Fay brought extensive rules knowledge to USGA

Give a guy a bow tie and a national television audience, and he becomes a media star.

So it was that David B. Fay, the bow-tied man in the blue blazer, became the best-known, best-liked executive director in the 116-year history of the U.S. Golf Association.

The 60-year-old Fay stepped down Dec. 31 after 21 years as executive director of the U.S. Golf Association. All along, it has been clear he loves golf.

Almost as much as he loves baseball.

But, what the heck, he’s probably lucky he wasn’t commissioner of Major League Baseball. It’s one of the few sports jobs as tough and as complicated as being executive director of the USGA.

The USGA executive director is caught perpetually between a rock and a hard place.

The rock is the USGA Executive Committee, composed of 15 wealthy volunteer members who rule golf in the United States and Mexico and make all final decisions in USGA matters. The hard place is the game itself, with tens of millions of opinionated golfers playing many of the same courses and abiding by the same rules as the touring pros who are the best players in the game.

photo

David Fay

Thus the peculiarities of golf and the USGA.

The USGA has two arms, the volunteer arm (including the Executive Committee and the officers) and the full-time employee arm (based at USGA headquarters in Far Hills, N.J.). The two arms are often at odds, and recent USGA presidents such as Walter W. Driver Jr. of Atlanta have implemented revenue-producing changes that rocked the foundation of the employee base in Far Hills (many employees felt Driver and other officers were insensitive and unfair in areas of job security, compensation and benefits).

In the middle of this conflict-waiting-to-happen – for more than two decades – was Fay, the executive director.

Golf is a participation sport, and the USGA is one of two rules-making bodies, along with the R&A, headquartered in St. Andrews, Scotland, that makes and administers the rules.

Golf is a unique sport in that the rules affect so many people and at the same time are constantly changing. Every four years, a new rulebook is compiled by the USGA and R&A. Some recent rules changes, particularly those that define which golf clubs and golf balls are conforming and which are not, have been dramatic.

There is no sport on earth in which participants, most of them ordinary people, are prohibited from doing so many different things (just try to read and digest the Rules of Golf and the accompanying Decisions on the Rules of Golf) or using so many different implements and balls.

Fay excelled at understanding and explaining this rulebook, called the Rules of Golf, and all of its ramifications. The rules were his Bible. At televised national championships such as the U.S. Open, he was the face of the USGA.

Through the administrations of 12 different USGA presidents, Fay served as executive director. Before that, he was on the USGA staff for 11 years. Those 32 years represent more than half of his life.

Time to move on, whether he remains in golf or not. 

Fay is a brilliant, articulate man. We should have heard more from him over the years, but those pesky USGA presidents often consumed the spotlight.

There were times when Fay appeared to be biting his tongue, sitting there silently and perhaps reluctantly while another USGA president tried to make sense of a game grown incredibly complex.

Fay would have been a worthy candidate for leading a task force to simplify the game, however that might be done. Now he may take off his bow tie and fade away from the international golf spotlight.

If this happens, if he vacates golf for some other pursuit, it’s our loss.

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