Column: Hootie Johnson Leaves Behind a Complicated Legacy

William “Hootie” Johnson, the former chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, has died at age 86.

Johnson is one of only six men to serve as chairman of Augusta National, and while The Masters reached new heights during Johnson’s tenure, he leaves behind a complicated legacy.

Under his tenure as chairman from 1998-2006, Johnson oversaw the lengthening of Augusta National as new technology allowed golfers to hit the ball further, ensuring the course remained a tough test for the world’s best players each year on the second weekend in April.  Johnson also helped to keep the field truly elite, making changes to the tournament’s qualifying procedure.

Johnson helped bring the Masters to a wider audience, as he expanded television coverage of the tournament to the entire 18-hole course for the first time–it was previously contained to only the final 10 holes–and reopened the waiting list for tournament badges for fans for the first time since the 1980s.

But Johnson was also in charge of Augusta National during its biggest controversy:  the highly publicized disagreement with Martha Burk over the club’s policy not to allow female members.

In 2002, Martha Burk, who was chairwoman of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, wrote a letter to Johnson suggesting Augusta National’s male-only membership policy was sexist.

In Johnson’s response, which played out publicly, he claimed the club had the same rights as any private club, citing the Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts and sororities/fraternities as examples of organizations which allowed membership to only one gender.

However, Johnson’s tone in his response was less than subtle, calling Burk’s letter “offensive and coercive,” and saying the club would not change their policy “at the point of a bayonet,” and they would not be “bullied, threatened or intimidated.”  The response sparking a national controversy over the issue, with Burk leading protests against the club, including one near the course property in Augusta during the 2003 Masters.

Johnson, speaking as the public face of the Augusta National membership, certainly came across as stubborn, and many saw the response as misogynist and discriminatory.  This characterization of Johnson is ironic, because his personal history shows a much more progressive man than the one portrayed in 2002.

Johnson, a former running back at the University of South Carolina, worked as a banker in Greenwood, South Carolina before rising to prominence in the business world as an executive at Bank of America before becoming chairman at Augusta National.

As a businessman, Johnson served as co-chairman of a committee that developed a plan to desegregate state colleges and universities in South Carolina, and was a trustee at historically black Benedict College.  As a banker, Johnson often appointed both women and African-Americans to his corporate boards in an era before such appointments were common, and loaned money to minorities when others would not.  He was also the first prominent businessman to suggest removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House.

U.S. Representative Jim Clyburn (D-SC) defended Johnson to USA Today in 2002:  “His whole life has been just the opposite of what he’s being portrayed.  He’s always come down on the side of access and equality. He’s not a prejudiced person in any way. He is not deserving of this controversy.”

Johnson, who was a member of Augusta National since 1968 after joining at the invitation of club co-founder Bobby Jones, eventually resigned as chairman in 2006 at age 75, becoming chairman emeritus; the club admitted two female members, Condeleeza Rice and Darla Moore, in August 2012.

Augusta National and The Masters certainly grew during Johnson’s term as chairman, but after serving in a role where most haven’t been a household name–current chairman Billy Payne is still probably better known among non-golf fans as the CEO of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics–he’ll likely be most remembered for the standoff on Augusta’s membership policy, making his legacy complicated as he is remembered in the coming days.

 

 

Chairmen of Augusta National Golf Club:
Clifford Roberts, 1931-76
William Lane, 1976-80

Hord Hardin, 1980-91
Jackson Stephens, 1991-98
Hootie Johnson, 1998-2006
Billy Payne, 2006-present

Column: Long Live The King

Arnold Palmer, a cultural icon who was “The King” of golf, died Sunday at age 87.

But while Palmer has died, his legacy will continue to be felt as long as the game of golf is played, and played competitively.

The King of Golf

Arnold Daniel Palmer was born September 10, 1929 in Latrobe, Pa., the son of the head pro and greenskeeper at Latrobe Country Club, introducing him to the game of golf at a young age.

Palmer attended Wake Forest on a golf scholarship, but after the death of close friend and teammate Bud Worsham in a car accident, Palmer dropped out of school and joined the Coast Guard.  When he returned to golf, he won the U.S. Amateur in 1954, and turned professional.

Palmer’s first pro win came at the 1955 Canadian Open, before his first major at the 1958 Masters.  Palmer won seven major championships (1958, ’60, ’62, ’64 Masters, ’60 U.S. Open, ’61 and ’62 Open Championship), and narrowly missed the career grand slam with three runner-up finishes in the PGA Championship.

While Palmer’s major championships were all within a seven-year span, he won at least one event on the PGA Tour every season from 1955 to 1971, before his final win in February 1973.  In all, Palmer totaled 95 professional wins, including 62 on the PGA Tour.

The King earned his fame and reputation in his four triumphs at The Masters.  Golf was once thought to be a sport that was impossible to televise, and when networks did begin coverage, it was only of a few holes of the vast venue of a golf course.  The first televised Masters was in 1956, just as Palmer’s career was beginning.

Palmer, a charismatic and handsome player, was perfect for the television cameras, and audiences were enthralled by watching Palmer prevail over the field.  Palmer, the game of golf at large, and golf on television all grew up during what many consider a “golden age,” as Palmer won four out of seven Masters tournaments from 1958-64.

Palmer’s style was to be aggressive, similar to many of the fearless players of today, and many have called Palmer a swashbuckler.  Palmer would take the risks necessary to pull off the big shot, and in doing so gained legions of fans known as “Arnie’s Army.”

Palmer’s connection with The Masters extended from his final win in 1964 to the present day.  Since 2007, Palmer served as the honorary starter of The Masters, hitting the ceremonial first tee shot each year, with Jack Nicklaus joining in the ritual since 2010 and Gary Player since 2012.

Palmer, who was the 1960 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, played on six Ryder Cup teams between 1961-73, and was the last playing captain of a Ryder Cup team in 1963, before he was a non-playing captain in 1975.  None of the seven U.S. Ryder Cup teams with Palmer involvement lost the event.  Palmer was also the U.S. captain at the 1996 President’s Cup, another American victory.

When Palmer moved on to the Champions Tour, the PGA Tour’s division for players 50 and older, he won 10 times, including five of the tour’s “majors”, between 1980-88.

The King of Business

Palmer had one of the great on-course careers in PGA Tour history, but remembering Palmer only for his golf accomplishments would not fully embody the legacy of The King.

Palmer and his legendary longtime manager Mark McCormack founded Arnold Palmer Enterprises, a company which managed Palmer’s licensing, endorsements, appearances and commercial associations.

This includes his work as a course architect, as Palmer helped build over 200 courses worldwide, including negotiations for the first golf course in China in 1982.  His most famous design is Bay Hill, the club which he also owns in Orlando, which hosts the annual Arnold Palmer Invitational, one of the biggest non-major tournaments on the PGA Tour.  For years, many players have used the event in late March as a final tune-up for The Masters, resulting in a great field;  Tiger Woods has won the event eight times, while the reigning champion is Jason Day, the world’s top-ranked player.

Palmer also designed two other active PGA Tour venues (Kapalua Plantation, TPC Boston), as well as The K Club in Ireland, which hosted the 2006 Ryder Cup.

Starting in 1991, Palmer partnered with businessman Joseph Gibbs to work towards launching a cable channel with 24-hour golf programming, and on January 17, 1995, Golf Channel went on the air.  Today, Golf Channel is a large part of the PGA Tour’s broadcasting rights contract, and can be seen in over 79 million homes.

Palmer’s business legacy also includes the Arnold Palmer, a drink which mixes sweet tea and lemonade, and is sold in country clubs and convenience stores alike nationwide.   An anchor on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Sunday night remarked that, while many do not necessarily know of Arnold Palmer’s golf legacy, nearly everyone knows what “an Arnold Palmer” entails.

After Winnie, Palmer’s wife of 45 years, died of cancer in 1999, Palmer began planning the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies, a 285-bed facility which opened in 2006 in Orlando.  When discussing Palmer’s legacy in a statement on Sunday, Tiger Woods recalled that both of his children were born at the Winnie Palmer hospital.

The King of Kindness

Beyond his tangible golf and business accomplishments, many stories have been told since the news broke of Palmer’s passing about his simple kindness.  Many men who played on the PGA Tour after Palmer have said they got advice from him to look people in the eye, and to sign autographs legibly, when out meeting fans.  While Palmer had lots of fans, he always seemed to have time for all of them.

Palmer was a Freemason from 1958 until his death, and was also a licensed pilot from the late-1950s until 2011.  The ability to fly himself around the world, first playing golf and then as an ambassador for the game, enabled Arnold Palmer to be Arnold Palmer, and still, by all accounts, be the great family man that he was with his two children, four grandchildren (including PGA Tour player Sam Saunders), and nine great-grandchildren.

In 2012, just after his 83rd birthday, Palmer was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by U.S. Congress.  He is one of just seven athletes given the honor (Roberto Clemente, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis, Byron Nelson, Jack Nicklaus).  Upon giving Palmer the award, then-House speaker John Boehner summed up Palmer’s contributions wonderfully.

“He didn’t set out to change the game,” Boehner said.  “But he did. Arnold Palmer democratized golf. And made us think that we too could go out and play, and made us believe we could do anything really. All we had to do was go out and try.”

Arnold Palmer was, despite a fantastic career, not the greatest golfer of all-time, but he is the most iconic and still, 52 years after his final major championship, perhaps the most beloved.

Arnold Palmer is The King.  And while his life has ended, his legacy will be long-lived.

 

 

Fun fact:  Fred Rogers, of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, attended the same high school as Arnold Palmer in Latrobe, Pa., and graduated one year ahead of Palmer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arnold Palmer Career Statistics (PGA Tour)
734 starts
62 wins
245 top fives

388 top 10’s
574 made cuts
$1,861,857 career earnings
1958, 1960, 1962, 1964 Masters champion
1960 U.S. Open champion
1961, 1962 Open champion
1961, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1971, 1975 Ryder Cup
22-8-2 Ryder Cup record
17 consecutive seasons with a win (1955-71), tied for most all-time
1974 World Golf Hall of Fame inductee
10 Champions Tour wins
5 Champions Tour major championships

Column: Jose Fernandez Didn’t Live a Long Life, But Lived a Full One

Miami Marlins ace pitcher Jose Fernandez, one of the great young talents in the game of baseball, was killed early Sunday morning at age 24 after a boating accident off the coast of Miami Beach.

In a four-year career, Fernandez had proven himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball, going 38-17 with a 2.58 ERA in 76 starts for Miami, and was 16-8 with a 2.86 ERA in a career-high 29 starts this season.

A Bright Young Star

Fernandez was born in Santa Clara, Cuba on July 31, 1992, and grew up on the same street as St. Louis Cardinals infielder Aledmys Diaz.  The pair grew up playing the game together, and Fernandez cited Diaz’s family as a strong influence on his baseball career.

After Fernandez’s stepfather successfully defected from Cuba to Tampa, Fla. in 2005, Fernandez and his mother and sister unsuccessfully attempted to defect three times.  Finally, in 2007, the trio successfully emigrated from Cuba to Tampa, through Mexico and Texas, although Fernandez’s mother fell off the ship during the trip, requiring Fernandez to jump in the water to save her life.

Fernandez was selected 14th overall by the Marlins in the 2011 MLB Draft, and quickly rose through the Marlins’ minor league system, including throwing the first six innings of a combined no-hitter in 2012 with the Greensboro Grasshoppers (Class A/South Atlantic League).

Prior to the 2013 season, Baseball America rated Fernandez the top prospect of the Marlins, and the 5th ranked prospect in all of baseball.  The team’s original plan was to keep him in the high minors to start the 2013 season, but after injuries to other starting pitchers, Fernandez made the team’s opening day roster at age 20.  After a 12-6 record and a 2.19 ERA in his rookie campaign, Fernandez was named National League Rookie of the Year, and finished third in Cy Young Award voting behind Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright.

Fernandez missed most of 2014 and the first half of 2015 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in May of 2014.  In 19 combined starts in 2014-15, Fernandez was 10-3 with a 2.71 ERA, and on September 25, 2015, set a major league record with his 17th consecutive win at home.

Fernandez was a candidate for the NL Cy Young Award for 2016, ranking fifth in wins and ninth in ERA.  After news broke of his death, some social media users began campaigning for Fernandez to be given the Cy Young Award posthumously, as a tribute to the career he had, and would have had if not for his sudden passing.

The American Dream

Some who knew Fernandez said Sunday that he has said “You were given freedom; I had to earn mine,” and Fernandez played the game of baseball joyously, clearly appreciating the opportunities he had to play baseball professionally in the U.S. after his Cuban birth.

On April 24, 2015, while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Fernandez became a U.S. citizen.  His American pride, as a naturalized citizen, was apparent on July 3, 2016, when the Marlins and Atlanta Braves played a game at Fort Bragg, N.C., and Fernandez appeared in awe and appreciation of the atmosphere and the military personnel in attendance.

Fernandez had announced last week that he and girlfriend Maria Arias were expecting their first child, adding another sad detail to this tragic story.

 

Fernandez’s passion was evident to anyone who watched any game he pitched.  A couple of times, opposing teams took exception to how Fernandez displayed his emotion (namely, the Atlanta Braves on two separate occasions), but based on the reaction of the baseball community at large, including current and former Braves players involved in those past disagreements, other players certainly appreciated how Fernandez played the game, and how much he clearly enjoyed playing the game.

Even Brian McCann, who shared words on the field with Fernandez in 2013 after he ran the bases slowly “admiring” his first career home run, was reportedly in tears in the Yankees locker room on Sunday morning when the news of Fernandez’s death was announced.  In the heat of battle, Fernandez was the opponent, but his loss shows how much affection everyone within the MLB fraternity had for the jovial pitcher.

A Big Loss For Baseball

Many within the Major League Baseball community shared their feelings on Fernandez on Twitter on Sunday:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At a Marlins press conference Sunday afternoon, Marlins manager Don Mattingly shared his thoughts on Fernandez, while team owner Jeffrey Loria released a statement.

“I see such a little boy in the way he played. Such joy. When you watch kids play Little League, that’s what I think about,” Mattingly said.

“Sadly, the brightest lights are often the ones that extinguish the fastest. Jose left us far too soon, but his memory will endure in all of us. At this difficult time, our prayers are with his mother, grandmother, family and friends,” Loria said.

The team’s game against the Atlanta Braves scheduled for Sunday afternoon was cancelled.

Longtime Sports Illustrated baseball writer Tom Verducci may have written the best description of anyone in the game on one of its darkest days in recent memory:

“The wickedness of his breaking ball was exceeded only by the wattage of his smile. His personality, not just his arm, made Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins one of baseball’s brightest stars in ascension. At 24, Fernandez not only played baseball well but also played it with elan. He mowed down hitters with an alluring combination of molten ferocity and boyish joy.”

In Fernandez’s last start on Tuesday, he held the Washington Nationals (the NL East Division champions) to no runs and three hits in eight strong innings.  While no one knew it was his final MLB appearance, his final game was an indicative representation of his formidable career.  Fernandez’s final out was Nationals 2B Daniel Murphy, a NL MVP contender, and when he returned to the dugout, Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds jokingly kissed him on the cheek after the terrific outing.

Fernandez’s death is the fourth in 2016 by an active professional baseball player, but the first by a player on a major league roster since Oscar Taveras’ death in 2014. His death is the youngest by a former All-Star in MLB history.

While Jose Fernandez lived a life that seems much too short after his tragic death, the 24 years he did have were lived to the fullest, as he appreciated the opportunities he had, and showed with his actions how much he loved what he did, and did well, playing the game of baseball.

 

 

Jose Fernandez Career Statistics (MLB)
2013:  12-6, 2.19 ERA, 28 starts, 172.2 innings, 187 strikeouts
2014:  4-2, 2.44 ERA, 8 starts, 51.2 innings, 70 strikeouts

2015:  6-1, 2.92 ERA, 11 starts, 64.2 innings, 79 strikeouts
2016:  16-8, 2.86 ERA, 29 starts, 182.1 innings, 253 strikeouts
Career:  38-17, 2.58 ERA, 76 starts, 471.1 innings, 589 strikeouts

The Week That Was

This has been a busy week for me.  It began with some major assignments to close out the semester and ended with final exams.  It’s also been a busy week in sports news.  There’s a few subjects I could have been blogging about if I had the time.  So, here is a review of the week that was.

English: Wake Forest University Athletic logo
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Monday, Wake Forest football coach Jim Grobe resigned, leaving the program he has taken from being an afterthought to being relevant on his own terms.  Grobe said the program just wasn’t winning enough, and he felt it was best for him to simply step aside and allow some “fresh energy” to potentially rebuild the program.  In 13 years, Grobe took the program to 5 bowl games, after having been to just 5 bowl games over its previous history.  The pinnacle of Grobe’s tenure is clearly the 2006 team, which was picked to finish last in the ACC Atlantic division, but pulled off multiple upsets on their way to the ACC title, and an appearance against Louisville in the Orange Bowl.  That team had a pair of trademarks.  One was the “5th quarter”, when the team would hold up 5 fingers instead of 4 before the 4th quarter of each game, in honor of Luke Abbate, brother of LB Jon Abbate, who had worn #5 on his high school team before dying in a car accident before the season (that story became a movie in 2011, titled “The 5th Quarter”).  The other was Grobe’s final words to his team before each game, “Play like your hair’s on fire!”.

That team in 2006 is one of my all-time favorite sports teams, due to their magical ride to the top of their conference, winning their only conference title since 1970.  Grobe won both ACC and National Coach of the Year that year, but as good of a coach as he is, all indications say he’s an even better person.  While I’ve never met him, what I’ve seen on TV and what others have said about him points to one of the best individuals in the game of college football.  It is a shame for the Wake Forest football team, for the university, and for the entire ACC that he will not be around coaching next year.  While Grobe says he would be open to continuing coaching, he will be 62 years old in February, so the more likely scenario might be for him to be someone’s defensive coordinator.

As for Grobe’s replacement, a few names have been circulated through the rumor mill, such as former USC interim Ed Orgeron, and Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, among others.  However, two names have emerged as the leading candidates for the job, from what I’ve read online, with one candidate already being interviewed.  I said to a friend on Wednesday morning that my prediction for the job was that it would go to Ball State coach Pete Lembo, and Lembo ended up as the first man interviewed by Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman.  Wellman supposedly wants someone with head coaching experience (which eliminates Narduzzi, by the way), preferably with experience at a private school with strong academics, which would be comparable to the Wake Forest job.  Lembo has both, with experience not only at Ball State, but also Lehigh and Elon, which is about an hour up the road from Wake Forest, meaning Lembo would be familiar with the area.  The second leading candidate, according to reports, is Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson, who made a good case for himself tonight as his Falcons upset previously undefeated Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game.  While he is currently at a state institution (then again, so is Lembo), he too has private school experience, with successful stints at Fordham and Richmond.

In other news, I turned around and the Yankees had Brian McCann (I know that was a couple of weeks ago, but he was introduced this week), Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Kelly Johnson on their roster, and Robinson Cano had departed for Seattle.  The Mariners will now be better, although now the Yankees will be World Series favorites for years to come.

FSU Number 5 ...item 2.. NO Charges For Winsto...
Jameis Winston (Photo credit: marsmet533)

The investigation into Florida State QB Jameis Winston ended, with the announcement yesterday that no charges would be filed against him.  Had he been charged, of course, it would have effectively ended his shot at winning the Heisman, and would have given Duke a little bit better shot against the Seminoles in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game.  Instead, since no charges were filed, Winston’s Heisman trophy is effectively locked up, barring a major disaster against Duke.  Am I the only one bothered by that last sentence?  Let me repeat it:  Since no charges were filed, Winston’s Heisman trophy is effectively locked up.  It is a little bit bothersome to me that most every analyst on ESPN, as well as other media outlets, effectively said, “Oh, it’s OK, since he didn’t commit a crime, so we can still reward his performance with a Heisman.”  Don’t get me wrong, he has been the best player in college football this year, on the field.  But there’s a lot of questionable character choices a person can make without committing a crime.  This applies here; the fact Winston put himself in that situation to begin with is problematic, especially considering that he had (still has) a girlfriend (that’s another conversation for another day).  I’m not trying to completely criticize the man’s character (we all make mistakes, after all), but I don’t agree with the media all but giving him the Heisman immediately after the investigation was closed.  The media shouldn’t even crown him the winner before all the games have been played, because we don’t know how he will play tomorrow.  I will say that one thing that would have helped this situation, as far as the Heisman goes, is if those around him in the Heisman race had played better down the stretch.  Unfortunately, Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota, Jordan Lynch, Andre Williams, and others have all had one or more bad games to effectively end their Heisman chances.  While AJ McCarron didn’t have a bad game against Auburn, his chances ended when his special teams unit couldn’t prevent a missed field goal return as time expired (don’t know what that has to do with him, but…).  We are, in all likelihood, headed for one of the biggest voting blowouts in the history of the Heisman trophy.  It took 78 years for a freshman to win the Heisman trophy, and now it may only take a year more for another freshman to win it.

I don’t know much about soccer, and don’t at all pretend to, but the World Cup draw for next summer was on Friday, and has the United States paired with Ghana, Portugal, and Germany in group play.  This will be a tough group to get of, as the top 2 advance to the knockout stage.  Elsewhere, host Brazil will be grouped with Croatia, Mexico, and Cameroon, and Spain and The Netherlands will meet in group play in a rematch of the 2010 final.  While in the United States we have the Super Bowl, The Masters, the Ryder Cup, the Final Four, the NBA Finals, the BCS Championship Game, the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, the Stanley Cup Finals, and the Kentucky Derby, there is no doubt that the biggest sporting event in the world is the World Cup.

All of that was overshadowed late Thursday afternoon by the death of Nelson Mandela.  Mandela fought against the injustice of apartheid in South Africa, leading non-violent protests before being arrested and jailed for 27 years.  As the apartheid system fell, he was released in 1990 at the age of 71, and was elected president at age 75 in 1994, in an election in which blacks could vote in for the first time ever.  He retired after one term in 1999, in a precedent-setting move similar to George Washington’s retirement from the US presidency in 1797.  He became an elder statesman, both for South Africa and the entire African continent, and even for the world.  His death was not a surprise, as his health had been poor for some time, but it has allowed all of us to reflect on the remarkable life he lived.  I remarked to some friends upon hearing of his death that he had the impact on South African history, and even world history, of George Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr. combined, and asked them to imagine if the United States lost a leader of that magnitude.

Português: Brasília - O presidente da África d...

Nelson Mandela (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mandela also had a couple of sports connections.  He became an inspiration for a nation and its rugby team when South Africa hosted and won the 1995 Rugby World Cup.  That South African team, known as Springboks, was integrated and given Mandela’s full support, ending one of the final symbols of apartheid.  He played a major role in the 2010 FIFA World Cup coming to South Africa, which was the first World Cup hosted on the African continent, and made his final public appearance at the tournament’s final between Spain and The Netherlands.

Tiger Woods, LeBron James, Muhammad Ali, and Usain Bolt, among others, all commented on Mandela’s passing in the hours following the news.  Another notable statement from the sports world came from Thomas Bush, president of the International Olympic Committee, who said Mandela was “a remarkable man who understood that sport could build bridges, break down walls, and reveal our common humanity.”