News

Netland had a way of making friends

 
By BILL HUFFMAN
       Men are measured by many different criteria in life, perhaps the most telling being the friends they make through the years. In that regard, Dwayne Netland was a rich man.
       Netland, who left his mark as a writer for both the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Golf Digest, died June 30 at the age of 77. On Wednesday (July 22) his family, friends and fellow scribes paid a tribute to “Netty’’ and his wife, Joanne, during a memorial service at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.
       A native of the small town of Willmar, Minn., and a resident of Scottsdale for the past 12 years, Netland grew to become an international golf journalist and author of such best-selling books about the game as “Bob Hope’s Confessions of  Hooker,’’ "The Crosby: The Greatest Show in Golf,’’ and “The Guts to Win’’ with Jane Blalock.
       According to Golf Digest senior writer Guy Yocum, Netland authored “scores of memorable feature stories’’ for the magazine between 1974-1997.
       “He was a prolific writer and skilled interviewer with a knack for tackling difficult, controversial topics, including the infamous episode in which Jane Blalock was accused of cheating (a charge she was exonerated of), and the thorny but compelling story of LPGA Tour players expressing jealousy of Nancy Lopez,’’ Yocum wrote in a tribute entitled “One of a Kind.’’
        “Netty wrote engaging pieces on Tom Weiskopf and Greg Norman, and was adept at profiling clubs such as Oakland Hills,’’ Yocum added. “But it was Netland’s way of going that made him a widely known and recognizable fixture in golf, with his plaid sport coats, clip-on sunglasses and omnipresent pipe a frontispiece for his ingratiating personality.’’
        I met Netland shortly after he moved to Scottsdale in ’97 although I was aware of his worldly reputation long before. He had been hired by the Arizona Golf Association to be the editor of  “Arizona, The State of  Golf,’’ and also was very excited about living and playing golf at his new home at Desert Highlands.
      What I’ll remember most is Netland’s big smile that almost looked like he was forcing his lips into what he thought was the "say cheese” position. The grin wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was genuine, and if I remember correctly, always dominating his face.
       Tony Roberts, the former Golf Digest photographer who worked with Netland at the magazine and who also rose to international prominence, starts laughing almost the minute you mention Netland’s name.
       “Dwayne was such a unique character whose true passion was Minnesota (North Star) hockey,’’ Roberts recalled. “He could be goofy at times, but in the end he was a wonderful, kind spirit who had a special way of making you his pal in that he’d listen to you, consul you, and really make an effort so you would know that you were the best of friends.’’
        Roberts and Netland were only together for a year at Golf Digest, but Roberts supplied some of the photography for the Hope and Crosby books. Later in life, Roberts and Netland teamed up to play golf on occasion – “Dwayne was an average golfer who loved the game’’ – and just hang around the Arizona scene.
         “He was a damn fine writer and a terrific interviewer,’’ Roberts added. “He just talked (to his subjects) in a very wide-open, indirect way, like they were having an everyday conversation, and they’d open up and tell him things they wouldn’t tell other golf writers. He was especially good (interviewing) the women on the LPGA, and became close friends with Susie McAllister, Amy Alcott, Hollis Stacy and Nancy Lopez.’’
         The reality was that Netland loved his job and the people he worked with, and had a special respect that he bestowed on other ink-stained ragamuffins. At least that was my take, and it was shared by Roberts.
          “Dwayne tended to put all golf media on the same pedestal with him,’’ Roberts said. “But he was the least snobby person I ever met.’’
       Oh, yes, and there was one other attribute that stuck out in Roberts’ mind when it came to his buddy Netty.
        “He was one of the best-dressed golf writers I ever met,’’ Roberts said. “A true classic, he really was.’’
        Such testaments to Dwayne Netland were a common thread among those who I talked with in the past few weeks since his death and prior to his memorial. One of those interviewed was Jack Strom of Willmar, a close friend of Netland’s dating back to first grade.
         “We were batterymates from about age 8 to 18. Dwayne was the catcher and I was the pitcher on the Willmar teams,’’ said Strom, who delivered Netland’s eulogy.
         “I remember him as a feisty catcher in that he could see the whole field in front of him and would let you know if you weren’t playing well enough that day. I know that he tossed me back numerous ‘zingers’ – like he was throwing it hard down to second base – when he thought I wasn’t pitching well enough.’’
            But there were many sides to the eccentric-yet-charming Netland, Strom added.
          “Dwayne was a history buff and he loved classic literature. . . .  And I never knew him as Dwayne, by the way. It was always ‘Netty.’ ”
           Strom recalled that his lifelong comrade wrote a column in the Willmar High School newspaper entitled: “Sideline Slants by Netty.’’
         “His stuff was so good that the local newspaper had him cover high school sports for them,’’ Strom explained. “But that was Dwayne — he was into everything. For instance, besides writing the story he did the announcing at games as well as being the official scorer.
       “I guess he always had that nose to be a newspaperman.’’
        After getting his start in Willmar, Netland became the sports editor of the college newspaper at the University of Minnesota, where he graduated with a degree in journalism. From there he worked for newspapers in Austin, Minn., and Madison, Wis., before catching on with the Minneapolis Tribune in 1956, where he covered professional football, baseball and hockey and served as the golf editor.
        In 1974, Netland joined Golf Digest, rising to senior editor/writer while covering golf tournaments throughout the world and penning his three books on the side.
       “I remember he only worked in Austin a short while because he wanted to get back covering Big Ten sports,” Strom noted. "Netty had a way of working hard and getting what he wanted, and that attitude got him to The State Journal in Madison and back to major college sports. And his stuff was so good that the Minneapolis Star-Trib saw it and within two years he was working at a major newspaper.
     “But that was Netty in that he had such great overall knowledge of his subject(s), and he was a voracious reader when it came to other topics besides sports. I guess all those things added up and led to 18 years at the Minneapolis newspaper and 23 years at Golf Digest. He was mission-oriented, especially when it came to his columns, and everybody Netty worked for always got their money’s worth and more.’’
    Gary Wefel was Netland’s next-door neighbor at Desert Highlands, and one of about 80 friends who came from all over the country to attend the celebration of Netland’s life.
     “Dwayne was one of those guys you will always remember, and his (memorial) reflected that,’’ Wefel noted. “We were one of three couples from Desert Highlands who made the trip to Minneapolis, and there were friends from all over the country, including the girl he took to the Willmar High School senior prom and Walter Bush of the North Stars (the former owner).
     “I guess you could say that people came from a long way to be with him one more time and pay their respects to him and Joanne, who is a real sweetheart. And we had a good laugh at the church, because there was this picture of Dwayne that was displayed prominently where he was holding his golf bag on a day when it had just snowed (in Arizona).’’
     Wefel called Netland “mildly cantankerous and quite amusing’’ in a Jack Lemon/Walter Mathau sort of way.
     “I remember that when Dwayne and Joanne first moved in at Desert Highlands, I had not yet retired and I was gone on the job quite a bit of the time, so we didn’t really know each other,’’ Wefel said. “But one day when I was home during that time Dwayne stopped by to tell me that I was ‘the greatest neighbor he ever had.’
      “That puzzled me a little until Dwayne added, ‘because you’re never home.’ Oh, I tell you, he had a sense of humor that could rival Lemon or Mathau in a heartbeat.’’
     But Wefel quickly pointed out that Netland also had a gentle side that drew people to him and forged the bonds of a lifetime.
     “We had a dog we were really fond of, and when Dwayne heard that our dog had died he told me he sat in his chair and cried that night. He had that kind of compassion,’’ Wefel explained. “That was the kind of friend he was, and I guess that’s why he had so many friends, and why those relationships endured through the years.’’
     Netland was preceded in death by his parents and first wife, Mavis. He was married to Joanne for 43 years and also leaves behind a son, Peter Netland of New Market, Minn., and a brother, Bruce, of Duluth, Minn.
     Netland also leaves behind a long list of friends who had the pleasure of knowing such a loveable character. To that end, the family asks that memorial gifts in his name be directed to the charity of your choice or to the Journalism School Sports Internship Fund at the University of Minnesota Foundation, P.O. Box 70870, C-M-3854, St. Paul,. Minn., 55170-3854.
    For everyone who knew him: We’ll miss you, Netty!
   
     
      

News

Time for golf\‘s \‘Queen of Mean\’ to go

 
By BILL HUFFMAN
       On the eve of the biggest tournament in women’s golf – the U.S. Women’s Open – all is not well in LPGA-land.
       According to Golfweek, and later confirmed by several of the rebellious lot, a group of high-profile players got together recently and signed a letter calling for the resignation of LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens. Basically, the 15 rebels who attended the secret dinner said that the LPGA’s recent woes involving lost tournaments – seven in the past two years with six more currently without a sponsor, including Phoenix — were more about Bivens’ my-way-or-the-highway personality and less about the economy.
      This was no scrappy bunch of journeywomen who asked for Bivens’ head on a platter, either. This was Lorena Ochoa, the No. 1 player in women’s golf, as well as popular American players like Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis, Cristie Kerr, Morgan Pressel and Michelle Wie. Other top international players supporting Bivens’ ouster included Suzann Pettersen and Yani Tseng.
     As Pettersen spun it: “All we are doing is standing up for our Tour.’’ To which Ochoa added: "We are in the board’s hands.” 
     Bivens’ response? Well, two days into the latest craziness from the LPGA and golf’s "Queen of Mean” has yet to show her hand. It figures, as the one thing you can always count on from the curt commish is that she will do only what she wants to do when she wants to do it.
    The master of disaster ever since she became the LPGA’s boss in 2005, Bivens seems to fly from one controversy to the next like she’s the queen of controversy.
    Bivens’ odd journey into professional sports – she was a former media and advertising executive with Initiative Media North America and USA Today – has been a mockery since the opening day of her reign of terror. Or had you forgotten that she once laid down the law on how the media would report on and photograph LPGA tournaments and players.
    Of course, the media revolted en masse – some publications even threatening to end coverage of the LPGA — and Bivens backed off even if she did keep a list of names that she has never forgotten (including yours truly).
    From that point, it was one fiasco after another as Bivens (in no specific order) offended the game’s elite with various snubs and oversights; alienated sponsors to the point that the LPGA schedule is in dire straits; and fired or indignantly replaced long-time officials within the LPGA with her goon squad.
     At first, there was speculation by a few players and casual observers that the media might have gotten it wrong about the 56-year-old Bivens. Surely, the sweet-smiling Carolyn was just a lightning rod for change and her aggressive nature/harsh tactics were all for the good of the LPGA and its future.
    But last year when Bivens declared that all players on the LPGA would have to speak English by 2009 or be suspended from tournament play, the wheels came off her vehicle for change. That she targeted only South Koreans for her English-only classes seemed a little too discriminating to some. Of course, others felt that it was so offensive and racist that lawsuits were looming on the horizon by the time she finally backed off.
    As Bivens always does with such aplomb, she quickly tried to make the fiasco somebody else’s fault, notably the media. Looking back in retrospect, the players should have demanded that she Bivens down right there.
     But they didn’t and so Bivens continued to make a fool out of herself. Like her most recent boo-boo – “To Tweet or not to Tweet.’’ As Bivens’ blunders go, this was classic.
    Talking to a reporter earlier in the season, Bivens was quoted by one national publication as saying, “I’d love it if our players Twittered during the middle of their rounds.’’
    Guess what the response from her troops was to that brilliant idea?
   “I will not be twittering when I play. It should not happen in any sport’’ was the immediate reaction from Creamer.
   Then Golf Channel/NBC reporter Dottie Pepper added: “Twittering on the course is absurb, absolutely absurb.’’
     Realizing she had come up with another bad idea, Bivens handled it by claiming she was “taken out of context.’’
     Which brings us to the age-old question: When is enough, enough? Hey, it only took the LPGA one year to get rid of Bill Blue as commissioner, and all he said was he had "an impossible job trying to make 200 women happy.’’
     For the record, Bivens has two more years left in her three-year extension, so why not just pay her off and get rid of her? At the current rate of attrition, the LPGA could be down to 19 tournaments by the end of 2011, so a change at the top couldn’t come soon enough in many players’ eyes.
     But apparently that won’t be an easy task for the LPGA board of directors, which is made up of seven players (several Bivens backers among them) and six independent directors.  Plus, CB has become good at dodging controversy so maybe she’ll just hunker down in the bunker.
    Hey, if Bivens can avoid what essentially is like getting fired this week there’s not another tournament in the U.S. until late August. Maybe the players will be worn out and back off by then, who knows?
      Unfortunately, this latest mess involving Bivens is overshadowing this week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Saucon Valley Country Club outside Philadelphia. It’s as if the national championship’s spotlight has been redirected to the one person who really seems to know very little about the players or the sport she’s overseeing.
     This is a sad state of affairs because five years ago when Bivens took the controls, the LPGA’s future could not have looked brighter. There were all these young fresh faces and tournaments seemed to be financially sound in the U.S. and expanding globally. And Annika Sorenstam was No. 1 in the world and seemingly on a path to rewrite the record books.
     In a way, the women’s game had it all. But what has followed has been anything but. Lately there even have been unconfirmed reports that the LPGA is upside down financially and will soon be taken over by the PGA Tour, the end result being all of golf’s professional tours in America under one umbrella.
    Sure, that’s a big jump from Bivens’ possible resignation/’firing even if that would effectively be the first step in the LPGA’s redirection. Still, the bottom line is when you’ve lost the respect of those you are leading, there is no recovery that is sustainable.
    Certainly it would be ironic if Bivens stepped down this week? For those who have forgotten, it was Bivens who thought the LPGA “owned’’ the U.S. Women’s Open when she first ascended to her throne. When she found out the U.S. Golf Association was actually in charge, a vindictive Bivens responded by instituting a new rule that didn’t factor in a player’s earnings at the national championship towards their season’s winnings.
      On the surface it seemed like such a small thing, but it all adds up in the end. Then again, that’s the Carolyn Bivens we’ve come to know, and so it’s the right time for her to go.