Mike Davis doesn’t even know how a bow tie works. His predecessor, David Fay, wore one to all the proper functions.
Fay also loved the game of baseball to the point of avocation and he wasn’t afraid to tell the blue-blazered Executive Committee members at the USGA that he was a registered Democrat.
Davis, a man without pretense, officially replaced Fay as the USGA’s executive director last Wednesday. He said his first day on the job was a little overwhelming. “Almost like drinking from a fire hose,” was the way he put it.
He said he had been “apprehensive” taking the position and that he was “humbled.”
Asked about the contrast between himself and Fay, Davis said he is playing more tennis lately because that is his eighth-grade son’s sport of choice. He did not reveal his political leanings. And he said that when he wasn’t attending to family or work, what he enjoyed most was either playing golf or just walking courses and studying architects’ intentions.
“Mike Davis,” said USGA president Jim Hyler, “is the consummate golf person. It’s all about the game for him.”
If only the same could be said of the men in charge of running all the golf associations and organizations – large and small – around the world.
Mike Davis, a native Pennsylvanian, educated in Georgia and a resident of New Jersey, is the right person in the right place at the right time. Of this, there is a consensus rarely reached in any sport.
He is just the seventh executive director in the USGA’s 116 years. He was strongly influenced, he said, by a private meeting in late January at which Fay urged him to seek the job Fay had left voluntarily in December.
Fay navigated the USGA through stormy seas and safely into the 21st century and left behind a huge war chest and a fleet of initiatives. Davis made his bones in rules and competitions. And he made his USGA mark, with Fay’s blessing, by transforming the U.S. Open from a forced march into a national championship that was at once a fair test and a wild ride.
He did it without once puffing out his chest, or grabbing a microphone or passing blame if a mistake had been made on one of his watches.
The good news here for golf is that Davis will still be an integral part of the inner workings of the U.S. Open. He will still be the final say on course setup, which will mean, among other things, that we can almost always count on at least one drivable par 4, a reachable-in-two, risk-reward par 5 and a par 3 that forces the world’s best players to pull out a long iron.
“We would be idiots,” Hyler said, “if we extracted Mike Davis from U.S. Open activities.”
One other highly placed USGA source told Global Golf Post that Davis got the job because he “enjoys the respect of the players.”
“It was important that he be a golf guy as opposed to a business guy,” the source said. “It was important that he understands the core values of the USGA”
The fact is, the members of the USGA selection committee would have been idiots if they hadn’t persuaded Mike Davis to be its next steward.
Davis, 46, came to work at the USGA in 1990. He grew into that rarest of administrators, who drills down fiercely on details but isn’t opposed to leaving his office door open or returning phone calls.
I first encountered him in 2006 at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. I had arrived determined to catch up with the guy who had replaced the controversial Tom Meeks as senior director of Rules and Competitions. I hadn’t been on site more than an hour when he found me first. Until that time, I hadn’t met Davis or spoken with him and didn’t even know what he looked like.
He said he had wanted to meet me and called me over into a conversation he was having with architect Tom Fazio. I would later learn that I wasn’t the only member of the media Davis sought out this way. If you cared about the game – not the business of the game, not the gossip of the game, not the glitz of the game – and if he believed you were responsible in your opinions on the game – even if they didn’t match his – he wanted to know you.
(Here’s a little secret about influential sources and golf writers: If you suck up to them, they will write about you but they won’t trust you. If you treat them like ink-stained wretches, they will write about you but they will resent you. If you treat them evenly, they will write about you and they will respect you.)
Davis never needed to be told this. Nor did he have to figure it out. It came naturally. The people he will lead at the USGA who don’t already know it, will find him to be this person as well.
Now that Mike Davis is running the USGA, the rest of the golf world is about to discover that the “consummate golf person” is smart, fair, honest, tireless and dedicated to the game.
They are in for a treat.