By Bob Denney
PGA Historian Emeritus
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (Nov. 9, 2020) -- Mickey Powell, the 24th president of the PGA of America who oversaw a period of rapid growth and development in the Association during his term in office, passed away early Sunday in Indiana. He was 81. The Powells reside in Lost Tree Village, North Palm Beach, Florida.
Powell was elected to PGA Membership in 1965 and served as the PGA’s 24th president from 1985-86. For more than 55 years in professional golf, Powell brought to his work a blend of innovation, passion and love for the PGA Member. According to those who worked with him at the Golf Club of Indiana in Zionsville, a typical greeting was, “What have you done today that you are proud of?”
"The PGA of America is deeply saddened with the passing of Mickey Powell, who led our Association with vision, class, honor and a sincere love of the game," said PGA President Jim Richerson. "Mickey was someone who didn't ask why, but rather why not? Under his watch, the Ryder Cup grew in stature; children of PGA Members realized dreams of higher education through scholarships; and he helped launch what became today's PGA Golf Properties. A friend and mentor to many through the years, Mickey helped promote PGA Members as premier coaches and leaders in the business of golf. We will miss him dearly and extend our sympathies to his wife, Diana, and family."
Powell’s ascension to one of golf’s premier leadership positions can be traced to his start in the sport as a 13-year-old caddie at the Country Club of Indianapolis. His first-ever loop was for a couple named Pete and Alice Dye, who were to become the driving force in worldwide golf design.
Born June 17, 1939, in Indianapolis, Powell’s chance meeting with the Dyes would blossom.
Powell, whose first golf routing was planting coffee cans in his family yard to simulate a course, asked Pete Dye to cosign a note to defray expenses so that he could attend college.
“My parents could not afford to send me,” Powell recalled when he became PGA President. “Pete said I’m the only kid he helped go through school who ever paid him back.”
Powell was a four-year all-conference golf selection (1958-61) at the former Indiana Central University (now the University of Indianapolis). In 1964 at age 24, he became the first golf professional at Otter Creek Country Club in Columbus, Indiana, sparking his upward career trajectory.
A decade later, Powell helped build the Golf Club of Indiana with longtime friend and fellow PGA Professional Drew Newsom, and remained at the club for 35 years. The club’s team included architect Charles Maddox Jr., who would fulfill Powell’s dream of creating a public access course that had the feel of a private facility and the challenge of a championship layout.
In 1972, during his second year as Indiana PGA President, Powell became a founding member of the Indiana Golf Association-Indiana PGA, one of the few golf organizations in the country that joins amateurs and professionals.
Powell’s passion to expand PGA Member opportunities was boosted in November 1984, when he was elected president of the PGA of America. The former Indiana PGA Section President (1971-72) and 1972 Section Golf Professional of the Year had prepped for the spotlight by serving on numerous national PGA committees.
As president, Powell worked to improve communication between the 41 nationwide PGA Sections with a President’s Newsletter and the first President’s Survey, and he made strides to secure the PGA’s assets for generations. Under his watch, the PGA completed the installation of a nationwide computer network; developed a reserve fund for PGA Members; and a PGA scholarship fund for the children and grandchildren of PGA Members. In 1986, Powell awarded the first PGA Teacher of the Year Award to Manuel de la Torre.
Apprentices, today’s PGA Associates, were always close to Powell’s heart.
“I worked with (Dr.) Gary Wiren, who was the creator of the Playing Ability Test (PAT),” Powell said in 2008. “Apprentices are very important, the lifeblood of the Association.”
In response to PGA Members’ demand to broaden the Association’s financial base, in 1986 Powell led the campaign to enter the business of owning, leading, managing and providing consulting services for golf courses under the banner of PGA Club Operations Inc. That initiative became the forerunner to today’s PGA Golf Properties. Additionally, the Club Relations Department that was created under Powell’s leadership evolved into today’s Career Services Department.
Powell sparked the renewal after a four-year hiatus of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf - a two-day competition for the winners of the year’s four major champions. The event was contested until 2014. He also championed the School Golf Development Program to generate enthusiasm for the game at the secondary school level.
Also In 1986, Powell and PGA Executive Director Lou King formed a two-person negotiating team to deal with ABC Sports to broadcast the Ryder Cup. It resulted in charting a path of greater attention for what today is the greatest spectacle in golf and one of the most popular international sports competitions.
Further, Powell convinced his close friend, Jack Nicklaus, to return as Captain in 1987, and host the next U.S.-based Ryder Cup at his home course, Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio.
“In my humble opinion, the 1987 Ryder Cup set the event on its path,” said Powell in 2008. “It set it on its business path. It set it on its competitive path. It set it on its artistic presentation path and for television. It just has been totally off the charts.”
In 1988, Powell helped lead the move of the PGA Merchandise Show from Miami to its current home in Orlando, Florida.
Powell’s commitment to the education of PGA Members manifested itself in his mentorship at the Golf Club of Indiana. He helped 30 PGA Professionals under his supervision into PGA Head Professional positions. “I’m at the end of my career,” he said in 2008, “and I don’t think that I will be able to put in any more. But 30 is not bad.”
On the course, Powell was runner-up in the Indiana State Open Championship and twice finished second in the Indiana PGA Championship. He owned a two-stroke lead with nine holes to play in the 1970 PGA Professional Championship in Sunol, California, before a trio of three-putt greens derailed his championship bid. He tied for fourth with another future PGA President, Dick Smith.
Powell went on to compete in two Senior PGA Championships (1990-91), the U.S. Senior Open and capture two Indiana PGA Senior Championships, an Indiana PGA Senior Open title and two Indiana PGA Senior Player of the Year awards.
He was inducted into the Indiana Golf Hall of Fame in 1986; and into the PGA of America Hall of Fame in 2005.
During the 2002 PGA Annual Meeting, Powell was awarded the Legends of the PGA honor for his contributions to the Association and the industry. “I am probably the most blessed golf professional as a member of the PGA,” said Powell.
Reflecting upon his career in 2008, Powell said “It’s been a great ride. I mean I’ve enjoyed the journey. It’s been terrific.”
Powell is survived by his wife, Diana, and six daughters: Stacey, Tori, Tamara, Tiffany, Marla and Michelle; along with 12 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
Memorial plans have yet to be announced