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For PGA of America's new leader Seth Waugh, Bethpage Black is special

PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh on Nov.

PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh on Nov. 9, 2018 in Indian Wells, California. Credit: PGA/Montana Pritchard

When Seth Waugh, one of America’s most respected corporate executives, did his best climbing, it had nothing to do with company ladders. It was traversing the hills at Bethpage Black, with his son’s golf bag on his back.

Waugh, the longtime chief executive officer at Deutsche Bank Americas, was the caddie when Clancy was low amateur at the 2011 New York State Open and then went 3-0 for the Metropolitan Golf Association in its 2011 Carey Cup match against a team from Ireland. The Black Course holds Seth’s happiest memories and highest regard. “I don’t know that I’ve ever broken 90 there,” said the man, 60, who has a solid 8.6 handicap index.

It is kismet that the first PGA Championship he will oversee in his new position as CEO of the PGA of America will be this week at that very course, one chosen for the 2019 major tournament years before he came on board last September.

“In terms of Bethpage, you know it’s near and dear to my heart,” he said. “I lived in Garden City for a long time, right in the shadow of Bethpage, if you will. And I have a business up there as well in Islip and a home on Long Island. This is a homer for me.

“It’s going to be an emotional week, set an amazing place that just has so much history,” he said, then referring to the fact that it is completely public, he added, “It’s obviously one of the great golf courses and tests on Earth, but the story is even cooler, in terms of what it is. It’s an example for us all.”

Waugh was a golf enthusiast early in his markedly successful finance career, which included 11 years with Merrill Lynch and brought friendships with President Bill Clinton and other world figures. But it was not until he had a jarring episode in a member-guest tournament at Westhampton Country Club in the 1990s—shanking a par-3 tee shot into the woods on the climactic hole—that he became serious.  He began taking lessons from Ed Kelly, head pro then and now at Cherry Valley Club in Garden City. “I fell in love with the game,” he said.

Kelly’s manner “changed my life,” Waugh said. He is determined to return the favor to the 29,000 club pros who are members of the association he now heads. “I feel like we can impact 29,000 lives in hopefully a very positive way and if we can do that, we can really impact millions of lives by extension,” he said.

His is a huge job, what with the Ryder Cup being under his supervision and massive television contracts his responsibility. When the role was offered, he was not sure about taking it.

“Seth and I had lunch in New York City a week before he accepted the position,” said Frank Boulton, founder and CEO of the Long Island Ducks, the baseball team in which Waugh is a co-owner (thus the “business in Islip”). “I offered my opinion but I told him there was no wrong decision here and he was bound to make the correct one.

“After having partnered with Seth for a number of years with the Ducks it’s my belief that he will make a great CEO for the PGA. Seth Waugh possesses the skills necessary to lead any organization. We know about his business acumen but it will really be his tremendous people skills and his passion for the game that will make the difference,” Boulton said. “I am excited for Seth, the PGA and the game of golf.”

Waugh, the golfer-turned-caddie-turned-CEO said, “I’m very flattered and honored to serve. I feel like I’ve been given a gift to try to give back to something that’s given me so much.

“We have this thought that if we can kind of make the game look a little more like the world, by making it more inclusive, more welcoming, maybe more fun, that by the end of the day, maybe we can make the world look more like the game and all the things that we like about it.”

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