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.

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BACKGROUNDER —

MIKE DAVIS

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.

Davis

Shinnecock Hills Golf Club

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.

 
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At the 1896 U.S. Open there were two locals who played in the event. One an African American by the name of John Shippen and then a Shinnecock Indian by the name of Oscar Bunn. There was some players in that U.S. Open that didn’t think that that was appropriate and I think one of the things that the USGA is so proud of and I know Shinnecock as a club is proud of is we stood up almost 125 years ago and did the right thing and made sure we were welcoming. So there’s just been so much history made here and at Shinnecock.
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I dare say that in terms of where elite golf is played, I can’t think of a better golf course in the world than Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. The architecture is just marvelous, it’s timeless, the architect that came in when the golf course needed to be expanded in the late 1920s was William Flynn.
 
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William Flynn, he really is, at least in my book, a handful of the best architects that have ever lived. Beyond Shinnecock, courses like the Country Club up in Brookline Massachusetts, actually going to host our 2023 U.S. Open. Cherry Hills out in Denver, that hosted that great 1960 Open that Arnold Palmer won. Philadelphia Country Club that hosted the 1939 U.S. Open that Byron Nelson and Sam Snead battled in. The great golf course in the Cascades Golf Course at The Homestead. There’s just so many and when you get out here what’s so great about Shinnecock Hills and I think the thing, rather than talking about golf course setup today, let’s talk a little bit about the great job, and I do mean great job, that this club has done with restoration. And so it really started the better part of 20 years ago, when the club began after the 1995 U.S. Open to really try to take it back to what Flynn had designed when it opened in 1931.
Davis

Shinnecock Hills

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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.

 
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Another difference is the fairway contours.So if you went back and you looked at aerials from 1996, excuse me, 1986, 1995 and 2004, you would have seen a very narrow golf course, almost hallway like. Those fairways back for those three Opens and the drive zones, the nonpar-3s averaged about 26 yards in width. About five years ago the club embarked on really this restoration program to widen the golf course out much more like it Flynn designed.So you had some of these 26 yard fairways going out to 65 yards. Brought bunkers more into play, brought angles more into play.

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.

 
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Another change that’s taken place from last time we had the U.S. Open here 14 years ago was that you will see much larger closely mown areas around these greens. Many of these holes had rough right up against the greens, which is not how it was designed when Flynn built the course. So the club really did a marvelous job taking these out.So right off the bat when you play the first hole, when you used to go over that green it falls down a hill, used to go over the green. If you went over the green, you went into rough. Now all of a sudden you go down a hill — and what these closely mown areas, I mean think about Pinehurst No. 2 — what they do is they give options to the players, but they do not necessarily make it easier. So a player might be able to putt it, hit a bump and run, hit a pitch shot. But it puts options in the players, but it also gets a ball farther away from the green when you miss it.

 
Davis

The 18th hole at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club

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I really think the biggest difference for the U.S. Open is going to be how the club did a masterful job of taking the greens back to their original size from the 1930s.

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.

 
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One of the questions I think we’re going to get, so I’m just going to hit it straight on would be what happened that final round in 2004 of the U.S. Open, when I think everybody that either was here or watched it realized that we had a situation where on some holes and particularly the 7th hole itself, you were watching well executed shots not being rewarded.In fact, in the case of 7, you saw some well executed shots actually being penalized and I can assure you that is not what the USGA wanted.

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.

 
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How to decide a tie in one of our Open Championships has been a long-debated subject and we recently came to the conclusion, after really talking to the stakeholders in the U.S. Open. So who are the stakeholders? They’re the players who play in the Open, they’re the fans that watch it both on-site as well as broadcasted, linear TV and digitally, and it’s the vendors, it’s really the club itself. And we came to the conclusion that people wanted, assuming Mother Nature’s cooperative, people wanted the U.S. Open to finish Sunday. Wouldn’t say it was unanimous — so we started with that premise.

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.

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The data would suggest that some U.S. Opens you get it in the heavy rough and it was pretty close to a half shot penalty. Others it was a little closer to a quarter shot penalty. But we believe and have long believed that we want to see all facets of the game tested. So we want to see your shot making ability, your ability to control your distance, your spin, your trajectory, your ability to recover around the greens, and I think by having it you use the term bomb and gouge, we think that the accuracy still needs to be a part of the test. We don’t want to necessarily penalize somebody that can hit a ball a long way, if they can control the ball. So you will see at Shinnecock Hills this year, you’re going to see penal rough and listen, when you go back and you start to study even more than a hundred years ago, there’s traditions to that and I think we’re proud of that tradition and it’s going to, as I say, continue a month from now at the 118th playing of this U.S. Open.
Davis

Shinnecock Hills overview

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The 14th is a wonderful golf hole of the way it plays northeast, so the prevailing wind here is a southwest wind, if you were here for the last three Opens you know we couldn’t go back any further with that tee. There was a cottage there or it was probably not in the best condition, so the club decided to take that down and that gave us a great opportunity on that hole (14th) But frankly, we were seeing irons played off that hole in previous U.S. Opens because it is downhill downwind with firm conditions and now I think that you will see some drivers, certainly probably some 3-woods as well.On 16 we added roughly 70 yards to that. There’s two par-5s here, the 5th and the 16th holes. And that was a classic case, classic case of getting that Flynn architecture to work. That the further left you hit your tee shot or that you do hit your tee shot there, the better angle for your second shot, but it’s a longer carry. When you look back in the last three U.S. Opens, simply put, the players were hitting it way past those cross bunkers that Flynn designed. So this was an opportunity to get that back into play. And I would just tell you that same thing on the 6th hole, same thing on the 8th hole, that it’s just getting the architecture back where it needed to be.

 

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To set up Shinnecock properly you really do have to have a sense of what’s going to happen with the wind. This is a — wind is such a great part of a championship because it forces the players to control their trajectory, control their spin, but the difference between playing a southwest wind and let’s say a north wind is significantly different here at Shinnecock. And it’s not uncommon to have a two, two and a half club wind.So if you’re playing downhill, I mean the 14th hole, that’s 520 yards, par-4, and it makes sense because it’s downhill, downwind with firm conditions. But all of a sudden if we got a north wind prediction there, we would very likely move the tee markers up some because you wouldn’t have anybody in the field that could hit the green in two. When we’re setting the course up, the risk really here at Shinnecock are not getting it right in terms of the wind. If you get a situation where the wind is blowing hard downwind, that’s a case where we got to make sure that we have got the greens under control and frankly are a little slower. So if our meteorologist does a good job, we’re going to know that ahead of time and probably prep those greens a little bit differently just because we do run that risk.

 

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We’re lucky enough as the national governing body to get invited to come to some of these great courses like Shinnecock Hills. So in so many ways what we just try to do is showcase those courses, showcase the architecture, have the best players in that given group of players, whether it’s the U.S. Girls Junior Amateur or whether it’s the U.S. Open, that it’s set up in such a way that it really allows them to determine how exciting the championship is. So everyone of these things you have to work with Mother Nature and you have to be flexible enough, sometimes there’s awkward situations that came up like at Oakmont with the Dustin Johnson ruling, but those can happen, that could have happened at any event anywhere. But it just so happened at the U.S. Open. So I think here we’re excited, we know we’re at one of the world’s greatest golf courses, and to me just get this golf course setup properly and then sit back and watch the 156 best players in the world compete for that silver trophy to my left and that Nicklaus gold medal.
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