Characters: Bob Ford

Low-key club pro Bob Ford, of Oakmont and Seminole renown, provides a comforting presence to nervous U.S. Open contestants

Please welcome, from Oakmont, Pa., Bob Ford.

The vaguely familiar, calmly reassuring voice that greets competitors on the first tee at the U.S. Open belongs to respected club professional Bob Ford. In 2017, late in his illustrious 42-year run as head golf professional at two of America’s legendary clubs, Ford accepted the role as first-tee announcer in the men’s U.S. Open. At age 69, he delights in the annual gig.

“It’s a real honor for me,” Ford says. “I love the interaction with the players and with the broadcasters.”

bob ford
Bob Ford (photo by Jeff Berth)

Since his debut with first-tee introductions, Ford has never felt nervous, but admits he’s made his share of mistakes. “Nobody throws a perfect game,” he concedes. “Last year I called Justin Thomas ‘Justin Thompson.’ I’ve only known him since he was 12. I’ve made plenty of bogeys, but you have to own it and move on.”

Then-USGA domo (and Seminole member) Mike Davis recruited Ford for the role in the hopes of bridging the gap between the USGA and U.S. Open golfers. Davis witnessed Ford on many occasions in the latter’s capacity as genial first-tee host at the annual Seminole Pro-Member event and sensed that the best players in golf would feel more comfortable with Ford on board.

Davis’s perception was spot on. Making folks feel comfortable has been a Bob Ford calling card since he entered the business. After four years as an assistant at Oakmont, Ford took the head pro job, succeeding his mentor Lew Worsham, who retired in 1979. Ford served for 37 years, through the 2016 U.S. Open at the club. Concurrently, he wintered in Florida, where he was the head pro at Seminole from 1999 through the Walker Cup held there in 2021. Along the way, he accumulated a galaxy of tournament wins and honors, including induction into the PGA of America Hall of Fame in 2005, the USGA’s Bob Jones Award in 2017, and the golf writers assocation’s Richardson Award in 2022. He worked for the FOX broadcast team at the 2016 U.S. Open, did the same for Golf Channel at the 2022 Professional National Championship, and co-hosts a PGA Tour Radio show on Sirius XM.

Ford’s lifetime of golf experiences is topped by the 1983 U.S. Open, when he became the third and perhaps final host professional to make the cut at his own course in a U.S. Open. “To play the weekend was the highlight of my playing career,” Ford says, of his tie for 26th.

Equally remarkable, back then the host pro and club owned the merchandising rights.  “When I would finish playing, I’d go into the tent and work,” he recalls. “Playing was really kind of a four-hour getaway for me. We worked long into the night and were petrified about the money—stashed it between the mattresses until we could get to the bank on Monday. It was pretty wild—old school.”

Ford’s legacy centers on what he calls his family tree of assistants. More than 50 pros who worked under him have gone on to thrive as head professionals at many of America’s greatest clubs.

“To be a successful club professional, you have to have a passion to play—to inspire people to play and to teach people to play,” he says. “Second, your job is to make people feel welcome and comfortable. It’s all about taking care of people. Those who were good at it moved on to some great jobs.”

Pros such as Shinnecock Hills’s Jack Druga, Cherry Hills’s Andrew Shuck, and Eagle Point’s Billy Anderson can attest. They learned their craft from Bob Ford, who’s the very best at taking care of folks.

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