As soon as he officially became one of the most influential people in golf, having been named last week as the CEO of the PGA of America, Seth Waugh vowed that his priority will be with the 29,000 club pros who work in the game’s trenches. He insists that every one of them can make a huge difference with someone. He knows, because he is a “someone” like that.
Waugh, 60, said he truly became a golfer when he took lessons during the 1990s from Ed Kelly, head pro at Cherry Valley in Garden City, the first club at which Waugh was a member.
The immensely successful business executive recalls having been a huge flop in a member-guest tournament at Westhampton Country Club. Waugh and a Westhampton member were on the third hole of a playoff and the opposing two golfers had put their tee shots on the par-3 green. Waugh’s partner hit into a bunker and said something like, “I really need you here.”
“I hit a cold shank into the woods, in front of 40 people,” Waugh said on the phone Friday, adding that he immediately decided to enroll with Kelly.
“That,” he said of those sessions, “was where I fell in love with the game.”
In an introductory video message to the 29,000 members of the association he now heads, Waugh referred to Kelly, saying, “He changed my life.”
On the range at Cherry Valley, the then-CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas became a golf nut. He expanded the Deutsche Bank brand by signing on as title sponsor of a PGA Tour event. He caddied for his son, Clancy, a national class amateur and now an aspiring tour pro. He met his current wife on a driving range. He was mentioned as a potential commissioner of the PGA Tour. He joined Shinnecock Hills, National Golf Links of America, Deepdale and Westhampton.
Call it an amazing follow through, which is appropriate because as Waugh said of Kelly’s teaching technique, “He was all about the finish. You’d hold it basically until the ball hit the ground. If you finished properly, it meant that the swing was proper.
“He was the consummate club pro, right out of central casting,” Waugh said. “He is still the consummate professional: classy, balanced, never overly excited but always with a smile and always with something good and intelligent and thoughtful to say.”
Kelly, still the head pro at Cherry Valley, said, “Sometimes, the best students are the ones who are teachers. The next best thing is someone who is the son or daughter of a teacher.” Waugh’s parents both taught at the Lawrence School in New Jersey and his dad also was a coach.
Waugh was an athlete with a good baseball swing that had to be adapted to golf. “I think inside of a person like that is, `How can I make this better?’ He obviously loves golf and he’s a people person,” Kelly said. “Throughout his life he has always helped people. This time it is the PGA of America that will benefit.”
Waugh has large responsibilities: administering the American side of the Ryder Cup, negotiating huge television deals. But he insists that he is focused first on the club pros who open doors for all other golfers. He developed that respect right away. “I’m a huge fan of Eddie’s,” he said. “He was the first experience I ever had with a PGA professional and I don’t know that I could have picked a better one.”
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Ronnie Rubin, Rock Hill G&CC, fourth hole, 120 yards, 5-hybrid
Jeff Fenn (of Massapequa), Golden Eagle GC, Irvington, Va., 14th hole, 142 yards, 7-iron
Pat Curran, West Sayville GC, eighth hole, 137 yards, 8-iron
Curtis Cazeau, West Sayville GC, eighth hole, 165 yards, 6-iron
Michael Ornstein, Cold Spring CC, third hole, 135 yards, 7-iron
Bruce Savid, ((((cq))))North Shore Towers CC, eighth hole, 123 yards, 8-iron
Alen ((((cq)))) Beerman, North Shore Towers CC, eighth hole, 123 yards, 9-iron
Marlene Zucker, North Shore Towers CC, 13th hole, 118 yards, driver
Gerry Parsons, Pine Hills CC, 17th hole, 105 yards, pitching wedge
Richard Miceli, Sunken Meadow Blue, third hole, 140 yards, 8-iron