2005: USGA’s Davis: Golf’s chairman of the board
It’s kickoff day at Newport Country Club for the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open and Mike Davis hardly can contain himself. He’s excited about the U.S. Golf Association bringing this national championship to a classic links-style venue.
“It won’t be your typical major,” he tells a group of writers.
In an era when most golfers think the USGA is out to embarrass the world’s best golfers, the point man in that association’s management of majors turns out to be a gentle soul with a profound understanding of the game.
Davis, 40, looks more youthful than his ponderous title with the USGA might suggest. Officially, he’s senior director of Rules and Competitions. Unofficially, he’s the country’s golf chairman.
He’s well-suited by disposition and training to run major golf events. Davis holds a degree in business finance from Georgia Southern University (1987). Between classes, he played varsity golf. Although he’s tried, unsuccessfully, to qualify for U.S. Opens and U.S. Amateurs – “Good enough to play, but not good enough to compete,” he says – Davis carries a 1.6 handicap index.
He has been with the USGA since 1990. Back then he was manager of championship relations and helped clubs run majors. Now, in a day when the USGA directly oversees most events, his responsibilities include operations, course setup and rules administration.
Two high-profile departures leave Davis at center stage. He replaced Kendra Graham after she left in 2003 as director of women’s competitions. This year, he assumes responsibilities that had been the bailiwick of Tom Meeks, who is retiring.
Davis knows his every move is watched, not least by the media, who have scrutinized the USGA for the kinds of course setup excesses that plagued Shinnecock Hills during the 2004 U.S. Open.
Davis anticipates taking a holistic approach to course setups, backing off somewhat from the tendency of late to emphasize green speeds as the ultimate way of squeezing golfers.
“Nowadays,” Davis says, “we want to make putting greens playable but also focus more on tee-to-green play.”
Course setups at majors under Davis’ tutelage are likely to evolve modestly in three areas.
In selecting hole locations on greens, plans are to look beyond immediate slope and contour and to assess the type of incoming shot that has to be accommodated. At the same time, Davis is not averse “to having perhaps one hole a day where you just can’t get to the flag,” providing there’s no water hazard involved and plenty of room around and behind for recovery.
Course firmness is going to get a lot more attention, thanks in large part to ongoing development by the USGA’s research department of a so-called “thumpmeter” or “penetrometer,” designed to measure relative firmness of fairways and greens. Davis says the device will be a useful tool when working with superintendents in determining consistency in the firmness of playing surfaces. It also would help shift the burden of course preparation, from mowing heights to fertility and irrigation, in achieving desired conditions.
Roughs, too, will be examined. Davis wants to consider adjusting mowing patterns rather than falling back on a single, uniform height for the main roughs. That might mean shorter rough on longer par 4s and deeper rough on short par 4s, proportional to the club most golfers will be playing on their second shots. He’d also consider a secondary rough, step-cut deeper than the initial 6-foot-wide intermediate cut but not quite as severe as the deeper rough on the outer flank. All of which would make for a lot more work in detailing roughs.
Finally, Davis will consider flaring out the spectator rope lines adjacent to dominant tee shot landing areas so that golfers who miss their target widely won’t be as readily rewarded with trampled down grass and easily recoverable lies. Here and elsewhere, the idea is to introduce a strategic principle governing roughs.
“The farther off line,” says Davis, “the greater the penalty.”