the inroads he made to strengthen ties between the PGA Tour and the PGA of America. Not even his outspoken support for the inclusion of women in the R&A.
“Great announcement by R&A today allowing women members. 21st century officially arrives in golf,” he tweeted following last month’s historic vote in Scotland.
“It’s painful because it takes a lot of the things we’ve done and puts them down the drain,” said Bishop, who was stripped of his status as an honorary president but not his PGA membership.
As he headed for the airport Tuesday, back to his day job running his club in Indiana, Bishop was asked if he ever planned to attend another PGA Championship or Ryder Cup.
“I doubt it,” he allowed. “I’ve had a great experience the last six years. My fate is sealed with the PGA of America. That’s no bitterness, it’s just not a priority right now.”
It is ironic that Bishop chose last Thursday to stay on script when the PGA issued what has largely been called a non-apology. The apology, he said, “were not my words.”
After living rogue for two years, it may have been his decision to stay on script that ultimately cost him.