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Executive File: Infinity and Beyond

Music industry veteran John Sykes took over VH1 in 1994 and helped make the music-television channel a cable sensation seen in 80 million homes. In March, Sykes took on a new challenge.

You recently moved from VH1 to Infinity, the nation's number-one radio group. What excites you about your new job?

I'm moving to a medium, radio, that captures 42 percent of the time people spend with media but only 10 percent of the advertising. There's a huge opportunity to grow the advertising. Infinity has 183 stations that reach 63 million listeners each week.

Will you still hang out with rock stars, as you did at VH1?

I will still play in VH1's Fairway to Heaven. And don't forget—rock stars spend more time doing radio than making videos. I'll keep in touch with my friends in rock and keep playing golf with them.

You took up the game relatively late in life . . .

I was thirty-nine. That's when I realized that most adults don't have the knees to keep playing football, baseball and basketball, the sports I learned as a kid. I picked up golf so I could be with friends and escape the insanity of the world for a few hours.

What's harder, turning around a TV network or learning golf?

Golf is a game I will never master. The way I play—let's just say that for a competitive person, it's a humbling experience.

How humbling?What was your most embarrassing moment?

It can be embarrassing to have golfers like Phil Mickelson, Paul Azinger and Davis Love III watch you hit shots in all directions. But my worst moment was when I played with then-president Clinton. He decided to show me how to improve my grip. It's intimidating to have to swing with a new grip immediately after the president gives you a tip. You suddenly forget everything you ever knew.

How much of a distraction were his Secret Service agents?

They're better than caddies at finding a ball, and after a while even they were encouraging me.

Is there a way to be a bad golfer and still look cool?

Bryant Gumbel once told me about a golfer who kept complaining about what a bad day he was having. Bryant said to the guy, "You're not good enough to have a bad day." That's my philosophy, too. I'm not good enough to have a bad day. For 99 percent of us, it's a game of conversation and a great walk. And playing with celebrities helps me learn about the people behind the fame—how they react to adversity, how courteous they are. I gravitate toward people who don't complain, who try their hardest to score but know full well they'll never make the PGA Tour.

Did Fairway to Heaven help make golf hip?

It certainly tapped into something. We used our 80 million homes to show viewers that golf was cool. A lot changed in the early nineties when all the grunge artists put golf in their videos and new lines of clothing started coming out that made golf for more than the "green pants" set. The truth is that musicians had been quietly replacing drugs and alcohol with golf, which is equally compulsive. The artists who are still living and breathing today found out that in order to survive they had to take up a healthier addiction, and that was golf. Artists from Pearl Jam to R.E.M. to Alice Cooper to Bon Jovi to Stone Temple Pilots to Vince Gill all play when they're on the road. They didn't tell anyone about it for a long time because it wasn't cool. Now it is.

Who is the most cutthroat celebrity golfer?

Alice Cooper is almost scratch and plays for keeps every time.

What's it like being Howard Stern's boss?

Howard is a media-savvy individual who knows exactly what he's doing. Talk to him about what he does on the air—he's as articulate as any executive. Like the great long-lasting rock stars, Howard has a stage persona and a great business mind.

The Scorecard - JOHN SYKES
AGE: 46
HANDICAP: "About 25"
MEMBERSHIPS: East Hampton Golf Club, East Hampton, New York
FAVORITE PLACES TO PLAY: East Hampton Golf Club, Maidstone Club, National Golf Links of America
CLUBS: Callaway Hawk Eye driver, Callaway woods and irons, Odyssey putter

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