CANDID COMMENTS FROM MIKE DAVIS
HOW WILL USGA FARE AT SHINNECOCK HILLS?
SOUTHAMPTON, NY. It’s been 14 years since the last time Shinnecck Hills hosted the championship of American golf and all eyes will be watching to see how the return engagement to that gem of a layout on Long Island comes through with the newest generation of players.
In ’04, the USGA fumbled the ball in a big time way. Water was withheld from a number of greens — the most glaring being the par-3 7th with its angled Redan green. Players could not remain on the surface and the USGA was forced to water the green in-between groups. The debacle impacted the relationship between the club and the USGA and was the main topic of conversation rather than highlighting Retief Goosen’s second win in the event in three years.
Mike Davis serves as the point person for the United States Golf Association (USGA) and his comments are from the media day event held May 21 at
Shinnecock Hills touched on a broad range of subjects.
How important is the relationship between the USGA and Shinnecock Hills? The club is already scheduled to host its 6th championship with the ’26 event.
The stakes are indeed quite high as the 118th rendition is just weeks away.
CEO / USGA
Mike Davis began his tenure as the United States Golf Association’s executive director on March 2, 2011, and assumed the title of Chief Executive Officer in 2016. Davis is responsible for managing all aspects of the association’s day-to-day operations, including its core functions, essential programs, and human and financial resources.
He is also a board member of the International Golf Federation, the World Golf Foundation and the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Davis joined the USGA in April 1990 as assistant manager of championship relations, quickly being promoted to manager of championship relations in December 1990 and serving in that capacity until his promotion to director of championship relations nearly five years later. In 1997, he was named U.S. Open Championship director, responsible for managing the day-to-day organizational activities for the U.S. Open, and then assumed responsibilities as senior director of Rules and Competitions in 2005.
As senior director of Rules and Competitions, Davis was charged with conducting the 13 national championships and two state team championships conducted by the USGA, as well as overseeing the Rules of Golf department. He was also responsible for the golf-course setup and Rules conduct of the U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Amateur championships. Davis also supervised the Walker Cup Match when it was contested in the United States. In addition to his championship duties, he has taught at PGA/USGA Rules of Golf Workshops and has officiated annually at non-USGA tournaments, including the Masters, the British Open, The Players Championship and the Presidents Cup.
A native of Chambersburg, Pa., Davis was introduced to golf at age 8 by his father. He was the 1982 Pennsylvania State Junior champion and played NCAA Division I golf at Georgia Southern University. He has also played in several prominent national amateur tournaments.
Davis graduated from Georgia Southern University with a bachelor’s degree in business in 1987. He and his wife, Cece, have one son, Grant, and reside in Pittstown, N.J.
Shinnecock Hills is one of the five founding clubs of the United States Golf Association. One of its prominent members was Charles Blair Macdonald, the first U.S. Amateur champion and as I say a member here, that helped design, I won’t say the original course, but the expanded course in the 1910s because of the move of the railroad.
And Charles Blair Macdonald or C B Macdonald as many of you know, designed that architectural masterpiece next door at The National. But beyond that I think his influence is one of the reasons that he is known as the father of golf in the United States.
This golf course hosted the second U.S. Open in 1896. It hosted the second U.S. Amateur in 1896. It hosted the 7th United States women’s Amateur in 1900, so 118 years ago. And beyond that the oldest golf clubhouse. And it’s been welcoming, it’s been accessible really from day one. Women have been a part of it.
There’s 10 new teeing grounds for this U.S. Open. So the new — if you look at the scorecard it will be 7,445 yards. We didn’t add distance just to add distance, what we really did, and we did it in concert with the club itself and also with some work with Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, that architectural firm, is we really wanted to bring the shot value back to what Flynn had designed in the late 1920s. So we looked at each drive zone and said, what would it take to get the drive zone back into play. So I think we are excited because now all of a sudden some of the cross bunkers that are in play, some of the lateral bunkers that are in play or some of the shots, I mean take the second hole, it was always meant to be a long downwind par-3 that you can bounce the ball in. We now have that again.So I think we’re excited about this added distance and one thing that’s kind of interesting being here, the actual shortest played U.S. Open in history was here in 1896. And we’re going to, as I mentioned, we’re going to be over 7,400 yards, the last three U.S. Opens were a little over 6,9000 yards, but that U.S. Open back in 1896 was 4,423 yards. 4423. That was when we were playing with gutta percha’s and hickories, but oh, how times have changed.
So fast forward to last summer and really Jeff Hall, who partners with me on the golf course setup and I decided that there were some places simply put that we needed to have it narrower. We needed to make sure that we were true to the William Flynn design, we didn’t want to take bunkers out of play, but at the same time, as you’ll hear Jeff talk about, the U.S. Open really is, we consider, golf’s ultimate test, and accuracy needed to play a bigger role in that.
So fast forward to what you’ll see today is those what used to be 26 yard wide fairways for a U.S. Open are averaging about 41 yards. So this is a wider U.S. Open, but we think it’s appropriate. It really allows the players, the best players in the world, to use angles and brings bunkers into play and I think when you look at it aesthetically it by and large makes good sense.
If you look at some of those — in fact we have got it up on the screen, there’s a picture of the 6th green. What that does is it, the golf course instead of just small ovals that just happened over the years because of agronomics with mowing with tri-plexes and so on, this allows Shinnecock to be much more strategic, we get better hole locations and frankly it just, it makes for a better golf experience.
So I think it’s on and around the greens that maybe — and it’s subtle, but it’s really going to be the biggest difference I think for this U.S. Open.
And so I would just say that it was 14 years ago, it was a different time, it was different people, and we as an organization, we learned from it. When you set up a U.S. Open it is golf’s ultimate test, it’s probably set up closer to the edge than any other event in golf and I think that the difference then versus now is there was a lot more, we have a lot more technology, a lot more data in our hands.
What really happened then was just a lack of water. There just wasn’t enough water put in and the plant, essentially the grass itself kind of went dormant, there wasn’t enough friction on the greens.
And now days we have got everything from firmness meters, we have got moisture meters in the greens, we have got — obviously we can tell how fast a green is running. The meteorology is better, so we not only know where the wind are coming from but the velocities. And, frankly, there’s better communication between the USGA and the grounds staff.
So I think we’re comfortable and in looking back at that 2004, even though there were parts of that final day, it was a magnificent day with Retief and Phil Mickelson coming down to the end. There are parts that I think we learned from and so I think we’re happy that we have a mulligan this time. It was certainly a bogey last time. In fact maybe even a double bogey and equitable stroke control perhaps kicked in. But anyway it’s great to be back to one of the greatest courses on the planet earth and I think that if you can’t tell we are incredibly excited to be back and it is, as I say, a national golf treasure.
There is no right or wrong way to determine a tie. You can do it by hole by hole or so called sudden death, that’s what the Masters does. You can do it by something less than 18 holes, which is what the British Open has done and what now the PGA does. It’s actually it’s what we do at the Women’s Open. We felt that on balance I think the stakeholders just wanted us to finish. So we have made that change — I would tell you that sitting up here sometimes when somebody raises their hand and says, can you explain why at the U.S. Women’s Open, biggest most important event in women’s golf on the planet, why are you deciding your ties by three holes aggregate there, but doing an 18-hole at the U.S. Open? Pretty hard to answer that question.
So that’s why we changed. Why we went to two holes? Simply put, we realized that we didn’t want — there was some reasons that we talked about that we thought going straight to a hole by hole or what some people know as a sudden death, maybe was a little much. It certainly isn’t wrong, but I think that if a player shot a real low score and was done an hour and a half beforehand and had to sit around, that person would be in theory at a disadvantage.
We also looked at it saying, we looked back in data and really the data suggested that whether it’s three holes, which is our Women’s Open used to be or believe it or not our U.S. Senior Open when we first went from 18 holes we went to a four hole aggregate, and that did seem to take a little too much time and sometimes it got to the last hole and it was already over. So we thought that by having two holes, that there would be more excitement, but it wouldn’t necessarily be one shot over. And frankly, think about this week. If we needed, if we have a tie after 72 holes, we’re going to play the par-3, 17th. Wonderful par-3. And then that great finishing hole 18. Next year at Pebble Beach, 17 and 18. How iconic are those holes?
So again there’s not a right or wrong but I think that’s really on balance why we made the decision.