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UNITED STATES GOLF ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE
March 2, 2011
BETH MURRISON: Good afternoon and thank you to everyone for joining us today. It's my pleasure to introduce today USGA president Jim Hyler.
JIM HYLER: Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us on what is a very special day for the USGA.
As you already know, we have announced that we have named Mike Davis as the seventh executive director of the United States Golf Association. I'm going to just make a few comments, then turn it over to Mike for a few comments, then we'll take questions.
We had a thoughtful and lengthy search process. We had a lot of wonderful candidates apply for the job. We had some internal candidates and external candidates. Throughout the interview process, one person stood out as being the right person for the job, and that was Mike Davis.
As all of you know, Mike is the consummate golf person. He loves the game. It's all about the game with him. He loves the USGA. He's been here 21 years. He has great institutional knowledge of the organization. He is the right person to lead the association at this time.
We are very much aware of obviously Mike's role in the U.S. Open and I want to take this right off the bat. We would be idiots if we extracted Mike from U.S. Open activities. Mike will continue to be involved with the U.S. Open from a site selection standpoint as well as golf course setup. He's the best in the world at that. He will continue to be involved in our U.S. Open activities.
Otherwise Mike will have full responsibility for all the staff functions at Golf House. He will report to the president, CEO. But we're looking forward to having Mike Davis as our executive director. I'm simply thrilled and excited we're at this point with the search and with Mike being selected.
With that, I'm going to turn it over to Mike for a few comments, and then we'll take questions.
MIKE DAVIS: Good afternoon, everybody. I will be brief here.
It's the first day on the job. You can imagine, as they like to say, it's almost like drinking from a fire hose.
I guess let me start out, I found out about the news from our president Jim Hyler Monday evening. As you can imagine, there's been a lot of thoughts going through my mind since then, a lot of feelings. Jim Hyler and I had dinner last night. Literally his first question at the table was, How do you feel?
I said to him, Jim, I cannot begin to tell you how truly excited I am about the opportunity. I love the USGA. I love what we stand for, our missions. But candidly I'm apprehensive, too. Part of me is somewhat numb. I think when it's all said and done, I am incredibly honored and humbled by this.
Jim just started out in his comments by saying it's the seventh executive director of the USGA. When you think about that, that's 116 years the USGA has been around and there's only been six before me.
What's really interesting about that is I was thinking about that and of those six people before me, I've known five of them. In my first year and a half with the USGA, I had the pleasure of getting to know Joe Dey, who was our executive director for 30 some years. One of the guys that hired me was P.J. Boatwright, who was a former executive director after Joe Dey. Then from there it went to Harry Easterly, and then Frank Hannigan, who I stay in touch with. And obviously for the last 21 years, David Fay has been at the helm.
When I think about that group, it's such an esteemed group that I'm humbled. But it's an exciting time. In following David Fay, who was such an incredibly outstanding executive director, and as I say, when I came onboard, David was the brand-new executive director, he's a hard guy to follow. These are going to be big shoes to step into.
It's almost, like I said to our staff an hour ago when we made the announcement, this is almost like trying to follow John Wooden, be the coach after John Wooden at UCLA, or Bear Bryant for the football program at Alabama, maybe in business, Jack Welch, the legendary CEO.
I use the analogy: When you're a coach, you'd love to have your last coach be 0-12. If you're a superintendent, it would be nice to come into a situation where there were 18 dead greens because you know you can make an improvement.
I think David did such a good job for those 21 years, he was with the association for 32 years, I'm excited but I'm apprehensive.
I think what I'm truly excited about, it is the USGA. Even though the USGA has changed tremendously in the 21 years I've been here, we've gotten bigger, the game has gotten bigger. But what we were doing 21 years ago is nothing different than what we're doing now. We conduct national championships in this country, we write and interpret the rules of golf along with the R&A, we regulate equipment with the R&A. We have not only a national but an international code of handicapping. We have a wonderful agronomic consultation service in the greens section, finest museum and library anywhere in the world as it relates to golf. It's a great organization and I really am excited to be a part of it.
Those areas I haven't been fully engaged in in the past, I'm anxious about learning and working with the people who do such a good job.
With that, I think we'll turn it over for questions.
Q. Mike, I'm wondering, how are you going to balance being a guy who works inside and a guy who works outside? Doesn't sound like you're going to be giving up your bottle of sunscreen in doing the setup at the U.S. Open. Was that a deal breaker for you?
MIKE DAVIS: Good question. There's going to be a few differences in my role at the USGA versus what David did and Jim Hyler just alluded to that. I have been public about this before. I love the golf course setup in what I've done for the past several years. I said, and I almost mean it, I would almost pay the USGA money to allow me to do this. I love putting this puzzle together. It really is a puzzle of sorts.
It's something when I talked to the search and management committee of the USGA, I think, Listen, this is something I genuinely think I can continue to do. I will give up the other portions of the conduct of the Open, such as being on the course, being a rules official, being the person that blows the horn for suspension of play, those kinds of things.
But I do think when it comes to the golf course setup part, working with the grounds staff, given the hours I do that, I can still retain that for the U.S. Open. But I will give that up for the Women's Open. I'll give it up for the Women's Amateur, the Walker Cup match. That's one area that I just have incredible interest in. Thankfully the board is willing to allow me to continue in that role.
Q. Mike, what significant things did you learn from David Fay? Have you spoken to him at any time during this selection process or since you've been chosen? Again, relating to David, what significant difference in style being the executive director do you see you taking or going different from David?
MIKE DAVIS: I'll try to nail all three of those.
Since David retired, which was on Christmas Eve of last year, he and I had exchanged several emails. Actually, this was kind of humorous. David actually came in the building late January. Came to Golf House. He had to get a few things he had not picked up out of his office, some books. He stopped by my office. It was hilarious, because he had a visitor's badge on. This is a guy that worked here for 32 years.
He comes in and he closes the door. We had a wonderful conversation. He told me, I really do hope you apply for this, you'd be great for it.
David has been so supportive for my entire 21 years here. He's who I reported to. I learned so much from him. I would tell you, obviously anybody that knows David knows how intelligent he is, but he really had a keen sense and a keen interest in keeping the USGA moving in the right direction with respect to our core missions. He was passionate about that.
I guess, if you think about it, I started at the USGA when I was 25 years old. This has been basically my entire adult working life here. So I learned from somebody like that. Obviously, those are going to be my tendencies, too.
In terms of differences, sure, anytime there's a new leader there will be some changes. I think that's healthy. I think right now is a perfect time for the USGA to do an assessment on what things we really do well, are there areas we can improve on, take a holistic view across the USGA and say, Where could we improve?
He ran a great ship. There wasn't necessarily a succession plan when David left. So what I would tell you is there are some areas that I'm going to have to educate myself on. I'm going to have to rely on other key people on staff, take it from there one day at a time.
Q. When it comes to Congressional this year, your first Open in the new role, what do you think fundamentally will be the difference this first time? Will it be kind of a strange feeling having gone through your normal process setting up the course, being in a new role when the tournament actually arrives?
MIKE DAVIS: It's interesting because the president and the vice president and I talked about that subject a lot. I really see my way of handling it is dealing with the golf course setup portion. I will get to Congressional that week before. I'll be engaged with the grounds staff, looking very closely at how the course is being set up for the Open. But I will not get involved with marking the golf course, doing the rules sheet, the pace of play policy. That's going to be handed off to another person that has been helping me for years and years by the name of Jeff Hall, who is the manager of rules and competition.
I would see a normal day at this year's U.S. Open, I will be out with the grounds staff at 5 a.m., I probably get done on a typical day at 8:30 to 9:00 a.m. It's not that I will take my focus entirely away from the U.S. Open, but until the mid afternoon when I meet with the superintendent and grounds staff about what we're going to do for the next day, how the golf course is playing, how weather might affect it, that will free me up to do some things to meet with some of the key USGA's key (indiscernible).
We get so many people coming to the U.S. Open. I'll be meeting with the R&A, the PGA TOUR, the PGA of America, some of our state and regional golf associations, national officials, international officials, certainly our board of directors.
Part of me is going to actually enjoy that when those thunderstorms rolls in, not that I won't care, but I won't be the guy pulling the trigger anymore on when to blow the siren. Somebody else is going to be doing that.
Q. Reading your earlier comments, hearing what you say today, was there some reluctance to apply for this job? How long did it take you to make your mind up that this is something you wanted to do?
MIKE DAVIS: It's interesting, because as I told the staff earlier today, when I got the chance to work for P.J. Boatwright, David Eger, then Tom Meeks, I understand the job of being senior director. By the time it got passed to me in 2005, I really did understand every aspect.
Conversely, with David Fay's role, he was involved with everything with the USGA. I thought that part of it is I wanted to continue to stay very engaged with the U.S. Open, and the board has allowed me to do that.
The other thing is, I think I know myself well enough to know where my talents are, where my strengths are, and where I don't necessarily have enough background. Part of my message to the search committee is that if they think I'm the right person for this role, I need to be able to surround myself with people that have a great background on things like business and finance, accounting, communications, so on and so forth.
It's not as if I haven't touched those areas in the last 21 years. Trust me, when you're involved with championships, you touch every single part of the USGA, whether it's the greens section, accounting, the legal department. I know these people, I know what they do, but that hasn't been my day-to-day job. I just wanted assurances that I could flourish and succeed in this.
They've been wonderful in terms allowing me to mold this job. This is a work in progress. This is day one, so a lot of things are still going to be worked out in the future.
Q. Mike, I know it's still early, but is there sort of a list of things that you have in mind in terms of what you'd like to do with this job in the short-term? Is one of them possibly bringing the U.S. Open back to New Jersey, New York, for that open 2018 date?
MIKE DAVIS: As President Hyler said, I'm going to continue to be involved. Not that I make the selection, because that's done by the championship committee. In terms of U.S. Open site selection, I'm going to continue to be involved in that.
That process honestly will not change a bit. When we look at possible, potential venues, we look at not only the golf course, but we look at the operational aspects, we look at the community aspects. There's quite a few staff that do the legwork on that.
I don't really see any of that changing at all. David Fay was involved in that whole process. I will be. But there will be a lot of others. Ultimately, it's the board of directors that decides where we go for that. I don't see any change in that regard.
Q. Is there a short goal list that you have in mind for the overall job of executive director that you have now?
MIKE DAVIS: You're not speaking of site selection, just other goals?
Q. Just in general. Anything you have that's on your plate that now maybe you can tackle.
MIKE DAVIS: Some of the things I have not been involved with that I've always had a lot of interest in, as an example, equipment standards. This is the regulation of balls and clubs that we do jointly with the R&A. I've always had interest in that because that directly affects the game and our championships for sure.
I strongly believe, the R&A does, certainly our board does, that one of the most important things we do is preserve and protect the game. I certainly know something about that topic. I understand how the game's played. But I've never been engaged in really some of the details of that. I never sat in those equipment standard meetings.
That's just one example of a few areas where I am definitely going to quickly get up to speed. I'm very interested in it. I want to become engaged with it.
Q. Will you still have the final say on course setup? You're going to get Jeff Hall more involved. And then your thoughts on the West Coast, the stretch where four of ten U.S. Opens will be on the West Coast. Curious about your philosophy on that going forward.
MIKE DAVIS: On the first question, I will stay involved with the golf course setup. As you look at how that gets done, it's a joint responsibility between the chairman of the championship committee, which is Tom O'Toole, and Jim Hyler did that four years earlier. Tom and I do that together. We obviously work very close with the USGA greens section.
It's not that Jeff Hall won't be involved, because Jeff Hall has been involved in the last six U.S. Opens that I've been the lead staff person on. But Jeff Hall is going to get the additional responsibility of overseeing the conduct, if you will, the rules part of it, suspension of play, pace of play, et cetera.
Then with respect to your question on the West Coast, you know, I don't think anything will really change there. I mean, some of us have found it humorous that now we're being accused of being West Coast biased. Ultimately, the USGA does want to move its national championships around. We did have a void and we're filling that with the naming of Erin Hills for 2017. We went quite a few years without going to a middle America venue.
I think that ultimately what our championship committee wants to do, and I totally agree with this, is we want to go to the best, most special U.S. Open venues. That holds true for the Women's Open, Girls' Amateur, Girls' Junior.
Obviously, geographics play into that. I can tell you that geographics will not and should not ever be the number one consideration. We need to go to the most special venues, the best venues, whatever championship it is.
Q. I know you and Jim have been interested and involved in what they've done at Pinehurst as it reopens now. Have you seen it recently, and your thoughts on it?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, I'll let Jim chime in here shortly. I can tell you, I was down maybe in October. I spent some time with Bill Coore, the architect. The two of us went around the course. I will tell you that Bill Coore calls me once every two weeks to go through things.
I have not seen it since maybe October/November, but I have seen all kinds of pictures. My mouth literally falls open when I see the incredible work that they've done. I've got to say, I'm so excited about 2014 because it's going to be a very unique U.S. Open.
I think one of the things, when Jim Hyler chaired the championship committee, he and I talked a good bit about we want the U.S. Open, this is true for the Women's Open, U.S. Amateur, so on, we want those venues to be a hard and stern test. But the more that we can separate one U.S. Open site from another site is a very good thing.
In 2014, we're going to have a U.S. Open and Women's Open that literally don't have any rough. You hit it off the fairway and you're going to be in sandy, wire grass, all kinds of different lies. Sometimes you may get a good one, sometimes you may get buried in pine straw, soft sand. So we are very excited about 2014 just because it's going to be a different kind of test.
As I said, the more we can separate it, the better.
I'll let Jim Hyler talk about it as well.
JIM HYLER: I haven't seen it since last fall, but I've seen a lot of pictures of what Bill and Ben are doing there. It's quite spectacular. Also the green renovation project has gone very well. I know they're really primed to get reopened.
But it's going to be great. Really give kudos to Bob Dedman and Don Padgett for doing the project. It's going to restore Pinehurst to its rightful place in terms of stature of the world's golf courses.
Q. Mike, you obviously lose a little bit of something in taking away some of your setup duties on the other championships for the USGA. What do you feel like you gain in terms of influence over the championship process and to some degree the Open or championship experience from start to finish, thinking along the lines of having a contingency course?
MIKE DAVIS: You want me to speak on that latter point?
MIKE DAVIS: It's interesting because there was some information that came out a couple weeks ago about Donald Trump and Bedminster.
Here is what I would say on that. When I first joined the USGA staff in 1990, I can remember then having a very serious discussion with Mike Butz, who is our deputy executive director and has served as the interim executive director, because Mike has been involved with the USGA for 30 years. We have talked about this scenario so many times about what happens four weeks before the U.S. Open if there's vandalism, if all 18 greens die, what would happen. Would we move the U.S. Open to another venue, play it on a substandard golf course? What happens the week of? What happens if there's such bad flooding that you literally can't play that week? What if 9/11 happened U.S. Open week, what would we do?
You go in the history books, this happened. World War II, we missed four U.S. Opens. World War I, we missed two U.S. Opens. It would be irresponsible for the USGA not to think about this. As you can imagine, there are so many things that play into it.
If we lose U.S. Open week, do we decide to play sometime in the fall? If you do it in the fall, where do you play it? Do you go to the southeast where it's warmer, the southwest? Can you actually get 156 players in the field? If they actually already qualified, what do you tell them, we're only going to take 132 because of sunlight? What do you do with corporate hospitality agreements?
There are so many variables, that one of the things I think you're going to see the USGA do hopefully in calendar year 2011 is get together and try to talk about these 'what ifs' and say, To be responsible, we need to think about what would happen if the worst-case scenario happens.
With a lot of this you have to remain flexible. David Fay did start the dialogue with Donald. One of the interesting things about that is, Trump National is literally right down the road from Far Hills. Let's say you lose Congressional this year. If a month before Congressional, the course is gone, what would we do?
I think that was David's first way of saying, Let's look into things. As you could imagine, that Trump scenario wouldn't work. If we lost U.S. Open week itself, we had to go to November, we're sure not going to be in New Jersey in November.
Anyway, long answer, but I think that's really a way of saying we're continuing to look into it.
Q. Are there other things along those lines of logistics, forethought and planning that maybe you had experienced in being the head setup man that you will bring to the table for topics of discussion in this new role?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, rules and competitions are always going to be near and dear to my heart. That's what I grew up in. I've been there for 21 years. It's warmed my heart to watch some of my fellow staff members really blossom in their roles. Maybe they're not running the U.S. Open, but they're running whether it's the Women's Amateur championship, the Senior Amateur championship, and how some of these things maybe we've done at the U.S. Open are being done at these other championships.
One of the things that was started several years ago is we conduct, two times a year, a best practices meeting for our championships. We do share a lot of ideas. We literally say, How can we make our championships better? I think I'll continue, to the extent I can, to be a part of that. Obviously, my time is going to be somewhat limited by this change in position.
Q. Mike, David Fay wore bow ties. He loved the game of baseball. He wasn't embarrassed to admit that he voted as a democrat, et cetera. He was distinctive in ways away from golf. Can you share a little bit of what you're like, without asking who you vote for, but who you are?
MIKE DAVIS: Let me say about the bow tie thing. You won't see me in a bow tie. Every time I put my tux on, I'm almost an embarrassment (laughter).
I would say from a personal standpoint, I've got a wife who I've been with for 18 years. I have a son that's in eighth grade that is now taking up tennis, not golf. Now all of a sudden I'm playing more tennis than golf. I'm actually enjoying it. I used to play tennis when I was a kid. But I still love the game of golf.
If you asked me what I do when I'm not working, other than being with the family, I love to play golf. I love to see golf courses around the world. I love golf course architecture. In some ways, I get a bigger kick walking a golf course, seeing what an architect did, than playing. My game isn't what it used to be. I love the game.
Obviously, I'm going to have to balance my professional life with my personal life. Maybe that gives you a little idea.
Q. Mike, we spent a lot of time talking about what your role might be and things you'll do in regards to the U.S. Open. Wondering how your role will change with other championships, specifically the U.S. Amateur, the setup there, and also if this role change will force you to relinquish some of the other things you do such as rules officiating at some of the other major championships?
MIKE DAVIS: Good question.
I will continue to go to many of our other championships. For example, I'm giving up the Women's Open, the U.S. Amateur, as you just mentioned. That doesn't mean I'm not going to go there. That doesn't mean I'm not going to watch. It doesn't mean if our new staff members in charge have questions, I won't answer it.
In reality, take the U.S. Amateur. We are going to some future U.S. Open sites with the U.S. Amateur. I'm going to be keenly interested in how those venues play. This year's U.S. Amateur championship is at Erin Hills outside of Milwaukee. That is going to be in so many ways an important week to watch how not only the nation's but the world's best amateurs play that golf course. It's going to give us a good idea what to expect in June of 2017. I still plan to go there.
Again, one of the most important things the USGA does is conduct national championships. That's why we were founded. While I won't be involved in a lot of the detail work leading up to those, I will certainly still go to those. I will know what's going on. I'm excited. I wouldn't want to give up some of that.
BETH MURRISON: On behalf of Jim Hyler, Mike Davis and the USGA, we thank you for joining us today.
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