ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Fred S. Ridley of Tampa, Fla., the 58th president of The United States Golf Association, accepted the 2006 PGA Distinguished Service Award on his birthday Wednesday evening, calling the honor "the highlight of a life of fantastic experiences."
The 54-year-old Ridley became the 18th recipient of The PGA of America's most prestigious honor, joining a list of honorees that include former U.S. presidents, golf icons and pioneers of golf architecture, broadcasting and sports marketing. The ceremony at the Rosemont Theatre in Rosemont, Ill., attracted an audience of more than 800 and was preceded by a concert by rock n' roll group Creedence Clearwater Revisited.
"If Mr. (Rodman) Wanamaker had been here tonight, he would be very proud of what he would see," said Ridley, referring to the department store magnate who in 1916 sparked the founding of The PGA of America. "I'm in awe of the context of the past recipients of this award, and one -- Mark McCormack (the late founder of IMG, International Management Group, and a 2001 honoree) was my first employer. I'll always be grateful to Mark for the support and mentoring he gave me.
"Golf has brought our family together and so many other families together. Tonight, it is the first time that we have had our entire family together for a golf-related event. One word best describes golf -- friendships. Golf is attracts so many good people, and I have been blessed to have met so many. I can tell you that nothing that I have accomplished through golf would have been possible without a PGA Professional there to guide me."
A native of Lakeland, Fla., Ridley enjoyed a distinguished career in amateur golf, capturing the 1975 U.S. Amateur Championship and is the last U.S. Amateur Champion to have never turned professional.
Ridley credited several PGA Professionals for helping mold his game and provide vital off-course support. That list included Irv Schloss, who was a founder of the PGA Merchandise Show and clubmaking technology; and the late Jack Grout, better known as the teacher for golf legend Jack Nicklaus.
"The common thread for all the PGA Professionals that helped me was being able to project so well all that game offers to us, and how future generations should build on that foundation and the integrity of the game," said Ridley.
Among Ridley's duties with the USGA was serving from 2000 to 2003, as chairman of the Championship Committee, the group responsible for the conduct of all USGA competitions. He also has chaired the Amateur Status and Conduct and the International Team Selection Committees.
"Fred Ridley's contributions to the administration of golf have had a direct impact on the millions of amateur players throughout this country that enjoy this game," said PGA of America President Roger Warren. "His leadership also has enabled an even stronger bond to develop between the USGA and The PGA of America which has resulted in enhancing our respective programs that drive participation in golf."
Ridley has competed in 15 USGA championships, including 10 U.S. Amateurs. He earned a selection to the 1976 USA World Amateur Team that competed in Portugal and the 1977 U.S. Walker Cup Team. He also was named the non-playing captain of the U.S. Walker Cup Team in 1987 and 1989.
Ridley served on the USGA Executive Committee from 1994 to 2005. He was elected treasurer in 1998-99, and vice president from 2000-2003, before his term as president from 2004 to February 2006.
An attorney, Ridley is a partner in the Tampa, Fla., office of Foley & Lardner, an international law firm headquartered in Milwaukee, Wis. He is the second Foley & Lardner partner to serve as USGA president, following the late Lynford Lardner, who held that position from 1972 to 1973.
Ridley is a 1974 graduate in business and marketing of the University of Florida, where he was a three-time letterman for a Gators' golf team that also featured future Tour professionals Andy Bean, Gary Koch and Andy North. In 1977, Ridley graduated from the Stetson University College of Law.
He began his professional career as assistant to the general counsel for IMG) in Cleveland, Ohio, from 1977 to 1980, before moving back to Florida to begin practicing law.
Ridley was a member of the winning side in the 1977 Walker Cup at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, where he defeated Sandy Lyle twice in singles play. In 1987 and 1989, Ridley was afforded the highest honor for an amateur golfer, when he served as non-playing captain of the USA Walker Cup Team.
Ridley has competed in three Masters Tournaments and a U.S. Open, where he was paired with Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. He owns a career-low round of 63.
Ridley and his wife, Betsy, have three daughters: Maggie, 24, Libby, 21, and Sydney, 18.
The PGA Distinguished Service Award, inaugurated in 1988, honors outstanding Americans who display leadership and humanitarian qualities, including integrity, sportsmanship and enthusiasm for the game of golf.
PGA Distinguished Service Award recipients:
1988 Herb Graffis
1989 Bob Hope
1990 No recipient
1991 The Hon. Gerald Ford
1992 Gene Sarazen
1993 Byron Nelson
1994 Arnold Palmer
1995 Patty Berg
1996 Frank Chirkinian
1997 The Hon. George H.W. Bush
1998 Paul Runyan
1999 Bill Dickey
2000 Jack Nicklaus
2001 Mark McCormack
2002 Tim Finchem
2003 Vince Gill
2004 Pete Dye
2005 Wally Uihlein
2006 Fred Ridley
The PGA Championship is one of the premier golf events conducted by The PGA of America. Others include the Ryder Cup, the Senior PGA Championship and the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. Since 1916, golf's best professionals have been competing for the PGA Championship's coveted Wanamaker Trophy. Past Champions include Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods, Davis Love III, Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead and Walter Hagen.
Celebrating its 90th anniversary, The PGA of America was founded in 1916, and is a not-for-profit organization that promotes the game of golf while continuing to enhance the standards of the profession. The Association is comprised of more than 28,000 men and women PGA Professionals who are dedicated to growing participation in the game of golf.
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