Last February, I spotted a man strolling quietly through a hotel lobby in Anaheim, Calif., during the Golf Industry Show. To most conference attendees, he isn’t an immediately recognizable figure like his predecessor or some of the others who run major golf associations. I caught up to him and made a smart-ass remark about not even saying hello to old friends. As always, he’s impeccably dressed, gracious and funny, yet he’s not the kind of person who everyone instantly notices. To a casual observer, he’s just an average Joe.
In truth, he’s anything but. He’s Joe Steranka, the CEO of the PGA of America and one of a handful of the most powerful people in the business.
Steranka has been a sports guy from day one. After graduating from West Virginia University in 1979, he worked in the public relations department for the Washington Bullets (the old, politically incorrect name for today’s Wizards). Proving that white men can jump in the NBA, he leaped over to the Cleveland Cavaliers organization as their director of communications for two years. The Cavs, 20 years before LeBron James, weren’t exactly great.
“It was a different era,” Steranka says. “One season, we had more players on our roster than wins.”
Next came a five-year a stint with a big-time sports marketing firm in D.C. where he worked with clients including Michael Jordan and Jimmy Connors. Then, in 1988, he headed to Florida to join the staff of the PGA of America and never left.