News & Opinion

Think pink for Donna, Cindy and others

FRANKLIN, Ind. – In honor of Mother’s Day, which falls on the final round of this week’s Players Championship, the tournament once again will stage a “pink out” event on Sunday. The initiative celebrates mothers and supports The Donna Foundation’s breast-cancer 5K run for research and care.

In conjunction with Sunday’s “pink out,” players, caddies, sponsors, volunteers and fans are encouraged to wear pink to TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., in a show of solidarity. The Donna Foundation is a 501(c)3 charitable organization named after Donna Deegan, a former Jacksonville, Fla., TV anchor and three-time breast-cancer survivor. The foundation raises money for breast-cancer research at the renowned Mayo Clinic and to support women living with the disease. The foundation also will be the Players Championship’s “charity of the day” for the final round.

Sunday’s “pink out” will hold a special meaning in the Bishop household. On April 6, my wife, Cindy, heard those three dreaded words: “You have cancer.”

The Susan G. Komen Foundation for Breast Cancer predicts that 266,120 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. The Donna Foundation estimates that 40,920 women will die from breast cancer-related illnesses this year. For all women who ever have been diagnosed with cancer, the day when you hear those three words is the scariest day of your life.

Cindy Ellingwood grew up on a farm near Fairmount, Ind., which is the hometown of the late legendary actor James Dean. When Cindy and I met at Purdue University in the mid-1970s, she never had stepped foot onto a golf course. When I proposed marriage to her, she promised to go wherever my career might take us, putting her own agenda aside.

In the late 1970s, she started playing golf. As a schoolteacher, she had nothing else to do in the summers while I worked at the course, so she played golf every day, many times 36 holes. Cindy was a physical-education major, and she improved quickly, breaking 40 for nine holes within two years of picking up the game. Always a long hitter and poor putter, she actually finished runner-up in the women’s club championship at the Phil Harris Golf Course in Linton, Ind.

When our two daughters started playing competitive golf, Cindy traded her golf clubs for a set of van keys and spent the next 10 years driving Ashely and Ambry all over the country to junior golf tournaments. Cindy had coached numerous sports, but she had the chance to coach the junior-high golf team when our oldest daughter was an eighth-grader. This eventually led to a very successful career as a girls’ high school golf coach in Franklin, Ind. Cindy coached four teams to top-3 finishes in the IHSAA state finals and was named coach of the year by the Indiana High School Golf Coaches Association.    

When our youngest girl graduated from high school, Cindy retired from coaching and teaching to spend her time watching our girls play college golf, at Kansas and Indiana. She trudged through many foul-weathered Midwestern college golf tournaments and saw every shot. Somehow, Cindy never got as worked up as I did when we watched our girls play. She was my calming influence but disciplined me many times for exercising poor body language.

Ultimately, she decided to work again. Today, Cindy is the food and beverage coordinator at The Legends Golf Club, which my family operates here in Franklin, just south of Indianapolis. She still plays a little bit of golf, but not often. She faithfully takes a weekly golf lesson from her PGA pro, the legendary Tony Clecak, who is 86 and an Indiana Golf Hall of Fame member. She says Tony is the finest gentleman she ever has known. Hmm ….

Cindy was a great first lady for the PGA of America when I served as president. She ramrodded a Habitat for Humanity build in Rochester, N.Y., at the 2013 PGA Championship. She helped forge a wonderful relationship between the PGA Tour Wives Association and the wives of club pros. She promoted the industry’s “Get Golf Ready” initiative and continued to play even though her golf game had faded with her commitment to family and work. “I’m a recreational golfer now,” she proudly would declare when she picked up after too many strokes on a hole.         

I remember an R&A dinner at the British Open when a stuffy old Englishman insulted her 35-handicap. “There’s no excuse for you playing that poorly,” he said. “My God, woman, you can get a golf lesson from any pro in America.” She quietly left the table in tears.

And then there was Ian Poulter, my “li’l girl” comments and my subsequent impeachment as PGA president. Cindy always has been my rock in the most turbulent times of my life, and I’ve had many. She constantly encourages me, edifies me and believes in me, which always has pulled me out of a hole. 

On Tuesday, Cindy had surgery for breast cancer. We won’t know the final diagnosis for several days until the pathology report, so we are in another scary waiting period. Millions of women have been there. It’s awful – the waiting and the anxiety. Just as devastating to women is the alteration to their body and the impact that breast cancer has on physical appearance. You might think that cancer never will happen to you, but it can. It will rock your world and those around you.

Let’s all celebrate the “pink out” at the Players Championship on Sunday. Dedicate the day to someone whom you know who has suffered through this awful disease and give your wife, daughters or significant other a big hug, because you just never know.

Ted Bishop, who owns and operates The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Ind., and is the author of “Unfriended,” was president of the PGA of America in 2013-14.; Twitter: @tedbishop38pga