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Desimone battles cancer and fights for Cal Golf

By Ryan LavnerOctober 12, 2017, 2:30 pm

What’s going on in there?

It’s the question that continues to haunt Steve Desimone.

For the past decade, he has battled so many ailments that those close to him can no longer keep track: hip and back, arm and head, eye and leg, asthma and Achilles. The breakdown can partly be attributed to bad luck and advancing age, to an early life on the basketball court and then 37 years as the men’s golf coach at the University of California. But there also were enough warning signs that in the summer of 2014, Desimone’s son, Robert, planned to broach the idea of retirement, of slowing down, of getting out of the game before his body made the decision for him. He never summoned the courage.

“We were playing golf, and unprompted, he told me, ‘I’m having way too much fun to get out of it,’” Robert says now. “So who the hell am I to step in and tell him to retire? It was just going to make him feel older than he already was. I could tell he wasn’t done. He needed to go out on his own terms.”

Then came the abdominal pain in December 2015.

Desimone had endured minor bouts of intestinal inflammation before, but it usually passed after a few weeks. This did not. The 67-year-old traveled to Hawaii for the Golden Bears’ second spring event and was miserable. Not only did he coach through the stomach pain, but he thought he pulled his left quadriceps while racing back and forth between the 16th green and the elevated 17th tee. The flight home was even worse. His stomach ached, his leg was on fire, and he fretted over a cryptic text his wife, Linda, had sent hours earlier about a problem back at the house.

Hobbling through the front door at midnight, he saw towels on the hardwood floors, squeegees in Linda’s hands, and pots and pans catching the water pouring through the light fixtures. A toilet line had broken, and the $10 part caused more than $100,000 in flood damage.

“The world was coming apart for us,” he says.

He saw the doctor for the stomach pain and was prescribed antibiotics that didn’t help. He underwent a CAT scan and agonized for a few more days. And then finally, at 9:45 a.m. on March 3, 2016, while awaiting another round of allergy shots, he received a phone call and some clarity.

“There’s something we need to deal with immediately,” his doctor started.

Two small tumors.

Spinal column.

Metastatic cancer.

“But Steven,” she said, “please don’t panic.”


L to R: Kim, Linda, Steve and Robert Desimone (courtesy: Cal Athletics)


IN THE FALL OF 1979, Desimone was working as the athletic director at the prestigious College Preparatory School in Oakland when he was approached to coach the Cal men’s golf team.

Earlier that year, golf, wrestling and volleyball had been dropped as intercollegiate sports in a cost-cutting measure by then-athletic director Dave Maggard. After accepting the job, Desimone helped form the Cal Golf Committee and raised $5,000 at the inaugural fundraising tournament, the first step in proving to Maggard and the administration that the team could be self-sufficient.

After two years of tense negotiations, the golf program was reinstated in 1982, but under three conditions set by vice chancellor for business administrative services Bob Curley: Desimone had to stay at least four years; they couldn’t offer scholarships unless the endowment had a minimum of $100,000; and Cal Golf must be self-funded forever.

Those stipulations – especially the last part – created a series of challenges. While his coaching peers targeted elite juniors with the promise of a full scholarship, Desimone focused on players who didn’t need financial assistance and were the right fit for Cal, both athletically and academically. (Cal-Berkeley is the top-ranked public school in the country.) With no funding from the university, Desimone was both coach and businessman – responsible not just for player development and recruiting, but also organizing charity and fundraising events that helped cover annual expenses including coaching salaries and benefits, scholarships and travel.

Desimone proved wildly successful at both tasks. They just held their 38th fundraiser, and although Maggard once huffed that the group couldn’t even raise $1,000, Desimone and Co. have since collected more than $25 million – one of the lone bright spots in an athletic department crippled by a budgetary crisis.

“Des is Cal Golf,” says Ken Lloyd, a Cal alum and longtime president of the Cal Golf Committee. “The program wouldn’t have existed without him.”

The slow climb to relevance finally paid off in 2004. Twenty-five years after the run-down program was eliminated, and with no top-500 recruits, Desimone guided the Golden Bears to an improbable NCAA title.

"I always joke, like, When's the movie coming out?" says his daughter, Kim.

When the team returned home, the chancellor's chief of staff, John Cummins, phoned Desimone and set up a lunch to congratulate the committee. It’d been years since they had seen each other, and when Curley walked in, Desimone put the NCAA trophy on his place setting. Curley’s eyes welled. “I always thought you guys could achieve something like this,” he said. “The best decision I ever made at Cal was reinstating the men’s golf program.” He died six months later.

The ’04 team might have won the title, but it was the squad nearly a decade later that is most synonymous with Cal Golf.

The 2012-13 Golden Bears staked their claim as the best team in college golf history with an 11-win season during which they posted a head-to-head record of 206-3-1, beat their opponents by a combined 8,238 strokes (the three losses by a total of only five shots) and boasted a lineup with three first-team All-Americans and a pair of second-teamers. Yet they fell short at the NCAA Championship, stunned by Illinois in the semifinals. Afterward, the players and coaches were inconsolable; for 45 minutes in the team hotel, Desimone sat with his head in his hands, muttering, “I just don’t believe it. I just don’t believe it.” Finally, he emerged with reddened eyes and declared, “You guys will live forever as the best team in the history of college golf.”

Even now, the loss still rankles him. “That’s the only regret I have in all of this,” he says.

It was as close as he’d get to another title.


Coach Desimone at the 2016 NCAA Championships (courtesy: Cal Athletics)


ALONE AT HIS allergist’s office, Desimone slumped into a chair.

“You’ve got to be f---ing kidding me,” he grumbled.

He called Linda at work, and for 15 seconds there was nothing but silence. “I’ll be right there,” she said.

The doctors’ initial suspicion of multiple myeloma, a cancer found in the bone marrow, was confirmed a few days later. Desimone received five radiation treatments at the Alta Bates Oncology Center in Berkeley, one of the top myeloma clinics in the world, that zapped the two 1 1/2-centimeter tumors pushing on his spinal column and creating the discomfort in his abdomen. He was immediately put on a chemotherapy treatment plan, and the next few months were hellish, with shots and clinic visits and treatments and hospital rooms.

Desimone didn’t tell his kids until Kim, 34, came to visit a few weeks later. She’d brought her boyfriend, Zach, to Orinda to spend time with her parents and visit the wine country. Instead, Desimone sat them both on the couch, dialed Robert and put him on speakerphone, and delivered the news. Kim burst into tears.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Desimone said, consoling her. “I will fight this like hell and nothing is going to take me down. I plan on being here for a long time.”

The timing was dreadful, though. Much of the family’s house needed to be redone after the flood, so they had packed up their belongings and moved into a 700-square-foot garage apartment, where they stayed for six months. Desimone was so weak that he practically rolled out of bed. His voracious appetite disappeared. And he was reduced to a wheelchair, walker and crutches.

“All I could do was love him and hug him,” Linda says. “Everything around me was just numb already, with so many things being thrown at us. I just wanted to take care of him and get him better so we could do all the things we were planning on doing.”

Desimone's diagnosis largely remained a secret. One of the first to know was Walter Chun, a former Cal golfer and Desimone's associate head coach for 12 years, so he could take over on an interim basis. “I was shocked,” Chun says. “Your head starts racing with all of the negative thoughts instead of the positive.” 

In the throes of chemo, Desimone couldn’t be near his players. All the team knew was that he had a nerve problem in his left leg, that he couldn’t really walk, that doctors were trying to address it. They were intentionally kept in the dark – Desimone didn’t want to become a distraction for the rest of the season. “The guys have to know and trust that I’m not there for a good reason,” he told Chun.

By the end of March, the regular season was winding down and he started to improve. At the time, Robert, 32, was working as a State Farm insurance account representative in Minnesota, and he booked a one-way ticket to California, eventually spending 12 days by his father’s side. One day at the clinic, they asked the doctor whether they could travel to Arizona State for Cal’s upcoming tournament. It had become clear that this would be Desimone’s final year, and he and Linda, who spent 36 years as the athletic director at the College Preparatory School, planned to retire together at the end of the spring semester. But the finality was unsettling.

“How does it come down to this?” he asked Robert one night. “We’re so close to the finish line. It can’t end like this.” His doctor agreed that Desimone could go to Tempe, as long as he followed the treatment regimen.

“He was really feeling like he was never going to be with the team on a trip again,” Robert says. “When the doctor said we could make it work, he lit up like a Christmas tree. It was one of the biggest smiles and happiest moments I’ve ever seen.”

It turned out to be a mistake. The team lost by a shot, and the normally gregarious coach had little energy in the desert heat. Robert constantly monitored his father’s vital signs while Chun administered his shots each night, pinching the fatty area around his belly button. Desimone labored through the airport, and after returning home, he turned to Linda and sighed, “Nope, this isn’t going to work.”

Less than a week later, his temperature spiked to 102.5 and he was admitted to the emergency room. With weight melting off his increasingly frail body, he spent eight days in the hospital, likely because of a low-grade virus he’d contracted in Tempe.

“That was a big setback in the sense of, What’s going on here?” Linda says. “That looked somewhat scary.”

While recovering, he nagged doctors about the pain in his leg, which hadn’t subsided over the past few months. They ran another CAT scan and found the culprit – a 7-centimeter tumor in his left femur.

Another 10 days of radiation followed, each treatment reducing his pain. By the end of the 10 sessions he could trudge up and down the stairs, and he began moving well enough to attend the team banquet in early May, when he announced that he was stepping down after the NCAA Championship. No reason was given.

“The team deserves two full-time coaches,” he said, “and I can’t give what I used to.”

Hoping to rally behind their departing coach, the Golden Bears headed to Tucson for regionals. Of the 13 teams competing, only the top 5 after 54 holes advance to NCAAs, and down the stretch Cal sat a few shots outside the cut line.

In the most stressful tournament of the year, Desimone was strangely calm. “I had set it up psychologically that, if this was it, it was a hell of a career,” he says. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more.” Desimone has always taken pride in his team’s closing ability, and fittingly the four counters combined for five birdies on the final two holes. Watching K.K. Limbhasut’s 50-foot birdie crash into the back of the cup on 17, securing Cal’s spot among the top 5, Robert raced toward his father’s cart, screaming, “He made the f---ing putt! We’re gonna make it!”

The NCAA Championship lacked a similar fairy-tale ending, but it was no less satisfying. Finishing late in the day, the cameras and fans on-site all tilted toward Eugene Country Club’s ninth hole for Desimone’s farewell. With no chance to make match play, Robert convinced his father to stop about 60 yards short of the green, so he could soak up one last walk with his team.

Afterward, he congratulated his peers and posed for pictures and answered questions about his legacy. Surrounded by friends and family, he exited to the right of the green, arm in arm with Kim and Robert.

“Totally at peace,” he says. “It was time to call it a career and concentrate on what was going on with me.”


Video: Coach Desimone's final event at the 2016 NCAAs


FOUR WEEKS AFTER NCAAs, doctors determined that Desimone’s cancer was in remission. He didn’t celebrate with a party or vacation. “Just a sigh of relief,” Linda says. “I probably could have cried tears of joy, but my emotions are just in a holding pattern until whenever.”

It was Desimone’s first summer in four decades without somewhere to be, without a recruit to watch, so he settled into a new routine. Needing to overhaul her husband’s diet – no sugar, no alcohol – Linda prepared smoothies, turkey wraps with cream cheese, and chicken and vegetables. Each day he spent a few hours flipping through three newspapers and firing off committee emails. In the afternoon he maintained his perfectly manicured lawn, while Linda tended to her well-stocked garden of tomatoes, zucchini and blueberries. And before dinner, they stretched and walked a couple of miles, chatting optimistically about the future, about maybe opening a school or running a volleyball clinic for kids.

“It took us some time to realize that every day is a Saturday,” Linda says. “But every once in a while, he’ll kick back and say, ‘I think I’m liking this!’”

And, yes, he remained involved with the Cal golf program, though not as intimately as before. Chun, his longtime assistant, was promoted to head coach. At the first team meeting last fall, Desimone laid out the expectations – he would only serve in an advisory role, if asked, while Chun called the shots.

“I had to cut the cord,” Desimone said. He didn’t want the hoopla of a retirement party, but 160 people, including former players and alumni, attended his sendoff at the team’s annual fundraiser last September at TPC Stonebrae. The real reason for his retirement was still a mystery to many – he only told his 95-year-old father about the diagnosis 11 months ago.

“It was a little bit sobering,” says Lloyd, the committee president, “because we knew he was having some health issues.”

When he was strong enough, Desimone watched a few qualifiers and pored over scores, looking for trends. The results weren’t always encouraging. Two of the team’s five starters redshirted so they could focus on their admittance into the Haas School of Business, while another sat out because of injury. They essentially sacrificed Chun’s first year.

Though Collin Morikawa blossomed into one of the game’s rising stars, the Golden Bears finished no better than fifth in a tournament, took eighth at Pac-12s and failed to advance to a regional because they didn’t defeat at least half of their opponents. “I know Walter pushed every conceivable button he could,” Desimone says. “There just wasn’t enough there.”

It’s a new era in Cal Golf, and Desimone has slowly been phased out, finally packing up his office last November. Now, he’s just like every other college golf fan, tracking events on the Golfstat app. “I didn’t have any on-the-job training – the previous coach gave me a brown notebook with 50 pages in it and told me to remember to be on the first tee so I could say good luck to the guys,” Desimone says. “Walter is a smart guy, and he’ll find his way a lot faster than I did. But coaches are going to do different things. We’re not all robots.”

To his credit, Chun expected a rough year, and he suffered his fair share of growing pains as a first-year head coach. With his team struggling, he sought Desimone’s advice on how to manage his roles as coach, businessman and salesman, how to deal with concerned donors and, most importantly, how to connect with players. For 12 years, Desimone was the disciplinarian and father figure while Chun massaged egos as the associate head coach. All of a sudden, the roles were reversed (with assistant Eric Mina), and everything was new – feeling like the bad guy, soothing disgruntled parents, delivering speeches after a tough round.

On Tuesday, Cal won its first team title under Chun.

“After some time to reflect, I realized I have to create my own identity, be my own coach and person,” he says. “He knows I have to learn from my own mistakes, but I feel like I have a lot to prove. I need to prove something to Des and the athletic department and the donors. It’s hard to replace a legend.”


Coach Desimone and team (courtesy: Cal Athletics)


“EVERY FREAKIN’ DAY is one damn challenge after another.”

It’s August, and it’s been 15 months since Desimone retired, at least in an official capacity. After a year and a half, he has finally agreed to talk on the record about his illness, and only because he recently mentored a couple that was in a similar situation. It was therapeutic for both sides, and he realized that his words, and his story, could help others.

Frustratingly, in the maintenance stage, there have been more health issues, even more uncertainty. Last December, pumped full of chemo, he underwent a stem-cell transplant that left his body vulnerable to illness, like a baby’s. It was a subdued Christmas, with a different holiday routine and his kids unable to hug him for the first 48 hours of their visit. “It was still one of the more meaningful ones I can remember,” Robert says. “Given all that had happened in 2016, it meant so much for us to be there together.”

Over the course of three weeks and two lengthy interviews, four problems pop up: a pulled hip muscle, asthma attacks triggered by the wildfires, cataract surgery and a bout with pneumonia that lands him in the hospital. At times, it feels as though he’s falling apart, piece by piece.

“When you first get it, you always wonder, Why me?” Desimone says. “But I don’t ask it as often as I did. You wrestle with this stuff over time. The number of different thoughts and questions still go on – it may not be what it was the first six months I was fighting the disease, but they’re always there.

“Every cancer patient has that fear, every day, every hour: Is this the beginning of the end?”

Now 69, Desimone has big plans for the future. He wants to play more golf, and he wants to watch Cal play tournaments, and he wants to write a book. But he’s also learning to swallow smaller disappointments in hopes of better days. Missed weddings. Canceled meetings. Postponed vacations. At least he received some good news Tuesday, when his doctor green-lighted his trip later this week to Tahiti – a getaway Desimone had planned as a thank-you to his wife of 35 years, the woman he calls “the real MVP,” for her 19 months of caretaking.

“The doubts and the questions, they’re always in the back of your mind,” he says. “It always is. I don’t care how strong you are mentally. At some point, you have to push the button and they go into the compartment in the back of your mind. But you still can’t help but think: What’s going on in there?


Coach Desimone and family with the 2004 NCAA Championship trophy (courtesy: Cal Athletics)


LAST MONTH, DESIMONE, a two-time NCAA Coach of the Year, was inducted into the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame, part of a class that included former NBA star Jason Kidd and PGA Tour player Charlie Wi.

Each inductee received five minutes – three for a video summarizing their career accomplishments, two for a speech in front of 500 attendees. The task seemed impossible, boiling down into 120 seconds a career in which he took a program on life support and turned it into a national champion, so he enlisted Robert to help craft his speech. They chatted about legacy, about the people who made it all possible, and Desimone felt prepared for the evening. He attended a luncheon and teared up at the sight of his plaque. He got fitted for a tuxedo; Linda bought a new dress and shoes.

But that night, like so many others over the past two years, didn’t go as planned. About 45 minutes before his speech, he staggered and nearly collapsed. Those near him initially thought he’d suffered a heart attack, but it was probably dehydration because of the heat wave, or a reaction to the six booster shots he’d received three days earlier. Whatever the case, he retired to a couch in a back room of the conference center, straining to hear Robert deliver the speech that he was supposed to give.

But Dad,” Kim said, hugging him, “at least you’re here.” 

He still hasn’t seen the video.

“It was crushing,” Desimone says now. “If ever there was a night, that peak moment …” He paused. “It was disappointing and frustrating. Really frustrating. There’s just that damn question mark again: What’s going on in there?

And so now everyone – the family, the team, the committee – feels a greater sense of urgency.

When Desimone started at Cal, he had three goals: win a national title; create a facility for the team; and ensure Cal Golf in perpetuity through an endowment. He accomplished the first two objectives. He and the committee hoped to finish the last part before he retired, but the cancer diagnosis understandably derailed their progress.

They’re roughly $2.5 million short of their $12 million endowment goal, at which point the interest would kick in enough to fully fund the program. That would take some of the fundraising pressure off Chun and the committee, but more importantly it would ensure that the program – that Desimone’s life’s work – remains untouched.

It’s the final task of Desimone’s storied Cal career, and he has worn himself down trying to finish it. He wants closure.

“He almost lives in fear that it will happen, so it drives him to finish the endowment,” Robert says. “That’s the ultimate legacy – that the program he started lives forever. What’s a better legacy than that?”

JENNIFER PODIS / The Palm Beach Post

RIP Lou King and his history-making hats

By Al TaysOctober 23, 2018, 1:50 pm

A moment of silence, please, for Lou King, who died Saturday in Iowa City at age 93. If you’re wearing a hat, do NOT take it off, especially if it bears some company’s name or logo. Lou used to get mad when professional golfers would take off their hats – at least the professional golfers he was paying to wear said hats. His company’s hats.

Amana.

Every golfer who gets paid to wear some non-golf company’s name or logo on his hat – we’ll expand it to anywhere on his clothing – owes Lou King a debt of gratitude. We’re talking to you, Phil Mickelson, with your KPMG visors. And you, Bernhard Langer, with that Mercedes logo on your shirts. And you, John Daly, with – well, with seemingly everything, everywhere.

In Lou King’s long, illustrious career in golf, his employers included the Ben Hogan Company, MacGregor Golf and the PGA of America (for which he served as executive director). But it was during his tenure at the Iowa-based appliance maker Amana that he had the most lasting impact on the game. His idea was simplicity itself: Give Amana exposure in person, on television and in newspapers and magazines by paying pros to wear hats with the company’s logo.

Amana paid pros $50 per tournament – “dirt cheap,” King told me when I profiled him in The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post in 1999. And it was well targeted advertising, too, aimed at affluent people who play golf. “Those are the people who buy major appliances,” King said.

Many of golf’s powers-that-be were less than amused, however. Tournament winners were frequently directed to doff their headgear for post-round television interviews. That made King see red. “If you’re going to take your hat off,” he would complain to any of his client pros who did, “why am I paying you?”

It was practically a moot point, though, as TV directors schemed to keep the controversial caps out of the camera’s frame.

Legendary CBS golf producer Frank Chirkinian was particularly galled by King’s hat strategy. Burned into his memory was the first pro he saw wearing an Amana hat on one of his broadcasts: Larry Ziegler, in a late-1960s Masters.

When I interviewed him for my 1999 article on King, Chirkinian, who died in 2011, said he refused to show Ziegler because “I was all of a sudden quite incensed that he was wearing this identification representing Amana, and I felt that I had to do something to protect the integrity of our sponsorship.”

By 1999, however, most of those involved in network broadcasts of golf tournaments had ceased trying to stem the tide of corporate logos. “You really don’t think about it anymore,” said Jack Graham, current Golf Channel and former ABC Sports producer. “It’s become so much an accepted practice.”

Still standing guard on the wall, however, was NBC’s golf producer, Tommy Roy. “We do think about it still,” Roy said at the time. But last week, when I asked Roy the same question I had asked him in 1999, he chuckled. “No,” he said, “we haven’t worried about that in years.”

The networks’ vigilance during the 1960s sometimes bordered on the absurd. Graham told me in 1999 that former ABC Sports president Dennis Swanson insisted on wiping out hat logos on still pictures of players that were used on ABC’s golf broadcasts. “I understood what Dennis was saying,” Graham said, “but at the end of the day I said ‘Look, you see them eight gazillion times on the golf course with their logos on. I think we make them look foolish with a hat that has nothing on it.’”

There was concern in some quarters that the Amana logos would spawn competitors, with players starting to look like NASCAR drivers. Some would say that has already come to pass. A photo of Daly, who admittedly is an extreme case, taken at this year’s Constellation Senior Players Championship reveals no fewer than six sponsor logos on his golf shirt – one on each side of his collar, one on each sleeve and one on each breast.

King would not have approved. “If it gets to be bad taste to where they start to look like some of these race cars, I think it’s bad,” he told me. “I personally don’t think it’s right for a player to have three or four different logos on their golf shirt.”

Times change, though. The PGA Tour’s regulations on logos read in part: “As a guideline, no more than four different sponsor logos should appear on a player’s clothing and headwear.”

King spread the Amana hat gospel to more than just professional golfers. A former starting quarterback for the University of Iowa, he later became friends with legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. King and Bryant would occasionally play together in golf outings and charity tournaments, and King would always make sure to give Bryant a pristine white golf hat with the Amana logo.

King was also friends with former Minnesota Vikings coach Jerry Burns, and provided Amana stocking caps for the team to use when the temperatures plummeted. “For three years we had terrific logo recognition in pro football,” King said.

The question of which pro was the first to be paid to wear an Amana hat is somewhat muddled. King paid eventual winner Bob Goalby to wear an Amana hat in the 1968 Masters (that featured the infamous Roberto De Vicenzo scorecard gaffe), but Amana’s official program of paying pros didn’t begin until later that year, when King saw Julius Boros put on an Amana hat (that he had gotten when he played in the company’s yearly pro-am) in the Texas heat of the 1968 PGA Championship in San Antonio. That convinced King that a widespread program would be worth the investment, and the rest is hat history, logo lore.

So tip your hat – just don’t take it off – to Lou King, a man ahead of his time.

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Golf Channel adds Matt Farrell as GM of Alternative Golf & Exec. Director of World Long Drive Association

By Golf Channel Public RelationsOctober 23, 2018, 1:20 pm

Farrell’s New Role Follows Past Decade Spent as CMO of USA Swimming

Matt Farrell, CMO of USA Swimming, has joined Golf Channel as General Manager of Alternative Golf and Executive Director for the World Long Drive Association. Farrell is a 20-year veteran of sports and entertainment marketing spanning roles with USA Swimming, the U.S. Olympic Committee and Warner Brothers. The announcement was made today by Tom Knapp, Golf Channel executive vice president, partnerships and programming.

“Golf Channel is committed to the growth of the game by engaging new and different fans in our coverage of all aspects of the game,” said Knapp. “Alternative competitions like World Long Drive expand golf’s reach, and Matt’s proven track record of elevating sports, both through grassroots efforts, digital extensions and high-profile media opportunities will further fuel our efforts. Matt has a terrific reputation within the Olympic community, where he is known as an effective and strategic partner amongst colleagues across sport governing bodies and sponsors.”

“From the first time I experienced a WLD event, I immediately saw the progressive vision and promising future of long drive as a sport and unique avenue for golf to connect with younger, athletic-minded sports fans,” Farrell said. “And thanks to the investments of NBC Sports, the competitors, sponsors, and event hosts the past few years, we have an incredible foundation to expand upon with a global, long-term strategic plan. For me personally, I look forward to combining my background in commercial development, organizational leadership and digital content at USA Swimming and the U.S. Olympic Committee with Golf Channel’s entrepreneurial enthusiasm to grow the sport of golf in non-traditional ways.”

In the newly created role, Farrell will lead all domestic and international business elements for Golf Channel’s owned and operated alternative golf franchises, led by the World Long Drive Association, which has aired on Golf Channel since 2013. For these franchises, Farrell will oversee event sponsorships, marketing, communications, operations, player relations and TV/digital media extensions. Farrell will lead teams focused on further development of additional alternative golf competitions, events and franchises. Farrell will report to Knapp and his official start date is December 3.

Since making a commitment to add World Long Drive to its business portfolio in 2015, Golf Channel has elevated the sport to feature five televised live competitions in 2018, culminating in the Volvik World Long Drive Championship in primetime, and adding the women’s division to televised events for the past two years. Previously, World Long Drive’s exposure was limited to a single, tape-delayed presentation of the men’s world championship on ESPN2. Despite a history as a sport dating back to 1976, Golf Channel’s support drove World Long Drive to be named a 2018 finalist for a “Breakthrough Sports League of the Year” by the annual Cynopsis Sports industry awards. The broader sports industry also has taken notice, including ESPN proclaiming that long drive has “recently started to enter the mainstream of golf;” Men’s Journal noting “with the sport’s ascendant profile and ever-growing prestige,” fans should “buckle up for more high-octane action;” Golf Digest saying the WLD atmosphere is “on the upswing, gaining traction;” and Golf.com claiming it is “an eye-opening experience”.

Matt Farrell Professional Background:

  • USA Swimming, Chief Marketing Officer since 2008, previously Managing Director of Business Development since 2005.
    • USA Swimming is a National Governing Body with 400,000 members and the No. 1 Olympic swimming country in the world.
    • Under his leadership, delivered highest corporate partner revenue in organization’s history, including corporate partners such as BMW, Marriott, MilkPEP, Arena, TYR, Blue Diamond and Chobani, in addition to long-term partnership renewals with Speedo and Phillips 66.
    • Farrell developed partnerships with Disney and Discovery Education, as well as a diversity and inclusion partnership with Sigma Gamma Rho, an African-American sorority.
    • Signature programs created by Farrell include USA Swimming Productions digital video department, SwimToday youth participation campaign, USA Swimming House VIP hospitality experience, and annual SwimBiz conference focused on elevating the swimming industry’s business potential, sponsorship opportunities and social media influence.
    • Previous professional experience includes serving as Associate Director, Internet Marketing at the U.S. Olympic Committee from 2000-2005, and Director of Internet Marketing, Warner Home Video for Warner Bros. from 1999-2000. Additionally, Farrell served previously at the U.S. Olympic Committee as Manager of Online Projects from 1997-1999 and Communications Coordinator at USA Swimming 1993-1997, after starting his career in the Purdue University’s Sports Information Office from 1992-1993.
    • Farrell additionally has served on the boards for Adaptive Adventures (2013-16) and USA Ultimate (2010-12).
    • Farrell graduated from the University of Arkansas with a BA in Broadcast Journalism.
    • Farrell, a life-long golfer, will be relocating to Golf Channel’s World Headquarters in Orlando, Fla.
    • Farrell is married to Michelle Dusserre, 1984 Olympic silver medalist in gymnastics, who currently works in international sports consulting. They have two daughters – Abby and Zoe. Abby is currently at the University of Illinois and competes on the wheelchair basketball team; while Zoe competes in soccer, swimming and playing in the marching band.
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Randall's Rant: Tales of the lost and found

By Randall MellOctober 23, 2018, 12:28 pm

Give me a player who lost his way.

Give me a player who lost his motivation, or his confidence, or maybe just his hard-fought momentum, or, better yet, a player who lost all of the above.

Give me a man or woman like that as a winner on a tour Sunday, because there’s inspiration for all of us in those kind of stories.

This wicked, mysterious game comes with the dreary certainty that eventually we’re all going to have to make our way out of some deep patch of woods.

That’s what made this past week so special.

We hit the trifecta.

We didn’t just get one winner who came out triumphant after feeling lost this year. We got three of them.

We got Brooks Koepka winning the CJ Cup @Nine Bridges in South Korea, Danielle Kang winning the Buick LPGA Shanghai and Sergio Garcia winning the Andalucia Valderrama Masters in Spain.

If you’re a golf fan needing an offseason as much as the players do, maybe you were tempted to take the week off and just gorge on high school, college and NFL football. Koepka, Kang and Garcia made that hard to do. They had compelling stories to tell, or to keep telling.

Koepka, 28, ascended to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time with Sunday’s victory. Yes, it comes after he won his second and third majors this year and after he was named PGA Tour player of the year, but it also comes in a year that began with such a troubling start.

Koepka’s success is more remarkable when you remember he missed the Masters with a wrist injury. You can’t fully appreciate where he is now without reminding yourself he missed four months early in the year with a torn tendon in his left wrist, and that he spent two months in a soft cast and didn’t touch a club for 91 days.

“You go from playing some of the best golf I’ve probably ever played to being at the lowest point professionally that I’ve been,” Koepka said on the eve of the U.S. Open back in June. “It wasn’t anything I’d wish upon anyone.”

Six months ago, who would have believed he would seize the No. 1 ranking by fall? Six years ago, who would have believed it possible with Koepka beginning his pro career in Europe’s minor leagues? He’s the first European Challenge Tour player to win three majors.

“It’s unbelievable,” Koepka said. “Look where I started. My first pro start was in Switzerland. I don’t think I could have said six years later I’d be No. 1.”

And then there’s Kang.

Last year, the two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur winner broke through to win her first LPGA title, making it a major at the KPMG Women’s PGA.

By late this summer, Kang’s confidence was gone.

Kang, 26, said she was struggling with the yips over full shots and over putts in a run of missing five cuts in six starts. While she began working out her issues going to Butch Harmon a month ago, she was still wrestling with demons just a week ago. She said she needed “four minutes” to take the club back over a shot at the KEB Hana Bank Championship.

“I was able to get over a lot of anxiety I was feeling when I was trying to hit a golf ball,” Kang said. “I just kept trusting my golf game.”

Kang was a bit of a mess early on Sunday in Shanghai, until her caddie handed her a wedge going to the back nine and told her to smash her golf bag with it, to exorcise her demon anger.

“I thank him for that,” she said.

And there’s Garcia, who broke through to win the Masters a year ago but looked as if he might not be worthy of a spot on the European Ryder Cup team last month. He missed eight of 11 PGA Tour cuts leading up to the Ryder Cup, including the cuts at all four majors, but he flipped a switch going to Paris. He returned to his former brilliance going 3-1 to help the Euros win.

Garcia, 38, carried his Ryder Cup momentum to Spain.

“To be able to win here at Valderrama three times in a row is a dream come true,” Garcia said.

Yes, but give me players who know what nightmares are. Watching them find their way out makes for terrific golf theater. It makes football’s shadow a little less formidable this time of year.

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Stock Watch: LPGA raises some Q-uestions

By Ryan LavnerOctober 23, 2018, 11:42 am

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Brooks (+9%): Golf’s new king looks built to last, with a powerful game, a rock-solid stroke and a chip on his shoulder the size of his South Florida mansion. As long as Koepka stays healthy, the game’s preeminent big-game hunter will continue to eat.

Danielle Kang (+7%): Two weeks ago her mind was so cluttered that she needed four minutes to pull the trigger on a shot. Battling chip and full-swing yips, she kept the demons at bay to earn an LPGA title even more satisfying than her major breakthrough.

Paul Azinger (+5%): Tabbed to replace the inimitable Johnny Miller in the NBC booth, Azinger was the best and the most logical choice for the job. He’s a sharp observer of the game who won’t be afraid to let it rip, when necessary.

Sergio Garcia (+4%): Whenever the Ryder Cup inevitably returns to Valderrama, even if he’s 65 years old, Garcia deserves at least some consideration for a captain’s pick. His record there is stupid-good: 14 appearances, three wins, seven top-3s, 13 top-10s.

Gary Woodland (+3%): He’s 37 under par across the first two events of the season, with no wins to show for it. Tough sport!


FALLING

Ian Poulter (-1%): Playing in the final group with Koepka in Korea, Poulter threw up a 1-under 71 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 22 – and nearly tumbled out of the top 10.

Slow-play penalties (-2%): Good thing the PGA Tour Champions rules officials finally cracked down on slow play at the senior level – by picking on Corey Pavin and not notorious slowpoke Bernhard Langer, who just so happens to be No. 2 in the points standings.

LPGA Q Series (-4%): The LPGA’s new version of Q-School gets underway this week, and the women’s college golf coaches are not happy about it: The top 5 players from last season’s individual rankings (Jennifer Kupcho, Maria Fassi, Patty Tavatanakit, Lilia Vu, Lauren Stephenson) automatically earned a spot in the final stage, guaranteeing at least some Symetra status and likely a full LPGA card, if they finish inside the top 45. The LPGA is cherry-picking the best from the college ranks, even if they’re not yet ready to make the jump.

World No. 1 parity (-5%): This was just the second time since the world rankings debuted that four players reached No. 1. That trend doesn’t seem like it’ll end in 2019, either – especially with Tiger Woods once again eyeing the top spot.