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.  


More articles and videos on Ted Bishop's removal as PGA president


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.

Getty Images

Casey in line to make Ryder Cup after Travelers T-2

By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 10:30 am

Despite coughing up a four-shot lead at the Travelers Championship, England's Paul Casey moved into a qualifying position to make his return to the Ryder Cup this fall in Paris.

Casey struggled Sunday at TPC River Highlands, shooting a 72 as Bubba Watson raced to victory with a 63. But a four-way share of second place was still good enough to lift Casey into fourth place among those not already qualified on the World Points list, with the top four Europeans from that list in August punching their tickets to Le Golf National.

Casey has played in three Ryder Cups before, but none since 2008. After renouncing his European Tour membership a few years ago, he reinstated it for the 2018 season in order to be eligible to return to the biennial matches.

Here's a look at the updated standings for Europe, with the top four players from each points list ultimately joining four picks from captain Thomas Bjorn:

European Points

1. Tyrrell Hatton

2. Justin Rose

3. Tommy Fleetwood

4. Francesco Molinari

---

5. Thorbjorn Olesen

6. Matthew Fitzpatrick

World Points

1. Jon Rahm

2. Rory McIlroy

3. Alex Noren

4. Paul Casey

---

5. Matthew Fitzpatrick

6. Ian Poulter

On the American side of the ledger, Watson jumped two spots to fifth with his third win of the year and seemingly locked up his spot on the squad, while Bryson DeChambeau moved inside the top eight with a top-10 finish in Connecticut.

Here's a look at the latest U.S. standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship earning automatic bids:

1. Brooks Koepka

2. Dustin Johnson

3. Patrick Reed

4. Justin Thomas

5. Bubba Watson

6. Jordan Spieth

7. Rickie Fowler

8. Bryson DeChambeau

---

9. Webb Simpson

10. Phil Mickelson

11. Matt Kuchar

12. Brian Harman

Getty Images

Watson cracks top 15 in world with Travelers win

By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 10:15 am

After his third win in the last five months, Bubba Watson is back on the cusp of the upper echelon in the world rankings.

Watson started the year ranked No. 89 in the world, but after a three-shot victory at the Travelers Championship the southpaw moved up seven spots to No. 13 in the latest rankings. It marks his best position since a missed cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February 2017.

Watson stayed one spot behind Paul Casey, who was one of four runners-up in Connecticut and rose one position to 12th as a result. Beau Hossler's T-2 finish helped him jump 24 spots to No. 64, while J.B. Holmes went from 93rd to 75th with the same result. Stewart Cink, who grabbed a share of second with a final-round 62, went from No. 149 to No. 95 and is back inside the top 100 in the world rankings for the first time since September 2011.


Updated Official World Golf Ranking


Matt Wallace, who won the BMW International Open on the European Tour, went from 91st to 66th.

There was only one change among the top 10 in the rankings, as an idle Jon Rahm moved past Jordan Spieth at No. 5 despite Spieth's T-42 finish at TPC River Highlands. At No. 6, Spieth is at his lowest point in the rankings since before last summer's victories at Travelers and The Open.

Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Rahm. Spieth slid to No. 6, with Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Poised to return to competition this week at the Quicken Loans National, Tiger Woods fell three spots to No. 82 in the latest rankings.

Getty Images

After Further Review: Spieth needs a break

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 25, 2018, 1:11 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On Jordan Spieth's much-needed break ...

Jordan Spieth is heading for a break, and that’s probably a good thing.

Spieth just wrapped a run of six events in seven weeks that featured largely underwhelming results. A third-place finish at the Masters that stemmed from a nearly-historic final round deflects attention away from the fact that Spieth has yet to enter a final round this year less than six shots off the lead.

A return to his home state didn’t work, nor did a fight against par at Shinnecock or a title defense outside Hartford where everything went so well a year ago. His putting woes appear to have bottomed out, as Spieth finished 21st in putting at Travelers, but now the alignment issue that plagued his putting appears to have bled into other parts of his game.

So heading into another title defense next month at Carnoustie, Spieth plans to take some time off and re-evaluate. Given how fast things turned around last summer, that might prove to be just what he needs. - Will Gray


On the difference between this week and last week ...

There wasn’t a single outraged tweet, not a lone voice of descent on social media following Bubba Watson’s victory at the Travelers Championship, a 17-under par masterpiece that included a closing loop of 30.

Nobody declared that golf was broken, no one proclaimed the royal and ancient game a victim of technology and the age of uber athletes. The only response was appreciation for what Watson, a bomber in the truest form, was able to accomplish.

At 6,840 yards, TPC River Highlands was built for fun, not speed. Without wild weather or ill-advised hole locations and greens baked to extinction, this is what the best players in the game do, and yet no one seemed outraged. Weird. - Rex Hoggard


On the emergence of another LPGA phenom ...

Add another young star to the favorites list heading to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes outside Chicago next week.

Nasa Hataoka, the 19-year-old Japanese standout who needed her rookie season last year to acclimate to the LPGA, broke through for her first LPGA title Sunday at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

This wasn’t a surprise to LPGA followers. Hataoka won the Japan Women’s Open when she was 17, the first amateur to win a major on the Japan LPGA Tour, and she has been trending up this year.

Her tie for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open three weeks ago was her fourth consecutive top-10 finish. She won going away in Arkansas, beating a deep field that included the top nine in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. She outplayed world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn and No. 3 Lexi Thompson on Sunday. - Randall Mell

Getty Images

Bubba waiting for Furyk's text about Ryder Cup

By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:39 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – After winning his third PGA Tour title in the span of five months, Bubba Watson is now waiting by his phone.

Watson’s victory at the Travelers Championship, his third at TPC River Highlands since 2010, accompanies recent victories at both the Genesis Open and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play from earlier this year. It also moved the southpaw from No. 7 to No. 5 in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically.

After serving as an assistant captain at Hazeltine despite ranking No. 7 in the world at the time, Watson made it clear that he hopes to have removed any doubt about returning to the role of player when the biennial matches head to Paris this fall.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“It still says in my phone that (U.S. captain) Jim (Furyk) hasn’t texted me yet. So I’d really like for him to say I’m going to pick you no matter what,” Watson said. “The motivation is I’ve never won a Ryder Cup, so making the Ryder Cup team and trying to win a Ryder Cup as a player would be another tournament victory to me. It would be a major championship to me just because I’ve never done it, been a part of it.”

Watson turns 40 in November, and while he reiterated that his playing career might not extend too far into the future as he looks to spend more time at home with son Caleb and daughter Dakota, he’s also hoping to make an Olympic return in Tokyo in 2020 after representing the U.S. in Rio two years ago.

“Talking about the Olympics coming up, that’s motivating me,” he said. “It was the best experience of my life to watch all the other events, and then the golf tournament got in the way. I’d love to do it again. I’d love to watch all the events and then have to play golf as well.”