Inbound USGA prez Nager brings different skill set
Sunday, February 5, 2012
Since the U.S. Golf Association was founded in 1895, many attorneys have led the organization as president.
The list will grow by one when high-powered Washington lawyer Glen Nager becomes the USGA’s 62nd president Feb. 4. His election at the association’s annual meeting in Houston is assured because he was chosen by the Nominating Committee and has no opposition.
The Nager bio
Residence: Chevy Chase, Md.
Education: Texas (business administration, 1979) and Stanford (law, 1982)
Family: Wife Amy Berger (also an attorney); daughters Laura, 24, and Sarah, 21
Club affiliation: Chevy Chase Club
Nager (NAY-guhr) has argued 13 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He lives and works in a world of movers and shakers. Nager, 53, is a partner in the international firm of Jones Day, which is planning its strategy to convince the high court that President Barack Obama’s health-care plan is unconstitutional. That case will be argued by another of the Jones Day partners.
Almost by accident, golf became a big part of Nager’s world. He never played the game seriously until he was 34, but he quickly made up for lost time.
“To say that Glen is an enthusiastic golfer is the understatement of the year,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said. “He loves it; he breathes it; he thinks it.”
Still, as chair of Jones Day’s Issues & Appeals Practice, Nager frequently is immersed in cases more substantial and consequential than golf.
“I would never diminish the importance of golf,” Nager said. “It is a fascinating game. If I can contribute to the USGA and to golf as a whole, then I am overjoyed to do so.”
The conventional wisdom within the USGA is that attorneys, accustomed to complex situations in their professional lives, generally have the ability to crystalize golf issues and lend an incisive vision.
Though the past two USGA presidents were not lawyers – Jim Hyler was a banker, Jim Vernon a jeweler – their three predecessors – Reed Mackenzie, Fred Ridley and Walter Driver – were attorneys.
USGA presidents tend to be low-handicap golfers. Ridley, for example, was the 1975 U.S. Amateur champion.
Nager, though, took a different path to the presidency. He has no pedigree in golf. Today, his handicap hovers around 8.
“I had a $10 set of clubs when I was in high school,” he said, “but I was a basketball player. Golf was something I watched on television. That was it. I never pictured myself as a golfer. Now I love to play golf, but I’m inconsistent, and I don’t get to play enough. The reality is that the USGA and my law practice have been increasingly dominating my time.”
Nager’s rewards in golf increasingly have come from the administrative side. He served as USGA general counsel in 2006-08, after which he joined the Executive Committee, the USGA’s governing body.
“I was intrigued by this opportunity,” Nager said. “I always try to reinvent myself every few years and take on some new challenges.”
On his golf pathway, Nager became a rules expert and served in 2011 as chairman of the USGA’s Rules of Golf Committee. Ordinary golfers could be forgiven for imagining a hypothetical scenario in which they end up disputing a golf ruling with a man who has displayed his intellect in front of the U.S. Supreme Court more than a dozen times.
“I’ve never met anyone who picks up things so quickly,” Davis said. “He didn’t know much about administering events. He really didn’t know much about the rules. He absorbed everything like a sponge. He has had a meteoric rise in the USGA.
“He looks at things from a different perspective. He asks questions. He might say, ‘I know we’ve done this for 117 years, but can I ask, Why?’ The USGA will be a better organization because of Glen.”
Nager clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor at the Supreme Court. When Nager married attorney Amy Berger, O’Connor issued a court order, mandating the success and survival of the marriage.
“When you clerk for somebody like Justice O’Connor, you become like part of the family,” he said. “It was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.”
One aspect of the Nager presidency seems guaranteed to establish a new direction for the USGA. Nager has said he wants the USGA to become more heavily involved in efforts to increase the popularity of golf and bring more golfers permanently to the game.
“We are very concerned about the challenges the game is facing, and we will be very involved in trying to sustain the game,” he said. “We want to ensure that golf and its traditions remain strong and vibrant. We want to ensure that the people who play
the game will enjoy it.
“I believe the USGA should play a role in providing leadership and making the game more welcoming.”
USGA officials have said that the association’s charter does not include promotion of the game. The USGA has existed for 117 years to make the rules and conduct championships.
Nager, with Davis’ support, appears prepared to expand that responsibility. Already the USGA is working closely with the PGA of America in the Tee It Forward program that encourages golfers to play shorter yardages.
Nager looked back on his introduction to golf as fortuitous. He had been urged by other members of his law firm to explore the game. Finally, in his mid-30s, he did so as part of his pledge to reinvent himself.
“It changed my life,” Nager said.
Now, as one of the powerful individuals in golf, he could help change the game.