While PGA of America meets, Bishop ponders legacy

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FRANKLIN, Ind. – A bitter cold and light blanket of snow have gripped the Legends Golf Club, leaving Ted Bishop with the one thing he probably doesn’t need at this juncture – time.

Time to ponder the cascading turn of events that led to his ouster as the president of the PGA of America. Time to consider his legacy that before Oct. 23 covered nearly six pages of single-spaced bullet points. Time to lament the moment it all slipped away with a single insensitive tweet.

“Faldo’s record stands by itself. Six majors all-time [Ryder Cup] points. Yours vs. His? Lil Girl,” Bishop vented via Twitter in response to Ian Poulter’s criticism of Nick Faldo in his new book “No Limits.”

Bishop settles into a chair while tugging on the zipper of his sweater to ward off the unseasonably cold November chill. It’s a Ryder Cup sweater, which seems strangely apropos considering it was at Gleneagles where things began to unravel for the PGA’s 38th president.

In the Scottish gloom of the U.S. team’s five-point loss Bishop was already starting to feel the tide turn against him, both externally and within the PGA. U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson, Bishop’s captain, was being blasted for another American loss and, by extension, so was Bishop.

“Tom gave his heart and soul to the Ryder Cup for two years, so when he got attacked by a member of the opposing team in my mind it was standing up for a friend and someone who was serving a similar role as me,” Bishop said.

That bunker mentality had festered for four weeks before spilling out into a social media storm that has left the PGA reeling.

Bishop has been largely referenced this week at the PGA’s annual meeting only in hushed tones or veiled references. “You don’t get good publicity,” Donald Trump announced on Friday to begin his keynote speech.

There is also an undertone at this week’s meeting in Indianapolis that Bishop’s fateful tweet was simply the final haymaker in a collection of self-inflicted blows that culminated in his removal from office.

“One of the things I have been criticized for privately in PGA circles is my propensity to being with the media,” Bishop said. “Since Day 1 with the anchoring situation, because of (CEO) Pete Bevacqua’s former relationship with the U.S. Golf Association I took the lead. Right out of the box now the president of the PGA is the most visible spokesperson and that sort of set the stage for the role that I played.”

For Bishop the credibility of the organization depended on transparency and the president’s ability to communicate the message, “whatever that may be.”

But that same outspoken and sometimes confrontational style was in contrast to the traditional role, leading at least one past president to advise Bishop to dial back his wayward ways long before October’s social media miscue.

In many ways it appears Bishop broke that brazen mold, however unintentionally. The association has largely tracked in the opposite direction in the post-Bishop era, evidenced by the fact that two of the three candidates for secretary this week, a post whose holder will ascend to the president’s role in four years, declined to be interviewed before Saturday’s election.

It will all be a part of what amounts to a checkered legacy for Bishop, who motions to a stack of letters and emails on the floor of his office when asked how he’ll be remembered.

“Many of those are from PGA members and I feel pretty good about that. The people that care about the association and care about golf reached out to me,” he says. “I still think there is going to be a legacy of accomplishment.”

But then Bishop pauses before adding, “There is no question I have the distinction of being the only president in 98 years to be impeached.”

It’s strangely fitting that Bishop wraps up his time as president succinctly, with an economy of words befitting the PGA’s first president to embrace Twitter as well as the first to be burned by it.

It will not be Bishop’s principled stand against last year’s ban on anchoring, or his move to provide increased funding ($4 million in 2014) for the 41 PGA sections without any mandated strings, or even a drastically improved relationship between the PGA and the PGA Tour that will define his 23 months in office. Only his historic ouster will linger.

Although Bishop is not attending this week’s annual meeting, which is only about 25 miles from his Legends club, his absence did not go unnoticed.

“We are 100 percent behind Ted,” Tony Pancake, the Indiana PGA Section secretary, told the crowd during Thursday’s opening ceremony.

For Bishop the support is certainly welcome, but that does little to quiet the internal dialogue that consumed him since Oct. 23 and the polar vortex that put an end to the golf season in Indiana.

Since his ouster Bishop has had plenty of time to revisit the moments that led to his dismissal and consider the cost of a job that consumed six years of his life counting his terms as secretary and vice president.

“My wife made a comment to me, ‘Was it really all worth it?’” he said. “You can answer that question two ways. When you look at the list of the accomplishments and the way the association was transformed. That’s worth it.

“In terms of how I feel about the PGA of America on a national level it’s similar to how I felt back in 1989 when I became involved with leadership with the association. There was always a ‘them against us’ mentality.”

Friday was a particularly surreal day for Bishop. He was scheduled to be honored at a “president’s evening,” complete with a speech by Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and a performance by “Three Dog Night.”

 “It’s really bittersweet. When you’re going through your time of your presidency you know this time is going to happen. I had about 150 friends and family who were going to go to this thing tonight. It’s tough,” Bishop allowed. “In a lot of ways it should have been the greatest night of my life. Obviously, that’s not going to happen.”

Instead, Bishop will spend the evening with his family at a local Italian steakhouse and be back in his office at the Legends club early Saturday.

Whatever Bishop’s national legacy, whether he’s remembered as a maverick or a master manipulator, he’s learned after four cold weeks to define himself in the simplest terms as a father, grandfather and PGA professional.