My year in golf: James Achenbach

Rory McIlroy winning the U.S. Open was just one of many highlights for the USGA in 2011.

Rory McIlroy winning the U.S. Open was just one of many highlights for the USGA in 2011.

Looking back, 2011 was a great year for USGA watching. As the year concludes, I feel an urge to pinch myself and say, “Wow, did I really see all that?”

I saw Mike Davis replace David Fay as executive director of the U.S. Golf Association. Both deserve credit for advancing the transformation of the USGA into an organization that is more meaningful to everyday golfers.

I saw Rory McIlroy romp to an eight-stroke victory in the U.S. Open, the centerpiece of the USGA’s tournament calendar. I left Congressional Country Club with the feeling that the 22-year-old Northern Irishman ultimately could win double-digit professional majors, joining an exclusive club that includes only three golfers (Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Walter Hagen).

I saw good-guy Olin Browne win the U.S. Senior Open. Browne demonstrated that the biggest senior major can and should be won with superior course management and true grit, not length off the tee.

I saw Louis Lee win the USGA Senior Amateur, playing eight rounds of golf in six days (two qualifying rounds, six match-play triumphs). Senior competition has made a deep impression on me, because the future of golf may depend on exposing more individuals to the essence of the game -- it literally can be a lifetime pursuit. The First Tee may encourage more youngsters to try the game, but it is the Last Tee (OK, I made that up) that can fill a void in the lives of many oldsters.

I saw a new edition of the Rules of Golf (2012-2015 edition) and was encouraged by the efforts of rulesmakers on both sides of the Atlantic (USGA and R&A) to simplify some of the rules and make them more sensible and understandable.

I saw the USGA take definitive steps (along with the PGA of America) to promote the game and help assure its future growth. When the USGA was founded in 1895, its charter was all about making rules and conducting championships. Boosting and elevating the game weren’t even on the table. Now, thanks to Fay and Davis, the USGA has decided to lend its influence to the development of golf in general and public golf in particular.

In the arena of public golf, I traveled to Bandon Dunes Golf Resort for the U.S. Public Links Championship, an event that is thriving. In many ways, the future of golf is linked to courses that are open to the public. The two A words -- affordability and accessibility -- must be part of the formula to cultivate new players and new enthusiasm for the sport.

To USGA critics, I have a message: Give the USGA a break.

It’s easy to be critical of the USGA and its 15-member Executive Committee, which is the organization’s decision-making body.

What’s the beef? Some of it is based on appearance. These USGA muckety-mucks, they don’t look like the rest of us. They appear to have only two sets of clothes. Normally in public they wear blazers and neckties (thus the nickname “Blue Coats”). During summer tournaments they wear khaki pants and white shirts. That’s it.

These grownup prep-school uniforms lead to another complaint: The well-fixed patricians who run the USGA are too far removed from ordinary people who play grassroots golf.

While Executive Committee members come almost exclusively from private golf clubs, they are now being forced to turn their attention to public golf. An expanding number of USGA championships are held on courses open to the public, including six U.S. Open sites (Bethpage Black, Torrey Pines, Pinehurst, Pebble Beach, Erin Hills and Chambers Bay).

The public movement was started by Fay and is now being fostered by Davis.

All things considered, if 2012 is anything like 2011, we as devoted golfers should be proud of the USGA.

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