Since 1959, I have closely followed Jerry West’s illustrious career. Next month, I will once again follow him to Pacific Palisades as a volunteer marshal at the 2013 Northern Trust Open at the legendary Riviera Country Club.
West’s imprint as the industrious and personable executive director of this annual PGA Tour stop in Los Angeles has been evident since he was appointed nearly three years ago: The gallery has grown, corporate support has risen, enthusiasm has soared and, who knows, maybe West can even lure Tiger Woods back to Brentwood.
Legions of sportswriters have described the Mountaineer and Laker great’s numerous leadership skills far better than I can. But, most pro golfers would do well to emulate just a few: West always appreciated and recognized his fans, big or small; no one worked more tirelessly to improve himself and his team; he cared deeply about the average Joe or Jane, and he never forgot about the least fortunate of us in society.
During the past 30 years, my wife and I have played a small part of the British Open, the TPC Championship, the PGA Championship, the U.S. Open, the Tournament of Champions and such links as La Quinta, Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach, Oakland Hills, Congressional, Sawgrass and Sherwood, but there is no place like Riviera and its fabled history. To say we have enjoyed the experience would be a gross understatement. And while change is an important part of organizational life (including that of the Professional Golfers’ Association of America) that must be embraced and channeled to constructive ends, some traditions are also important.
I fully understand that the tour is the pro golfer’s livelihood, and stellar performance equates with having sponsors and securing big purses. But it is also true that pro golfers are in the entertainment business and without the interest and support of thousands of spectators, their largesse would quickly evaporate. The classy West understood these facts as a professional basketball star, coach, general manager, adviser and now as L.A. golf executive.
Getting in swing
Our world has changed dramatically since Sept. 11 and the resulting enhanced security measures at sporting events (including those just implemented at the USC campus) are necessary. Understanding these restraints, I offer five recommendations to the PGA and their pro golfers in the hope they will thoughtfully consider West’s leadership skills for improving the fan experience, and the health and well-being of the game of golf beginning in February at storied Riviera:
When the pros approach the tee box or are just about at the green, encourage them to lift up their heads and smile, or nod or say thanks for your help (to the volunteers) or thanks for coming (to those in the gallery).
When the gallery applauds a great shot, have them smile more often at the gallery and tip their cap (believe it or not, this longstanding gesture happens less all the time).
When a pro heads to the practice range or practice tee before or after he plays, acknowledge the crowd gathered there in some pleasant way.
When a would-be pro is in Q school (qualifying school), include a module about etiquette and how historically it has been an important part of the game.
When a pro completes his round, encourage him to spend 10 to 15 minutes greeting families, especially those with small children, and signing autographs.
When West accepted his leadership role at Riviera, it was not for show. It was one very concrete way Mr. Clutch could pay back to the people of Los Angeles for their having heaped 40 years of love on him.
Hopefully, the golf pros coming to Riviera will follow suit and realize that the L.A.-based charities and the people who depend upon them are the real winners. In the end, isn’t leadership all about giving?
Ritch K. Eich, principal of Thousand Oaks management consulting firm Eich Associated, is author of “Real Leaders Don’t Boss.”
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