Mike Davis made his reputation setting up golf courses for the U.S. Golf Association.
And, at least for the U.S. Open, the innovative setup man will continue to leave his fingerprint on how the course plays, in addition to his new role with the USGA.
Davis, 46, was named the association’s executive director Wednesday, only the seventh in the 116-year history of the governing body for golf in the U.S. and Mexico. He replaces David Fay, who retired at the end of 2010 after 21 years as executive director. Fay had been with the USGA for 32 years.
As the USGA’s senior director of rules and competitions, Davis had traveled the country, setting up major-championship venues. He will give that up, with one exception: the U.S. Open, the USGA’s signature event in its 13-event annual calendar.
“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,” Davis said. “I love putting this puzzle together.”
Davis’ signature move in recent USGA championships has been to set up a drivable par-4, emphasizing strategy and course management.
“I am passionate about the USGA and its mission,” Davis said. “The work of the association is done by thousands of volunteers and hundreds of staff, whose collective efforts truly help better the game that so many of us love.”
Davis will continue to be based at the USGA’s Far Hills, N.J., headquarters. He plays out of nearby Pine Valley Golf Club, rated No. 1 on Golfweek’s Best Classic list, and carries a 2.9 index. Davis, a native of Chambersburg, Pa., won the 1982 Pennsylvania Junior and is a 1987 graduate of Georgia Southern, where he played golf.
The great irony here is that Davis and Mike Butz, the two primary candidates to replace Fay, grew up in Chambersburg.
While in college at Georgia Southern, Davis wrote a letter to Butz, inquiring about USGA employment. In response, Davis received what amounted to a form letter. There were no openings, he was told.
So he went to work for Coldwell Banker in Atlanta after earning a business finance degree.
Meanwhile, several years after it was received, the letter from Davis was accidentally rediscovered by Butz. Davis was invited for an interview and was hired as a 25-year-old in 1990.
Davis went on to become senior director of rules and competitions.
The forward-thinking Davis is largely credited with earmarking several new courses for USGA championships – Bandon Dunes in Bandon, Ore., Chambers Bay outside Tacoma, Wash., and Erin Hills near Milwaukee.
Davis is known as an attentive listener and a forceful speaker. He has become a close friend of USGA president Jim Hyler, who had considerable influence in choosing the new executive director.
Hyler called Davis “one of the most knowledgeable and experienced administrators in the golf industry today,” adding that he will be “an ideal steward of the game.”