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Jimmy Aggrey was a victim of the Chelsea racism scandal – now he wants to talk

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Jimmy Aggrey was a victim of the Chelsea racism scandal – now he wants to talk

He was the tallest player. Even at the age of 16, Jimmy Aggrey stood well over six feet. The big lads went at the back. Line up and smile for the camera, please.

Chelsea liked him. They thought he had a good chance of making it. For such a tall kid, Aggrey had quick, skilful feet. His future was bright at a time, in 1995, when Chelsea were re-establishing themselves among the most glamorous football clubs in England.

“When I joined Chelsea, Glenn Hoddle was the first-team manager,” says Aggrey. “Ruud Gullit arrived later. The place was full of superstars: Gianfranco Zola, Frank Leboeuf, Roberto Di Matteo. So I can understand why many people might think it’s a great photograph. They should have been the greatest times of my life.”

Aggrey was in his fourth year in Chelsea’s youth system when that photograph was taken at their home ground, Stamford Bridge. So how does it feel, all these years later, to look at it now?

“You can see it in my face,” he says. “It’s full of stress, there’s no joy. I’m not smiling.

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“I look at that boy and I just want to tell him, ‘You’re all right now, you got through it’. Because I know what he suffered. I wouldn’t want to go back to my life at that time.”


Jimmy Aggrey, circled in yellow, with Chelsea’s youth squad and the coaches who bullied him — Gwyn Williams (middle row, circled) and Graham Rix (bottom row, circled) (Courtesy of Jimmy Aggrey)

This is the first time Aggrey has spoken publicly about the culture of racism and bullying at Chelsea that led to an independent inquiry by children’s charity Barnardo’s and prompted the Football Association to bring in the police. It was, in Aggrey’s words, a “feral environment” in which he and other young black footballers were subjected to what the FA’s safeguarding investigation described as “vile abuse”.

In speaking to The Athletic, Aggrey has waived the anonymity that was granted to him by the High Court in 2018 as the first of four ex-players who launched civil action against Chelsea. On the night before it was due to go to trial, Chelsea agreed out-of-court settlements. The club do not accept liability but have apologised for “the terrible past experiences of some of our former players”. A number of players have received damages in follow-up cases.

The two perpetrators are on that team photograph, circled in red, and the most shocking part is that they were the coaches who had been entrusted to look after boys as young as nine.

One is Gwyn Williams, who spent 27 years at the club and was found by Barnardo’s to have subjected boys to a “daily tirade of racial abuse”. The other is Graham Rix, a former England international who was allowed to keep his job as Chelsea’s youth-team coach despite being sent to prison for under-age sex offences.

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“Between them, they took away a large part of my childhood,” says Aggrey. “They were a tag team, every bit as bad as one another. And yet, I look at them now and I just feel pity. I refuse to let them keep me in some kind of mental jail.”

He is 45 now, a father-of-three happily settled in a part of Devon, in England’s south west, that likes to call itself the English Riviera. He has a charity, which has the Chelsea Foundation as a partner. Life is good. Waiving his anonymity, he says, is another part of the healing process.

In 2018, Aggrey was listed only as AXM in the High Court action against Chelsea that exposed one of the worst racism scandals in English football. Three weeks ago, The Athletic successfully applied to the court to overturn the anonymity order, including a written submission from Aggrey and a supporting letter from Chelsea.

“I’m ready to talk,” he says. “I’m proud of who I am and the resilience within my DNA and soul. But it’s not just about me. It’s about trying to help others and, if telling my story helps only one person, I’ve done my job.”


Jimmy Aggrey has a new life in Devon (Daniel Taylor/The Athletic)

If you want just a tiny insight into the culture Aggrey had to endure, it can be found in the glossy pages of Chelsea’s matchday programme for their game against Ipswich Town on January 20, 2001.

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It was the day Zola made his 200th Chelsea appearance. Claudio Ranieri, the manager, paid tribute in his programme notes. So did Dennis Wise, as vice-captain, and chairman Ken Bates. Chelsea won 4-1 with Marcel Desailly and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink among the team’s A-listers.

On page 61, meanwhile, there was an article that briefly mentioned Aggrey, who had moved to Torquay United, and the observation from his time at Chelsea that he was “almost too nice to make it in football”. Aggrey, according to the author, was a “very tall, very lean, black guy who was the butt of a lot of jokes”.

It was a strange choice of words — why even mention the player’s colour? — and it would need a warped mind to portray what Aggrey encountered as innocent humour.

“I’d never experienced racism before,” says Aggrey. “I knew it existed. I’d seen it on TV and heard my parents speaking about it, but nothing had ever been said directly to me. Then I arrived for my first day at Chelsea and my first encounter with Gwyn Williams. His first words were, ‘Who’s this lanky f*****g c**n?’. That was my welcome to Chelsea. I was 12 years old.”

Aggrey, the youngest of three children, had been raised by Ghanaian parents a short distance from Griffin Park, Brentford’s old ground. He went to the same boys’ school, Isleworth & Syon, as Mo Farah, the future Olympic and world champion runner, and started attracting attention from football scouts while playing for West Middlesex Colts under-12s.

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Football was his dream, but even at a young age he also knew it was a way to help his family to a better life. His mother was a cleaner, working long hours to provide for her children. His father ran a security company based in Wembley, north-west London.


Jimmy Aggrey, aged 11, with his youth football team Middlesex Colts (Courtesy of Jimmy Aggrey)

So the young Aggrey realised, early on, that if he wanted to fulfil his dreams he may have to learn how to deal with the abuse from his own coaches.

“How does a 12-year-old boy react to an adult in that position of power? He (Williams) calls you a lanky black b*****d. He refers to how dark you are. ‘Can you run like Linford Christie (the British sprinter)? Do you rob grannies on your estate? Are you keeping fit so you run drugs round the tower blocks?’. He would look at me in this way I’d never experienced from anyone. I didn’t know how to deal with it. All I wanted was to play football.”

Williams joined Chelsea in 1979, running their youth system for 20 years and taking huge influence at all levels of the club. He was racist, hard-faced and so divisive there were times when he arranged whites-v-blacks training matches. It was, to quote one player, like a “mini Apartheid state”.

Yet Williams somehow managed to keep it away from some of the key personnel at Chelsea even when, in Aggrey’s words, “we had a manager (Ruud Gullit) rocking dreadlocks”. Williams went on to become assistant manager to Ranieri and formed part of Jose Mourinho’s scouting staff before leaving Chelsea in 2006.

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“I used to dread getting picked up for training,” says Aggrey. “We would go into the changing room. He’d walk in: ‘Hey, look at the f*****g blackies in here … f*****g rubber lips’. Let me tell you something, that was the most demoralising feeling you could ever have.

“I remember walking to the training ground and I’d be thinking, ‘Oh my god, what am I doing? I can’t wait for this day to be over’.

“It was relentless, and it got physical, too. Gwyn would give you a slap. He’d flick your scrotum. Or if he was really mad and thought you’d had a bad game, he’d give you a crack round the side of the head. It was hard, a man hit. ‘You little black b*****d… you w*g’. I was 13. It took a lot out of me. He addressed me that way every single time he saw me.”


Gwyn Williams, then Chelsea’s assistant manager, at the 2000 FA Cup final (Neal Simpson/EMPICS via Getty Images)

Some people might wonder why the players never reported it at the time. Why, Aggrey is asked, did he not speak out? But that would be to underestimate Williams’ position at Chelsea and the sport as a whole.

“That guy had power. You’re scared of people with power. It was said he had the biggest black book in London,” says Aggrey. “There was no proper safeguarding back then, anyway. If I said I wanted to raise an issue, guess where I would have been told to go: Graham Rix or Gwyn Williams. Go to the top of the club? But that was Ken Bates, the chairman, and Williams was his right-hand man. So you’re helpless, you’re cannon fodder. I was a minor. And that guy (Williams) was the governor.

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“He could make or break you, not just at Chelsea, but break you when you leave — ring another manager and say, ‘Don’t touch him, he’s just another aggressive black guy’. I wouldn’t have had a career.”

Aged 15, Aggrey tried to find another way. He got a number for the FA, rang it from his home phone and asked to speak to the chief executive, Graham Kelly.

“I told the person on the other end of the line what it was about. She said, ’Can you hold the line?’. Then she came back a few moments later. ‘No, he’s too busy to speak to you today’. It was a brush-off.”

Terrorised by his own coaches, Aggrey started to develop a stutter. He was playing, he says, with “strings of confidence”. Every day was an ordeal.

“I’ve got diaries that I wrote at the age of 13, 14 and 15 and they’re harrowing. It’s a cry for help from someone who didn’t want to be alive. I was coming home quiet, all my confidence stripped away. It affected my life, my self-worth, my self-love. Even in my twenties, it affected my relationships. I didn’t really care about whether I lived or died until my kids came along.”

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A former schoolteacher, Williams’ working relationship with Bates was so strong he followed him to Leeds United, taking on the role of technical director, in the years after Roman Abramovich’s 2003 takeover of Chelsea.

Williams, credited with discovering the young John Terry, ended up being sacked by Leeds for gross misconduct after he emailed pornographic images to colleagues, including a female member of staff. He had three years scouting for Hull City and, now 76, he is permanently banned from the sport after a FA safeguarding investigation into the bullying and racism claims ruled he posed “a risk of harm to children within affiliated football”.

Although he denies ever assaulting a player, Williams has accepted that he used extreme racial language. In his evidence to the High Court, he said it was never his intention to cause any hurt or offence, on the basis that “it was just the typical banter that would have been found in almost any male environment at that time”.

As for Rix, he was sentenced to a year in prison, serving six months, and put on the sex offenders’ register after admitting, in March 1999, two charges of unlawful sex with a 15-year-old girl.

Rix was reinstated by Chelsea immediately after his release. He was the first-team coach when Chelsea, under Gianluca Vialli’s management, won the FA Cup in 2000 and had a spell as caretaker manager after the Italian’s sacking later that year.

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Rix, who won 17 England caps as a player for Arsenal, was suspended for two years while the FA investigated the complaints of bullying and racism. He was allowed back on condition he attended a series of educational courses. Up until a fortnight ago, Rix, 66, was the manager of Fareham Town in the Wessex League, but banned for life from under 18s’ girls’ football.


Graham Rix (right) with Gwyn Williams at Chelsea’s 2000 FA Cup final against Aston Villa (Mark Leech/Offside/Getty Images).

“How that man is still in football, I will never know,” says Aggrey. “What other profession do you know where someone can be put on a paedophile register and go back to work in that industry within six months? It’s scary. I find it hard to understand how he’s still allowed in football.”

Rix has always denied any form of racial, physical or emotional abuse. A seven-month police investigation concluded without him or Williams facing charges and the Barnardo’s report, published in 2019, concluded that Rix could be “aggressive and bullying” but, on the evidence presented to its inquiry, not racially abusive.

Aggrey’s evidence to the High Court, however, depicted Rix as a racist bully with violent tendencies.

On one occasion, Aggrey says he was cleaning one of the first-team player’s boots when Rix started abusing him and, according to court documents, threatened to “lynch (his) black arse”. Tired of the constant harassment, Aggrey made a retaliatory comment. Rix’s response, he says, was to go red with anger and throw a cup of hot coffee into his face.

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Rix, he says, assaulted him more than once, with punches and kicks and one incident in a training match when the ball went out for a throw-in.

“They (Rix and Williams) had this stereotypical idea that a big black guy should be mouthy and forever smashing people,” says Aggrey. “They thought I was soft. I liked to read, I could write poetry. I was a gentle person. My feet were my gifts.


Jimmy Aggrey, aged 17, featured in a Chelsea matchday programme (Courtesy of Jimmy Aggrey)

“I was 16, in the first week of my YTS (youth-training scheme), and Rix used to join in with training. He went to take a quick throw and I was standing directly in front of him. So he has just gone — bang — and thrown it as hard as he could into my face.

“There was no reason for it, just all that anger and hate inside him. Those balls were pumped up hard. My nose popped, there was blood everywhere. I was on the floor and Rix was shouting for me to ‘f*****g get up’.”


It was a month after his release from Chelsea that Aggrey tried to take his own life. He was 18 and free, finally, of the two men who had made football so hard and unforgiving. But he was lost, broken.

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“I had a massive argument with my dad. He felt I’d wasted my life and that I could have gone to university. I went to my sister’s, bought two bottles of wine with whatever money I had, and got smashed. I was there, drunk, and I saw some tablets on the side. I just thought, ‘F*** it’. I grabbed a load and dashed them down the back of my throat. Then I just went to sleep.”

His sister, Lillian, saved his life. “She had been out that night and came back to find me. She literally dragged me to the toilet and put her fingers down my throat. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was puking up. All I can remember is waking up and her saying we needed to go to hospital.”


Jimmy Aggrey with his sister, Lillian, who found him after his suicide attempt (Courtesy of Jimmy Aggrey)

Aggrey was taken on by Fulham, then a fourth-division side, where the manager, Micky Adams, could never understand why a talented and dedicated midfielder from one of England’s top clubs had been “stripped of self-confidence”.

Adams submitted a written report as part of Aggrey’s legal submissions to the High Court. Aggrey, he wrote, was “a good professional with a beaming smile, but I always felt behind that smile was a person who clearly had his confidence knocked out of him at Chelsea. Whoever was responsible for that, I don’t know. He never gave me a problem. He was always on time and always gave his all”.

Aggrey moved to Torquay where he reinvented himself as a centre-half and won the supporters’ player-of-the-year award in 2001. Life on the south coast suited him. But the trauma was still there. There were nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks, waking up drenched in sweat, swinging punches in his sleep.

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He played with fire burning behind his eyes. “If I came up against an opposition player who had the same accent as Rix, or spoke like Williams, they were triggers. I’d try to take them out, two-foot them. I ended up being one of the most booked players in Torquay’s history. I was trying to play the role of henchman because they (Rix and Williams) used to say I was too nice.”


Jimmy Aggrey with a player of the trophy award at Torquay (Courtesy of Jimmy Aggrey)

Over time, he came to realise he had post-traumatic stress disorder. It is the same for a lot of the kids at Chelsea who understand why Barnardo’s referred to a culture in which “the ongoing and repeated use of racially abusive language appears to have created an atmosphere in which abuse was normalised”.

These kids are now in their forties and fifties. Some find it too difficult to watch Chelsea on television. Others cannot go anywhere near Stamford Bridge. Aggrey has learned how to manage his own issues. But he can remember how “unnerving” it felt when he was invited to the ground in 2019 to meet Bruce Buck, then Chelsea’s chairman.

A psychiatric report, presented to the High Court, talks of him, as a younger man, experiencing “very severe distress and feelings of isolation and humiliation, all of which totally undermined his confidence in his footballing ability and as a young person at a critical age”.

He spent the rest of his playing career drifting through a variety of non-League clubs. There was an enjoyable spell with Welsh club TNS, lining up against Manchester City in a UEFA Cup qualifier in 2003. Overall, though, Aggrey’s love for football had diminished in his youth. He retired at the age of 27.

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“I felt relieved,” he says. “But as a father of young children and, with the 2008 financial crash around the corner, the timing couldn’t have been any worse.”


To spend time in his company now is to find a man who is entirely comfortable in his own skin. Aggrey has a big smile and a big personality. The thought occurs more than once that football’s anti-racism organisations should want to tap into his knowledge and experience.

But it is only in the last 10 years, he says, that he has been able to shift the “heavyweight burden of unpacked mental trauma”. It was a long battle to get through “the internal, intrusive day-to-day thoughts that played on a loop. ‘What could I have done? Why did I let them do that to me?’. The self-blame, guilt and anger”.

There were other issues, too. Aggrey never earned the money associated with Premier League footballers. At the age of 28, his house was repossessed due to being unable to keep up with mortgage payments and arrears.

“One of my friends let me use his car, a Volvo S40, and that became my house. I’d find car parks where I wouldn’t be recognised and I’d sleep in the back seat. I spent my 32nd birthday sleeping in my car.”

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Other friends gave him food. If he was in London, he would go to Brentford leisure centre for a shower. The woman at reception knew him from when he was a boy and waved him through. Or returning to Torquay, he would go to the Grand Hotel on the seafront and sit in an alcove where he knew there was an electricity point.

“I’d plug in my phone, ask for a glass of water and make it last, sometimes four or five hours. Then I’d get back in the car, park round the corner and try to keep warm and get some sleep. This went on for months. I felt like a failure. But these experiences have helped make me what I am today.”

It is an extraordinary story even before we mention that Aggrey has worked as a football agent, had a role in the Sky One series Dream Team and has written an eight-part TV series of his own. ‘Jimmy’ tells the story of his life — powerful, gritty, yet also uplifting.

His foundation, set up with the backing of the Professional Footballers’ Association, is dedicated to helping young people in marginalised, poverty-hit communities. TNS are one of the partners via his friendship with the club’s owner, Mike Harris, and their kits have been distributed to kids as part of one project in Cape Town, South Africa.

It is easy to understand why Aggrey talks so passionately about the Homeless World Cup, which will be held in South Korea in September. He became involved via his friend, Kasali Casal, a former Fulham player who became the football director for TV series Ted Lasso.

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“Playing football after being homeless is dear to these people,” says Aggrey, “and it matters to me greatly after everything I have experienced.”

His father, James Sr, died in 2021. So much went unspoken and it will always be a source of pain that they never healed a rift that, at its heart, stemmed from a boy trying to protect his family from the brutal realities of Chelsea’s youth system.

“He had dreams of me becoming a lawyer or a doctor,” says Aggrey. “Because I was strong academically, he didn’t understand why I was embarking on a journey to be in a sport where I wouldn’t be accepted.


Jimmy Aggrey, pictured aged 13, had anger issues as a result of his treatment at Chelsea (Courtesy of Jimmy Aggrey)

“I didn’t want to tell him what was happening. Mum, as well. That was a heavy coat to wear as a kid. But they weren’t ones to confront institutions, so it would have been internalised and affected the whole house.

“He saw the changes in me. I had temper issues, getting into fights. I was going out too much. I think he saw an unobliging kid who had wasted his gift of academia.”

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Life continues to have its challenges. Aggrey is coming to terms with the recent death of his aunt Irene. Last week, it was the funeral of Paul Holmes, his friend and ex-Torquay teammate.

Overall, though, he is in a good place, radiating warmth, signing off emails with “love and light”. He has learned to heal. And, in a strange way, it feels therapeutic for him to share his experiences, no longer living a secret.

“I feel blessed how my mind, my resilience and unwavering hope has kept me alive and going,” he says. “The line was thin and I can’t change the past. But I have to use my experiences for good and be grateful I’m still here.”

The Athletic asked Gwyn Williams and Graham Rix to comment, but neither has responded. Fareham Town have also failed to respond. Graham Kelly, who left the FA in 1998, said he could not recollect being told about the telephone call from Aggrey.

Whatever you’re going through, you can call the Samaritans in the UK free any time, from any phone, on 116 123.

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(Top photos: Daniel Taylor/The Athletic; courtesy of Jimmy Aggrey; design: John Bradford)

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The lesson of Scottie Scheffler at this U.S. Open, from the man who taught him

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The lesson of Scottie Scheffler at this U.S. Open, from the man who taught him

PINEHURST, N.C. — Randy Smith saw something that needed fixing, so he went about fixing it. It’s what he does. He pulled a piece of paper out of his desk at Royal Oaks Country Club in Dallas and scribbled down his idea. A line here. A line there. All the details. He folded it up, walked across the club and handed it to his student.

“This,” Smith said, “will work.”

Tom Landry took the paper.

The Dallas Cowboys coach eyed Smith, then looked down at a page of Xs moving this way and Os moving that way. The key, Smith explained, was putting Roger Staubach into shotgun play-action and allowing Drew Pearson to operate in space. Pure genius, in 1976, at least.

Landry, a Royal Oaks member, studied the play for about a minute. “Randy, I absolutely love it,” he finally said. Smith, then a 27-year-old golf pro and teaching instructor, nodded.

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“Star-right 47,” Landry said.

“What?” Smith asked.

“We already run it,” Landry said. “Star-right 47. That’s the play.”

Turns out, Smith’s design already existed, but with a different pre-snap motion. Nonetheless, the young golf coach from Odessa proved he had an eye for how to play, how to design Xs better than Os, and how to scheme up a win.

Fifty years later, nothing is different, except Smith is now coach and confidant to the current greatest player in professional golf.

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Randy Smith, left, has been working with Scottie Scheffler for more than 20 years. (Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

Smith is the genius who told young Scottie Scheffler it was OK to let those feet fly; the visionary who knew a gift when he saw it. He first met a 7-year-old Scheffler at Royal Oaks around 2004. What was supposed to be a 10-minute youth lesson turned into an hour and 40 minutes. Smith, hand on chin, unblinking, only interjected here and there. “Can you try … yep.” “And how about … yep.” Smith knew immediately that Scheffler was one of one. He had not seen anything like him since a boy named Justin Leonard showed up on the driving range nearly 25 years earlier. Scheffler was somehow better.

And now, in 2024, Scheffler is the best. The hottest player in golf. Winner in five of his last eight events. A visitor from another planet. The 27-year-old can make it six wins in his last nine with a win at Pinehurst this week, where he’s trying for his third career major and first U.S. Open championship. A victory feels oddly inevitable. Scheffler is playing so well, so often, that fellow players are seemingly content to acknowledge their own inadequacies.

“He is the gold standard right now,” Bryson DeChambeau said Tuesday, “and we’re all looking up to him going, ‘All right, how do we get to that level?’”

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It won’t be easy, in part, because no one else out here has been hard-wired by the hands of Randy Smith. The coach is, in Scheffler’s words, “a savant,” and they are now two decades into a lesson that’s proving to have some staying power. It’s all worked because it’s never felt like work.

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“Randy has always been really good at not overthinking things,” Scheffler says.

Which might sound simple, yet is anything but.

Now 72, Smith walked along Pinehurst No. 2’s back nine on Tuesday trying to explain what gets so often confused in golf — that once a player has the basics down, their swing must be their own creation, not someone else’s. This is why, while recent generations of players were told the same four misguided words — “Keep your head down.” — Smith told his young players the opposite.

“The head’s gotta move, man,” Smith said, stressing hard. “That’d be like telling a basketball player to keep his eye on the ball during a free throw.”

Smith still spends more than half of his time at Royal Oaks working with kids and when he does, he first wants to see good contact. Then a good grip. Then a reasonable ability to aim the body at the target. Then comes the interesting part. “You see if they can create.” Instead of tweaking the form, Smith wants to see what’s in the instincts. He hands the player a 7-iron and asks, “How would you make the ball fly really high? How about really low?” He wants to see imagination before imitation.

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“You know, the body moves in response to action,” Smith said. “Most people say, ‘You have to make the body do this to create this and this.’ That’s bulls—.”

Smith picked up an imaginary baseball.

“I’m gonna throw this ball right at Scottie’s ass,” he said, pointing across the green at Scheffler.

Smith shifted his hips, cocked his arm and made a throwing motion.

“See, there were 42 things going on to make that motion,” he went on. “No one told me to shift my weight into my hip or use 30 degrees of knee bend or tilt my shoulders to the angle or the throw or … ”

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The point: A swing need to be a product of instincts and action. This is how Smith sees the game and keeps kids interested in playing. Then, little by little, “I sneak up on ’em with the technique stuff.”


Scheffler has won five tournaments in 2024, including last week’s Memorial Tournament. (Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

When Smith is dealing a player who’s struggling, he’ll take him or her out to the course, stick ‘em behind a tree in a fairway, point to a green in the distance and say, “You gotta slice this sucker 40 yards to get to that target. Figure it out.” Lo and behold, the student stops thinking and instead creates a swing to shape the shot.

“But if they’re out there 170 yards, middle of the fairway, staring at the pin, they’re thinking about all kinds of other stuff,” Smith said. “You gotta get that out of there.”

No wonder Scheffler swings how he swings, thinks how he thinks. His game was shaped by Occam’s razor.

Perhaps that’s the secret to what is, in golf parlance, a heater, turning into something much bigger. Scheffler is turning into this era’s greatest player with a recipe that can seemingly fit on a single page. All the fixes are uncomplicated. All the solutions are straightforward. In April, at the Masters, when Scheffler felt he escaped the first round with a 66 despite a swing that “felt like I was using all hands,” he spent five minutes with Smith on the driving range.

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“He gave me a little tip with my grip,” Scheffler said Tuesday. “I hit a couple shots, felt exactly what I needed to feel. Then it was over, from there.”

Scheffler won by four shots.

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Now it’s the U.S. Open, where Smith is by Scheffler’s side, like usual, and keeping everything simple, like usual. On a week that should present extreme tests and stressful shotmaking, such a disposition feels like a cheat code. When Scheffler inevitably paints a masterpiece one of these days, and builds his lead, and looks like he’s playing a different game than everyone else, it’ll be worth remembering that nothing is by accident.

Walking around Tuesday, Smith studied Pinehurst’s rolling fairways and turtleback greens. The old coach was drawing up some Xs and Os.

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“Ninety-nine-point-nine percent is here,” Smith said, pointing to his left, “There,” he said point to his right, “What shots to hit and where. How about here? Maybe there. Where to hit it low. Where to hit it high. That’s uphill. That’s downhill. Where is the false front? Where’s the best way to access this pin, that pin?”

Smith stopped, then raised his hands.

“But nothing here,” he said, forming a grip, “And nothing there,” he said, bringing that grip to impact position.

Smith paused, then called a play.

“Target, feel, create.”

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(Top photo: Alex Slitz / Getty Images)

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U.S. women's basketball Olympic roster breakdown: Experience leads hunt for another gold

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U.S. women's basketball Olympic roster breakdown: Experience leads hunt for another gold

The U.S. women’s basketball roster was officially announced Tuesday, and in six weeks, the 12 players will go after a record eighth consecutive Olympic gold medal. With seven players who’ve already appeared on Team USA (and an additional two who were on the three-on-three team, known as 3×3, the last time around), this is an experienced group that enters the Games as the favorite.

Experience and maturity are only heightened considering the roster skews toward players in their late 20s; the youngest players are 26 and Diana Taurasi at 42 is the oldest. Unlike previous iterations of Olympic rosters, no recent college grads were included. Indiana Fever rookie Caitlin Clark’s exclusion from the roster has been the subject of much debate, and reigning WNBA Rookie of the Year Aliyah Boston also wasn’t selected.

With 12 versatile, slightly older players, coach Cheryl Reeve has plenty of flexibility with lineups and rotations, similar to how the defensive-oriented coach operates with her Minnesota Lynx squad. She is known for getting the most out of her players, orchestrating the Lynx’s run in the 2010s to four WNBA titles in seven seasons. This will be Reeve’s first time at the helm of the national team at the Olympics. She was named the head coach for this cycle in 2021 after being an assistant for both Geno Auriemma (2016) and Dawn Staley (2020).

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Team USA chair explains Olympic roster decisions, Caitlin Clark’s absence

Get to know the players who will represent Team USA in France this summer.

Collier, 27, was the 11th or 12th player on the Tokyo roster, but for this Olympics, she’s a probable starter alongside Chelsea Gray, A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart. Her game has continued to evolve (which is no surprise considering Reeve is her coach with the Lynx) — she’s shooting 40 percent on 3-pointers this WNBA season. Collier showed in an Olympic qualifier game earlier this year that she potentially can become a statistical leader, after tallying 23 points, 7 rebounds and 3 steals in a tightly-contested game against Belgium.

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Copper, 29, is playing the best basketball of her career in her first season with the Phoenix Mercury, averaging 24 points a game while shooting 39 percent from long range as a high-volume 3-point shooter. Unlike many other players on this Olympic roster who came up through the youth system, Copper’s first time in the Team USA pool was in 2021, and her game has only gone up. Her versatility is accentuated on defense, where she can guard multiple positions, both matching up with larger, more physical players and keeping step with perimeter guards.

Gray, 31, has yet to play this WNBA season after suffering a leg injury during the 2023 WNBA Finals. However, Team USA said it had been in regular communication with Gray and her medical team and feel confident she’ll be able to compete in France. Assuming that holds true, Gray will be the team’s best passer and its engine. For the Las Vegas Aces, she has been a dynamic scorer-facilitator, but if her role from the 2022 World Cup repeats, expect Gray to settle in more as a primary facilitator, especially because there’s not another pure point guard on the roster. Reeve will need a high-assist, low-risk floor general, and that’s Gray.

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When Griner, 33, returned to the U.S. from her 10-month detainment in Russia, she said she’d only go overseas again to play for her country in the Olympics. Now, that’s happening as Griner makes her third Olympic roster. She recently returned to the floor in the WNBA after recovering from a toe fracture, but even in two games, she looks great, averaging 17.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.5 blocks a game (in 30 minutes of play). She started all six games in Team USA’s 2021 run in Tokyo (averaging 16.5 points and over 7 rebounds a game while shooting nearly 70 percent). At 6-foot-9, she’s the tallest player on the roster, providing Team USA an instant mismatch against any opponent.

Napheesa Collier

A young role player the last Olympic cycle, Napheesa Collier now steps into a more prominent position for Paris. (Dirk Waem / BELGA MAG / AFP via Getty Images)

Ionescu, 26, is another potential backup ballhandler who likely will split responsibilities with other guards, but her versatility as a scorer and rebounder will come in handy. Like Alyssa Thomas, Ionescu can go off for a triple-double. With her long range and quick release, she could be used off the bench to help build a lead, or in close games, she could be inserted for her reliable free-throw shooting (over 90 percent for her WNBA career).

With no true backup point guard on the roster, Loyd, 30, likely will be called into some backup ballhandling responsibilities — a task Team USA probably will take on by committee. Loyd could be considered for the final starter, a spot that remains a bit of a question mark and might be determined by game-specific matchups. She’s a tried-and-true scorer and an excellent rebounder who can get Team USA out on the break and either distribute or score. One of the many perks of this roster is the number of players who have shown they can catch fire even after a slump, and Loyd is one of those.

A member of the inaugural 3×3 squad, Plum, 29, could find herself in that starting two-guard spot, or she could be a burst of energy and instant scorer off the bench. She’s a high-volume 3-point shooter for the Aces, but she can also get downhill and finish through contact. With Gray out, the Aces have shared facilitating duties, and Plum is averaging nearly 5 assists a game. Her familiarity with Wilson, Gray and Jackie Young is an important benefit for potential playing time, and that unit could be used as a “reset” at times, especially early in pool play, when Team USA needs to get on the same page.

Breanna Stewart, F

At 29, Stewart will play in her third Olympics. In tandem with Wilson, Stewart provides versatility and steadiness on both ends of the floor. Her 3-point shooting has been down this WNBA season, but Stewart is a three-level scorer with a knack for making defensive plays. Expect Stewart and Wilson to start regardless of the matchup as Reeve uses them as centerpieces and builds out from there.

Diana Taurasi, G

This will be Taurasi’s sixth Olympics. Her first came in 2004 in Athens, where at 22 she was the youngest player on the team. Her eldest teammate that year? Then-34-year-old Dawn Staley, who — 16 years later — would coach Taurasi at the Tokyo Olympics. Taurasi’s deft passing and sharp shooting will be helpful, but her experience is irreplaceable compared to any other player in the Team USA pool. “We knew Diana’s basketball ability would be clutch for us in so many moments, but we also knew that her leadership was something this team didn’t have,” U.S. women’s national team committee chair Jen Rizzotti said.

Diana Taurasi

Diana Taurasi, a staple of the U.S. national team for two decades, will go for her sixth Olympic gold medal. (Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)

Alyssa Thomas, F

Known as “The Engine” in the WNBA, Thomas, 32, is a triple-double threat every night in the league. She’s not the tallest on any court, but she might be the strongest 6-2 player in the league. The common storyline for commentators about the 10-year vet is that Thomas has two torn labrums (cartilage in her shoulders) so she uses an unconventional shooting form. However, that hasn’t stopped Thomas from being so effective that Reeve actually asked her to return to the Team USA player pool before the 2022 World Cup after Thomas spent several years on the outside looking in.

A’ja Wilson, F

The two-time WNBA MVP has been successful in Olympic and international play. As an Olympic rookie in Tokyo, Wilson was a standout, averaging over 16 points and 7 rebounds a game while playing for Staley, her former coach at South Carolina.  She’ll again have a comfort level in France from being surrounded by three of her Aces teammates. She also has added a 3-point shot to her offensive arsenal. Wilson — and Stewart — are the new faces of Team USA in a changing-of-the-guard era, a new challenge for both. Wilson, 27, has handled that same responsibility on and off the court for the Aces, and she appears primed for the occasion.

Jackie Young, G

Young, 26, was a member of the Tokyo 3×3 squad. She was called into preparation at the last minute after initial 3×3 team member Katie Lou Samuelson tested positive for COVID-19 before the team’s departure. Young has been one of the most improved players through the most recent Olympic cycle, becoming a more prolific scorer and passer. She’s a tough perimeter defender and reliable scorer who, like the other guards on this roster, could find herself filling Gray’s shoes when she’s not on the floor.

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(Photo of Breanna Stewart, Kelsey Plum, A’Ja Wilson and Sabrina Ionescu celebrating their gold-medal win at the 2022 FIBA World Cup: Kelly Defina / Getty Images)

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The two Pinehursts have not always seen eye to eye

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The two Pinehursts have not always seen eye to eye

PINEHURST, N.C. — It can trick you, this place. It’s all so charming and whimsical, Mayberry turned golf mecca in the sandhills of North Carolina.

You stroll along the brick walking paths through the village, passing the two-story brick buildings filled with cute shops and quaint pubs. More than a million people travel here each year to this Disney World for idyllic golf-themed getaways.

It can trick you into thinking you stumbled onto a golf oasis. Trick you into forgetting this place is a juggernaut, a resort, a full-on corporation with luxury hotels and cottages and 10 courses designed by renowned golf architects. Yes, it may have started with a pharmacy chain owner offering tuberculosis patients a chance to recover in a haven designed by the same man who designed Central Park. But the reasons a place begins are very rarely the same reasons that keep a destination thriving.

Now, Pinehurst Resort calls itself the cradle of American golf. The USGA announced it as the first of its new “anchor sites,” which will host U.S. Opens every 5-6 years for the next 30 years, beginning this week.

Pinehurst brought back the World Golf Hall of Fame. Its relationship with the town is strong and it’s a bucket-list destination for generations of recreational golfers. It is, for the foreseeable future, a central focal point marrying the casual and professional golf worlds.

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But it wasn’t that long ago this place was climbing out of $70 million in debt, that it was at war with the people of this town and embroiled in countless lawsuits focusing on issues ranging from predatory management strategies to members feeling cheated.

And it wasn’t so long ago that a private detective who called himself “the Fat Man” had a poster of Pinehurst’s owner on a chair in front of his desk with a simple mission: “I just want this guy nailed to the wall.”


There’s a mantra Robert H. Dedman Jr. repeats at will: “Always Pinehurst, but always better.”

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But progress doesn’t always go in a straight line. What began as a company town turned into something else when James W. Tufts hired Donald Ross as golf pro and formed Pinehurst No. 1 before completing his masterpiece — Pinehurst No. 2 — in 1907. Ross finished his fourth Pinehurst course before 1920 and the resort had become a premier golf destination with three inns. The town and the resort were so intertwined that resort employees were paid during the Depression in scrip redeemable only at Tufts-owned businesses. And it started its entry into pro golf circles, hosting the 1936 PGA Championship and 1951 Ryder Cup.

But in 1971, the Tufts family sold Pinehurst to Diamondhead Corporation, a real estate project owned by Malcom McLean that took a place rooted in tradition and lined the courses with condos and attempted to modernize the look of Ross’ design. Sacrilege. The prestige of the resort declined, as did its quality, and it compiled $70 million in debt by the time Diamondhead had to hand Pinehurst over to a consortium of eight banks in 1982.


Spectators are turning out in droves to watch Tiger Woods and the rest of the U.S. Open field at Pinehurst this week. (Andrew Redington / Getty Images)

In came the savior, a moniker that became a point of contention for many.

Robert H. Dedman Sr. was the founder of ClubCorp, a Dallas-based corporation that made a killing buying distressed private golf and country clubs and rebuilding them. They eventually owned more than 200 properties around the world, and Dedman Sr. was a billionaire often named by Golf Digest as one of the most important people in golf. He was a charming, self-made man from Arkansas who successfully branded himself as something between a capitalist and a romantic.

“The first time I stood in front of the clubhouse and looked out on all those ribbons of fairway, I got tears in my eyes,” Dedman Sr. told Sports Illustrated in 1999. “I had always venerated Pinehurst for its place in the history of golf, and when I finally saw it I knew instantly that we would take this fallen angel and make it not as good as it was, but better than it had ever been.”

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Always Pinehurst, but always better. But better usually comes with costs. Capitalism is a game of winners and losers, and progress often leaves others behind.

Pinehurst was the crown jewel of ClubCorp’s empire, and Dedman Sr. made good on those dreams by restoring tradition and returning Pinehurst to its rightful place in the sport. In fact, he elevated it.

Fifteen years and $100 million after buying it, the 1999 U.S. Open came to Pinehurst. Dedman Sr. died in 2002, but Dedman Jr. (known as Bob) was running much of the company by the 1990s. It hosted the U.S. Open again in 2005. The Dedmans sold ClubCorp in 2006 but kept Pinehurst as their baby, and after a successful restoration it made history by holding the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens in consecutive weeks in 2014. The men’s tournament went 10 years without returning, but with its new anchor site designation Pinehurst has successfully cemented its place at the forefront of American golf.

That build, though, came with pushback. Starting in 1991 and carrying on through 2000, as much as 55 percent (more than 3,000) of Pinehurst members contributed to legal funds for a lawsuit claiming the club brought in too many outsiders, denied them agreed upon access to tee times and improperly raised membership fees.

In 1990, ClubCorp sold its stake in nearby Pinewild Country Club to Japanese cookie maker Tohato Inc. with a deal for Tohato to pay ClubCorp to manage it. By 1996, Tohato sued ClubCorp because it felt hoodwinked, claiming the latter used Pinewild as inexpensive overflow courses for guests paying to stay next door at Pinehurst Resort. Tohato officials also claimed ClubCorp tried to purposely mismanage the property to force Tohato to want out and sell back to Pinehurst at a fraction of the original cost.

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Things turned dramatic when Tohato hired the celebrity private detective William Graham to help with the case. Graham was an eccentric who appeared on “Late Night with David Letterman” and “20/20” and was in talks with studios to produce a movie about his life. Graham pursued ClubCorp so hard they ultimately sued him for libel. And in the meantime Graham caused the Dedmans constant headaches.

In 1997, Graham sent out faxes across the country detailing 33 alleged “civil and criminal violations” against ClubCorp. He was quoted in South Carolina’s The State newspaper calling Dedman Sr. and his company, “a bunch of backstabbing, corkscrewing, double-dealing, lying, cheating, stealing (SOBs).”

All of this ClubCorp of course used in its libel case, which was folded into a seven-figure settlement paid by Tohato to ClubCorp. But those faxes led to major outlets like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times investigating and publishing large pieces painting ClubCorp in an unflattering light. In the two years before the U.S. Open, at least seven of the company’s 70 country clubs were involved in lawsuits against ClubCorp filed by either members homeowners or a co-owner, per the New York Times. (ClubCorp eventually pulled out of its management arrangement at Pinewild, telling members in a letter it had “been placed in a position that makes it impossible to do our job.”)

So when Pinehurst hosted the 1999 U.S. Open — what was supposed to be Dedman Sr.’s crowning achievement — he instead sat with Sports Illustrated for a profile on how such a beloved figure was suddenly disliked by so many around the club.

“Just because we have a great reputation, people think that if they make a few grandiose statements we’ll cave in and pay their blackmail,” Dedman Sr. told SI. “We can’t afford to do that. We have had people go to obnoxious lengths to try to get a settlement. We have zero tolerance for that behavior. Our philosophy, to quote one of our former Presidents, is millions for defense but not one cent for tribute.”

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When Pinehurst hosted the 1994 U.S. Senior Open the No. 2 course barely resembled Donald Ross’ original design. It’s been since restored. (Gary Newkirk / Allsport via Getty Images)

But the public relations issues for Pinehurst really took over when the battles started with the townspeople. In 1995, a Pinehurst resident named Edmund Dietrich wrote a letter to The Pilot, the local paper in Southern Pines, saying tips given to resort employees were being withheld. Dietrich was sued for libel, though ClubCorp later dropped it. Then, ClubCorp reportedly threatened local businesses for using Pinehurst in their names, citing trademark infringement. It claimed Pinehurst was only the name of the resort and facilities, and that the town was the “Village of Pinehurst.”

ClubCorp lawyer Stephen Trattner famously said: “I don’t believe there is a Pinehurst, N.C. You may call it that, and the mail may get there that way, (but) you don’t live in Pinehurst. You live in the Village of Pinehurst.”

Dedman Sr. had created an environment in which members and guests were treated like royalty, with staff remembering their favorite cocktails and making sure to use their name at least four times a trip, but the people who lived in the town — a town founded to help people get healthy — felt alienated. Pinehurst Business Guild became the Village of Pinehurst Business Guild. Companies like Pinehurst Interiors had to change their name to Village Design Group, which still stands today.

If Dedman Sr. was the charming personality who could light up a room, Bob Jr. was the hard-nosed, forward-thinking CEO who, his father admitted, was a more organized executive. But if at the time Dedman Jr. was labeled as a bottom line executive pushing for growth, he’s also been the one overseeing its public rehabilitation.

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Another funny thing about progress is success tends to mend most wounds. Pinehurst has become more and more of a powerhouse in the world of golf, bringing millions and millions of tourism dollars to the area each year. Dedman Jr. founded a local Boys & Girls Club chapter in Pinehurst in 1999 and now receives local hospitality awards. While the mayor back in 1999 was calling his father arrogant and a bully, former Pinehurst mayor Nancy Roy Fiorillo (2011-2019) raved about all the good Dedman Jr. does and how great Pinehurst Resort is for the town.

“Bob Dedman Jr. is Doing All the Good He Can” was the headline of a story in The Pilot last week. Similar pieces have been written by Global Golf Post and PineStraw Magazine. Maybe some of it is from the ClubCorp sale — it’s far easier to be magnanimous proprietors when you’re running one iconic club and not a conglomerate fighting for every little margin.

What’s clear is Pinehurst is now thriving. More than 12 million Americans have traveled to play golf each of the past two years, up about 20 percent over the historical average, according to the National Golf Foundation. Pinehurst attracts a large chunk of that.

Every resort is trying catch up to it, a place that can boast both incredible history with everyone from Bobby Jones to Tiger Woods having played here, mixed with constant innovation and new courses. The restoration of No. 2 by the architect team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw took the already famous course to new heights by removing rough and leaving tough, sandy areas off the fairways. Gil Hanse’s redesign of No. 4 has boosted it in significance. All of the top designers of past and present have contributed to one course or another.

And the resort keeps pushing itself off the course, turning an abandoned steam plant into a brewery and refurbishing the clubhouse with lush new digs for members. They expanded the Deuce Grill, restored one inn and renovated another. All of that on top of the USGA’s new Golf House Pinehurst and the World Golf Hall of Fame, which returned from St. Augustine, Fla.

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The Dedmans tried to ensure that it was always about Pinehurst but always making it better, and they’ve continued to push and push to a point it seems unstoppable going forward. And now, the conversation of the week is entirely about the course and how great it will be to watch. Not the issues of the past.

They couldn’t pin the Dedmans to the wall.

(Top photo: Tracy Wilcox / PGA Tour via Getty Images)

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