Mike Davis is taking over as executive director of the U.S. Golf Association without having to give up part of his old job that he loved the most -- setting up golf courses for the U.S. Open.
The USGA said Wednesday it has selected Davis to be its seventh executive director. He replaces David Fay, who retired in December after 21 years in charge.
Davis, a 21-year veteran of the USGA and its senior director of rules and competition since 2005, has become popular with the players over the last five years for his sense of fairness in setting up U.S. Open courses. He introduced the concept of graduated rough, and twice in the last four years has declined to change a par 4 into a par 5 because he felt it made those holes fair and exciting.
One of those was the 18th at Torrey Pines in 2008, where Tiger Woods made birdie on the 72nd hole to force a playoff that he won.
Staying involved in course setup was key to Davis taking over as executive director.
“They knew I very much wanted it,” Davis said of his new job. “I tried to argue the point that not only is it something I very much like, it’s something I’ve gotten decent at. So why look for a change?”
When asked if the job description was altered for Davis, USGA President Jim Hyler replied, “The short answer is slight.”
“Obviously, Mike has done a terrific job with the U.S. Open setup and we’d be nuts if we pulled him out of that,” Hyler said. “We want him to continue to be involved in our signature event from a course setup standpoint. When we talked with Mike about this job, we never dreamed he would not be involved in the setup. It fits very well. We get the best of both worlds.”
There’s more to the job than setting up a golf course, however.
Davis, 46, will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the USGA, which governs golf in the United States and Mexico and works with the Royal & Ancient, which governs the rest of the world, in setting the rules and regulating equipment standards.
He reports to the USGA president, who serves two one-year terms.
Davis said he will delegate the jobs of course setup at the U.S. Senior Open, U.S. Women’s Open, U.S. Amateur and the Walker Cup. He said Jeff Hall would be his temporary replacement in charge of rules and competition, and that the USGA is looking at reorganizing the department because of how much it has grown over the years.
Along with running 13 national championships, the USGA oversees some 700 qualifying events.
Davis said he was apprehensive about some of his new responsibilities, which include overseeing the USGA staff and working with the governing body’s corporate and broadcast partners and state associations. His only concern is not having enough time.
Otherwise, he said there will be only a few differences from what Fay handled.
One of them is the broadcast booth. Fay was famous for his bow ties, and he often sat in on NBC Sports telecasts of the U.S. Open in case a rules question arose.
“You won’t see me in a bow tie,” Davis said, adding that he most likely would not be in the booth during a U.S. Open. Davis also said he would only get involved in the U.S. Open in the early morning before competition. He would not deal with championship details such as pace of play or deciding when to stop play in case of bad weather.
“I’ve very organized and detail oriented,” Davis said. “When it comes to other people’s areas, I believe in giving them responsibility and holding them accountable. The stuff I do myself, I’ll get my hands dirty. But I’m not going to micromanage people.”
Davis grew up in Pennsylvania and played college golf at Georgia Southern.
He attended his first U.S. Open in 1980 with his father, and was amazed to see shots that barely missed the fairway disappear into deep rough, while shots well off line landed in trampled grass where the spectators were walking. That’s where he came up with the idea of graduated rough -- shorter near the fairway, thicker as the it got farther away.