NEW YORK – Pro Football Hall of Famer Lynn Swann is in the Big Apple this week for the 100th PGA Annual Meeting after serving two years as an Independent Director on the Association’s Board of Directors, a 21-member committee that manages the Association, interprets the constitution and by-laws, changes regulations by a 2/3 vote and also creates regulations.
We caught up with Swann for a Q&A to discuss how he became involved in golf, his two-year term on the Board of Directors, his new position as Athletics Director at his alma mater, the University of Southern California and more.
PGA.com: When did you first get involved in golf?
Swann: It took a while. A friend of mine, Celeste Lyons, her father designed golf clubs – Charlie Lyons. Celeste was a classmate of mine at USC. The first time I ever played golf was with Charlie Lyons at the Wilshire Country Club. He had his 14-year-old son with him and I was horrible. I didn’t play very well.
Then I really didn’t pick up playing golf until after I finished playing professional football. I started playing and did all the bad things you shouldn’t do. I let my friends try to teach me how to play the game of golf. I didn’t learn the rules of the game of golf. I didn’t understand, really, how it was all put together. So I struggled with my play.
But I was watching golf. I remember watching the Tour Championship at the Olympic Club in San Francisco on TV, ABC was broadcasting it. I thought to myself, “I grew up in the Bay Area, yet I never knew the Olympic Club was there.” It was never an experience I had as a kid growing up.
I wanted to do more. I wanted to see more golf. I wanted to be a better golfer. So I just started playing more golf and eventually a friend of mine invited me to play in the pro-am at the Mercedes Tournament of Champions when it was at La Costa. My friend Larry Fleming was the official scorekeeper. Through that tournament, I had a chance to play with Greg Norman, Freddie Couples and a number of other people.
As a result, I was able to host the pro-am draw party at the Tour Championship when it was held at Southern Hills and then later on in Houston. Even in the first tournament and the second tournament at East Lake, which became the permanent home for the Tour Championship.
It just kept growing from there. That’s my engagement, that’s my involvement. I’m still not a great golfer, but I do have an official handicap now. I understand the rules of golf now, understand the importance of taking lessons and the value of a PGA professional. So, I recommend to everyone who’s playing the game of golf – who wants to play better – start out with a PGA professional. You’ll learn the game, you’ll enjoy it faster, you’ll enjoy it better and you’ll understand it more.
PGA.com: At the height of your career in the NFL, could you have ever imagined that years later you’d be so closely associated with golf?
Swann: I did not. I think certainly, when you get your degree, when you’re moving forward, when you’re always open to new ideas and suggestions, things will occur. Because I remained open, because friends were playing golf and I engaged in it, even though I wasn’t good, but I enjoyed the prospect of playing, I enjoyed the environment of golf, I enjoyed that walk in the park, I enjoyed making that good shot, I enjoyed the companionship and the socialization that golf offers at a very pleasant and easy pace. Nothing rushed. Nothing hurried – conversations that you want to have, whether it’s competitive, or about friendship, or social events, whatever it might be. Golf allows you to do that.
PGA.com: What has your experience as an Independent Director on the PGA Board of Directors been like?
Swann: It’s been a great experience. It has not been without some frustration. It’s a 28,000-member organization with 17,000 very active members and a board that’s very conscientious about trying to move the game forward and do the right thing by its membership. But in such large organizations, it’s always hard to turn the ship in any one particular direction. But, the leadership does it with concern, they do it with care and they do it with the best intent possible.
PGA.com: How important is it to grow the game, particularly when it means getting younger generations playing?
Swann: I think it’s very important to have a game like golf. When you compare golf to other sports like football, basketball, or even baseball, even hockey to a certain degree, it takes a certain body-type to play those sports. It takes a certain athletic skill and size, if you will, to be involved in those sports.
Golf is a sport where anybody, of any athletic ability, can pick up the game and play. And play it well and play it for the rest of their lives.
You look at the people who play golf today. Yes, the professionals are more fit than they ever have been in the past. But you’re seeing people who are short, people who are tall, you’re seeing people who have been slightly overweight, you’re seeing people who are rail thin and they’re out there playing golf – some of them out there playing amongst the best in the world. You can do that any day at any club you belong to.
Golf promotes physical fitness, walking the golf course, so you can be healthier playing golf. But even as a senior, if you’re not moving as well. Even as a player with disabilities – you look at men and women who come back from serving our country, who have lost a leg and are still out there playing golf, maybe they’ve lost an arm or a hand and they can still play golf. It’s a viable sport for everybody for your entire life.
PGA.com: USC has a special place in your heart. With all you accomplished there and as a professional in football, what does it mean to you to now be the Athletics Director at your alma mater?
Swann: It’s great. It’s a job that’s not a job. It’s certainly more than a labor of love. It’s an opportunity and it’s an honor to be back at my alma mater, especially being back at a place where there’s a great deal of familiarity with the history and the tradition and what the school has always tried to achieve.
To be able to work with 650 young adults, both men and women, and help them grow and see an opportunity is rewarding enough in itself. To see them blossom as human beings, to see them compete, all of these things I look forward to.
I’ve been there for just over four months. I’m not talking from a world of experience or having graduated a class of kids that I’ve worked with. This is just from four months of being there with these young kids, getting to know them, riding on the bus with the women’s crew team down to watch them train in the harbor. Watching the men’s or ladies’ basketball teams play and compete. Lacrosse. Soccer. Being a part of it all and being the Athletics Director – football reports directly to me and so does men’s and women’s golf – is a great joy.
PGA.com: What do you think of yourself as a golfer? Are you the type of person who finishes a round and can’t wait to play the next one?
Swann: I enjoy playing. I remember a story that Gary Player told at a tournament we were playing at Wayne Huizenga’s course when he owned it down in South Florida.
Gary looked at everybody there in the stands and he said, “How many of you are lawyers and doctors?”
A whole bunch of people raised their hands.
He asked, “How often do you practice? Every day, right? Do you get continuing education?”
They did. They’re constantly learning new things and applying it to their trade.
“Well, you like golf,” Gary said, “how long do you practice? When do you practice?”
Very few had an answer for that.
“What about lessons to work on new things and new techniques to get better?”
Nobody raised their hand.
Gary asked, “Then why do you complain when you’re not a good golfer.”
My point is, golf can be enjoyed whether you’re in a tournament, or playing with friends. Maybe you have a friendly bet. Maybe you’re in a club tournament. That’s great. You can enjoy it, you can compete. You can play with the strictest of rules in terms of the game of golf, or you can go out and just casually play. It’s there for everyone to enjoy.
That’s my enjoyment of golf. If I go out and I’m playing in a scramble, I’m trying to make the best shot for my team. If I’m playing stroke play, I’m trying to be consistent and help my team.
I’ve played in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am with Jim Furyk and a couple of other different golfers, so I’ve always tried to play my best in that competitive environment, but with a 13.2 index, there’s no illusions about where my golf game is.
I can make par on a hole, or I can make “8” on a par 3. That’s just my game. But I don’t get frustrated by it. I come back to it because I enjoy it.