Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been named to an important committee for the U.S. Golf Association, sparking speculation that Rice is on the fast track for future USGA leadership positions.
Rice, now a professor of political science at Stanford University, will be announced Feb. 5, 2011, as one of five members of the 2012 Nominating Committee for the USGA.
The Nominating Committee decides the makeup of the Executive Committee, the 15-member body that runs the USGA and makes all final decisions. In addition, the Nominating Committee decides which members of the Executive Committee will serve as officers.
In addition to Rice, other members of the 2012 Nominating Committee will be former USGA presidents Fred Ridley and Walter Driver, along with three-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Sarah LeBrun Ingram and M.J. Mastalir of Denver.
The announcement of the 2012 Nominating Committee will be made at the USGA’s Annual Meeting, which concludes Feb. 5 in Phoenix.
“We’re certainly interested in having highly qualified women involved in leadership roles,” said current USGA President Jim Hyler, who will serve his second one-year term in 2011.
“We’re excited to have Condoleezza Rice participating in the nominating process. She brings a lot to our organization, although I should say that the slate is wide open for women in the USGA. You don’t have to be famous like she is. We look forward to welcoming more women across the board, both as volunteers and as staff.”
Rice, 55, served as Secretary of State during the second term of President George W. Bush. She began playing golf five years ago under the watchful, if not impatient, eye of Bush.
“He’s very fast,” Rice said to Hilary Heieck of the Northern California Golf Association during a recent interview. “The last couple of times I played with him, he’s gotten more interested in slowing down and being more considerate of his shots, I think. But, yes, he tends to play very fast. I play pretty fast, too, so I understand that.”
Rice plays mostly at the Stanford Golf Course. She also is a member at Shoal Creek Country Club in her hometown of Birmingham, Ala.
All USGA Executive Committee members and officers serve one-year terms. For 2011, three of the 15 members will be women – Christie Austin of Cherry Hills Village, Colo., Brigid Shanley Lamb of Mendham, N.J., and Diana Murphy of St. Simons Island, Ga. Murphy, a new member of the Executive Committee for 2011, is the wife of former USGA President Reg Murphy.
In the 116-year history of the USGA, there has been only one female president. That was Judy Bell in 1996 and 1997.
There appears to be unanimous agreement among USGA insiders that Rice, with her political experience and influence, could be a huge asset for the association – as a member of the Executive Committee or as an officer. There is precedent for making the leap from Nominating Committee member to Executive Committee member if Rice were able to devote the necessary time to the USGA.
“I don’t know if she has the time,” said one current member, asking to remain anonymous. “You have to travel a lot, attending meetings and championships. Balancing your schedule can be a challenge, and she is a regular teacher (meaning she has a class schedule).”
The Nominating Committee is important because it serves as gatekeeper to the Executive Committee. The nominating process was controlled by former presidents of the USGA until 2004, when the new Nominating Committee was created. It is composed of a majority of “independent individuals from USGA member clubs.”
Rice has been seen on the golf course in the company of several powerful political figures. For her NCGA interview, conducted on the phone, Rice was “very passionate and really wanted to talk about golf,” according to Heieck.
However, “she was a little bit vague” about her handicap.
During the interview, Rice said, “I would describe my game today as coming along. The problem with it is that one shot looks like Lorena Ochoa hit it and the next one looks like Bozo the Clown hit it, and I’m never quite sure what the difference is at any given time, but I think that’s just golf.”
Rice openly discussed her shortcomings on the course: “Clearly for me right now I’d rather be 167 yards from the hole than 67 yards from the hole. My short game is what needs work.”
“I’m a very aggressive golfer. My challenge is to be sure that I’m not trying to hit shots that I really don’t have in my repertoire, so I wish I were more of a thinking golfer. I’m trying to get better at managing the course, but it’s not my strong suit.”
Spoken like a true golfer, or a diplomatic politician, or both.