Ted Bishop: The Golf Magazine Interview

January 6, 2015

Reminders of his demise surround him. Ted Bishop — fired last fall from his post as the 38th president of the PGA of America for comments he made on social media — sits in his office at the Legends Golf Club, the 45-hole complex near Indianapolis that he co-owns and runs. A folder swells with 70 pages of notes and interviews, evidence of the vetting process that led to Tom Watson helming the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup team. More than 1,000 letters in support of Bishop litter the floor. On October 23, Bishop was headed for dinner at Nick Faldo’s academy at the Greenbrier, in West Virginia, when he learned that Ian Poulter had criticized Faldo’s 2008 Ryder Cup captaincy. Still stinging from Team USA’s recent loss, Bishop took out his smartphone and called Poulter a “lil girl” via Twitter. He was fired by phone the next day. The lanky 60-year-old says he’s ready to “move on,” but not before he opens up about his dismissal, explains what Watson did right (and wrong) as captain, and takes us inside the ropes at Gleneagles, where the hopes of the USA — led by the living legend handpicked by Bishop — came crashing down.

A controversial tweet cost you your job. Why does the president of the PGA of America even need a Twitter account?

During media training, one of the conversations was about what a positive tool Twitter could be to grow your business. People at the PGA Tour were saying, “You need to try to build your Twitter followers, and you need to use that as an effective way to communicate.”

That night, you also wrote on your Facebook page, “Really? Sounds like a little school girl squealing during recess. C’MON MAN!” Did you have any beef with Poulter prior to this?

Our paths had crossed. I congratulated him as we were standing on the 18th green watching the final match unfold at the Ryder Cup [at Gleneagles]. I had no animosity. But based on Poulter’s social media history, I felt like [my tweet and Facebook post] were in line with some of the barbs he would send out.

Are people too sensitive about what’s said on social media?

I think political correctness has reached an interesting level in this country. This makes me sound like an old man, but when I was growing up in the ′60s in Indiana, women had no opportunities to compete in athletics. Back then, people talked about throwing like a girl, running like a girl, and these weren’t meant to be derogatory comments toward women in any shape or form. It was just a societal term. That’s all changed, and I realize that.

Do you think people at the PGA wanted you out and saw this as an opportunity?

Yeah, I do. As the events unfolded, I might have been naïve about some of what was going on around me. The PGA of America gave me a lot of flexibility and freedom to say whatever I wanted. I knew there were times when I got close to the line, but I felt I never crossed it. This is just my nature. That’s who I am and what I do.

Had you ever been previously warned or disciplined for controversial remarks, on social media or elsewhere?


Had you been drinking before sending the tweet?

No, absolutely not.

You were a high-profile PGA president. Is it possible that you enjoyed the spotlight too much?

That’s another area where, internally, some of my detractors would have used that against me. They would have said that I enjoyed the limelight, that I relished that environment. My presidency started out [in 2012] with the anchoring controversy. I became the spokesperson [Bishop was against the USGA’s ban on anchored putters]. And as a result, I think that set the stage for a lot of things that unfolded in the next two years.

You’ve had time to reflect on your firing. Do you feel your punishment fit the crime?

No, I don’t. I think I got a raw deal. Take Patrick Reed as an example [Reed made a gay slur in November at an event in China]. Patrick’s remarks were far more inflammatory than my remarks. My youngest daughter Googled “Patrick Reed” and “insensitive gay remarks,” and she said there were 145,000 results. She Googled “Ted Bishop’s Twitter remarks” and 10,600,000 popped up. When I talk to people with the PGA Tour about how they would handle players who had tweeted far worse things than I did, this was really an extreme reaction.

Out of your stack of supportive letters, which meant the most?

The several dozen letters I got from female PGA members who were appalled by how our association handled this. Some were very passionate and very lengthy, supporting me for a couple reasons. One, they said they were not offended, and they didn’t take my remarks to be sexist. Also, they thought people who said that these were sexist comments were actually insulting women. The first reaction to my tweets was from my daughter Ambry, who coaches the women’s golf team at St. John’s [University]. She texted me, “My team thinks you’re a legend because you called out Ian Poulter.” The sexist aspect of it never even came into play.

Have you spoken to Poulter?

I texted him, and he called me. It wasn’t a long talk, but it was a good conversation. I said, “I owe you an apology. I’ve got respect for you, and I didn’t mean the comments to be demeaning. I was sticking up for a friend of mine in Faldo.” He said he understood, and he also said the outcome was “tragic.” That was his exact word. I felt like that was the last thing for me, from a closure standpoint.

What players reached out to you?

Phil Mickelson did. He basically said, “Hey, as someone who has said a lot of things over the years that I would like to take back, I know how this stuff goes.” He also said that it’s no reflection on who I am and what I did in my time with the PGA of America. Davis Love and Steve Stricker said the same type of stuff. [Tom] Watson calls me almost every week just to see how I’m doing.

Let’s talk about Tom Watson. You created that massive file on him while researching your Ryder Cup captain selection. Did you have a second choice?

It was either gonna be David Toms or Tom Watson.

What made you choose Watson over Toms? Was it that Watson was the last American to captain a U.S. team to victory on European soil, in 1993?

These Ryder Cups have been really close. Given that we were playing in Scotland, and Watson had won four of his five Open Championships in Scotland, you could make a real case that as an intangible he could account for half a point or a full point in the matches. And I talked to guys on the ′93 team — Jim Gallagher, John Cook, Corey Pavin and Chip Beck — and they all sang Watson’s praises as it relates to his ability to put pairings together. When I stacked all these things up, it was a no-brainer.

Watson was criticized for being too detached from his team. You were behind the curtain at Gleneagles. Was he out of touch?

It’s funny that people said Tom was not relatable. His relatability was one of the reasons we picked him. He was the only guy of his vintage who was still out there playing in PGA Tour events and could still compete with these guys. People forget that no one was saying Watson was a bad captain before the Ryder Cup started. In fact, early Ryder Cup week there was even talk inside the PGA that if we won, why not ask Watson to come back and captain again?

How would you grade Watson’s performance at Gleneagles?

Tom asked me to drive him around [in a golf cart], so I was privy to everything that was going on in his mind. Leading up to the matches, I felt no one could have been more of a player’s captain than Watson. He didn’t tell these guys how or when to practice, or what their routine should be. He put the practice pairings together. And you can talk all you want about a pod system, but Watson had the same guys practicing together all the days at Gleneagles. I would say he used a modified pod system.

Did Watson express any regrets about how the week unfolded?

Sunday morning, Tom and I went out with Zach Johnson, the last of the singles matches. We’re sitting on a cart in the first fairway, and Tom says to me, “You know, the biggest regret I’ve got this week is that I don’t think I had our team prepared, based on how I think we should have played practice rounds.” He said, “These guys want to go out and play money games, but I don’t think that allows you to fully prepare for what you’ve gotta do with the Ryder Cup format.” I think Tom did everything he could have done. We got beat by 30-some shots. I don’t care who the captain was — you’re not going to reverse that trend.

If it wasn’t Watson, why did the U.S. get so soundly thumped, 16.5–11.5?

That’s a great question. I think the Europeans are in a cycle right now where they simply have better players. I remember having this conversation with Peter Baker, a former Ryder Cup player [on the 1993 European team], Sunday night after the Ryder Cup was over. I asked him, “Before this Ryder Cup, where would you have ranked Victor Dubuisson among the 12 players on the team?” He said, “No higher than seventh.” That’s about where I would’ve had him, too. Look at the success Dubuisson had as their seventh-best player [Dubuisson went 2-0-1]. That’s indicative of the kind of team they had. They clearly, top to bottom, have better players.

Do you think Watson bungled some of the pairings?

He got criticized for not playing Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed on Friday afternoon. And the fact is, Patrick Reed had not played well during practice rounds. There was even talk of Reed not playing at all on Friday.

But Reed played great in his Friday morning match with Spieth, and the two had excellent chemistry. Wouldn’t that trump Reed’s poor practice play?

When it came to not playing Reed and Spieth on Friday afternoon, there are reasons that it didn’t happen that I won’t disclose. There was a method to the madness. But if you asked Tom for his biggest regret in the pairings — and I don’t think I’m talking out of school — I think he’d tell you that he shouldn’t have played Mickelson and Bradley together in the alternate shot on Friday afternoon. He should have then played them Saturday morning and sat them out again on Saturday afternoon [during alternate shot], based on the way both of them were driving the ball. [The duo played erratically Friday afternoon while losing 3 and 2 to Dubuisson and Graeme McDowell].

Mickelson was obviously disappointed about being benched on Saturday. And ESPN later reported that a U.S. team meeting turned ugly Saturday night, with Watson harshly criticizing his team and scoffing at a gift his players presented him. Did you have a sense the team was splintering?

No, never. Of course, I wasn’t in the team room on Saturday night when all that happened. I was totally oblivious to that. Tom never said anything about it. Phil was the same way. I mean, Phil was the same guy on Sunday morning that he was at the start of the week. I was with him in the locker room, in the dining room. All of a sudden, we lost, and that stuff took place on Sunday night at that press conference, and people were jumping off the ship left and right.

At that infamous press conference, Mickelson said, “We have strayed from a winning formula in 2008 for the last three Ryder Cups, and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula.” What was your reaction?

Phil said the same thing to me two months earlier at the Scottish Open. So when he said it again, it surprised a lot of people, but it didn’t surprise me, because I had heard him almost verbatim say the same things. What surprised me and disappointed me — and I’ve told Phil this — was the venue that he used. Those things could have been said confidentially.

If you knew Mickelson was concerned with the way the team was being managed back in July, why not tell Watson?

At that point Watson’s team hadn’t been set, so I had no idea how Tom would do pairings or pods. And when Tom was considering captain’s picks, he solicited input from players. That’s similar to what Azinger did. Let’s be fair: Phil was unhappy about not playing Saturday.

Why not mention Mickelson’s concerns to Watson after the team was set?

Phil and I talked about this post–Ryder Cup, how when we had that conversation in Scotland, Phil hadn’t even made the team on points. Phil said to me, “I know you said I should have talked to Tom, but how can I talk to Tom Watson when I’m not even on the team at that point?” We tried to give Tom total latitude and authority. The team was his to manage. Who am I to tell Tom Watson what needs to be done in terms of managing pairings?

What kind of captain do you think Mickelson would be?

Phil will be a good captain. But Phil has put a lot of pressure on himself, and I think he’ll find what a lot of Ryder Cup captains have found: You can have the best plan and preparation, but when play begins, a lot of it is out of your control. Take Webb Simpson. Webb played great in the practice rounds. Little did I know when he popped up that tee shot on No. 1 on Friday morning that it would define him for the rest of the week. He was a different guy on Wednesday and Thursday than he was on Friday.

Do you have a favorite memory from your two years as PGA boss?

I went to the Scottish Open the week before the Open Championship and had a great time. I played with Phil. I stayed at Trump International Scotland and was next door to Rory McIlroy. I got to be friends with him. He’s the greatest thing golf has going for it. And of course Rory and I had the infamous trophy presentation on the 18th at Valhalla. [The top of the Wanamaker Trophy toppled off as Bishop handed it to McIlroy]. Afterwards in the clubhouse, I said to him, “I gotta be honest — I didn’t know the top came off this trophy.” He grinned and said, “I knew the top came off — I’ve had a drink many times out of the trophy.”

What’s your greatest accomplishment as president?

Last year, we announced that we would distribute roughly $4 million to our 41 sections. This was to benefit the sections and members, rather than the PGA of America. We handed each section a check, no strings. Everything my team did was geared toward the PGA member, from trying to grow the game or stick up for the recreational amateurs with our position on anchored putting.

What’s the hardest part about losing this job?

You envision going to more Ryder Cups, PGA Championships. To have been stripped of all those invitations, that’s tough to take. My grandson, he’s 7. I took him to this year’s PGA Championship. He was there Sunday. He met Rory and Rickie. Phil gave him the glove he wore. The biggest heartbreak I have is knowing I’ll never again have those experiences with my grandson or my kids.

Are you still angry?

People ask me, “How can you not be bitter?” It’s one of those things that when it’s happening, it seems more important than it is. I’m ready to move on. I know what I accomplished, and other people know. And I’m good with that.

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