I owe Frank Hannigan just about every ounce of credibility I have. If it weren’t for his “Letters,” which started back in 2006, I’m not sure what would have become of this website. That someone of his stature—a former USGA Executive Director known to millions of golfers thanks to his years as part of the ABC announce team at their peak—would sit down to write a letter for publication on a blog? More than anything, it was Frank who convinced many of you that this was a site worth visiting.
While his health prevented him from writing much (he hadn't written a letter since the USGA’s television deal with Fox Sports was announced), Frank posted a comment just last week before he went in for a surgery that had been scheduled in January, but postponed.
On the list of Frank’s accomplishments and contributions to the game, his letters here will fall very low on the list. Though I know he enjoyed having this blog as an outlet for writings that would not be of much interest to golf publications that had lost interest in the issues of interest to a man of Hannigan’s depth. In his six or so years as USGA Executive Director, it’ll be noted in obituaries that he got the USGA back to Shinnecock Hills for the U.S. Open. What won’t be noted, because it’s not as sexy? The fine place he left the USGA after handing over the reigns to David Fay who he admired dearly, fell out with over differences related to the 1994 U.S. Open along with Frank's criticism of the USGA, and who he (thankfully) reconciled with before his passing.
Frank was enormously proud of the decisions made during his tenure and was enormously disappointed, but not entirely surprised, that the USGA had gradually changed over time into a corporate outfit. One that, as Frank wrote many times, lost the battle against distance and lost its way. Yet in the many private emails he wrote, the stories of managing often-difficult committee members helped me understand that the job of Executive Director was as much a job of massive ego management as it was about overseeing the USGA's mission in golf. At the task of keeping the USGA on point, Hannigan succeeded wildly.
He could be so difficult. His letters had to run as he submitted, of course, after the typos were cleaned up and the 1’s fixed because he still typed lower case l’s as 1’s (some sort of old typewriter habit he said).
The man was a brilliant writer. A master storyteller with a great recollection of details and a cadence that had you hearing his distinctive voice as you read his words. In the coming days I’ll share snippets of his many emails to me sharing memories of his USGA and ABC days.
As blunt as he could be, Frank was also a total mensch when it came to his wife, kids and grandkids. He was incredibly proud of daughter-in-law Sondra’s and son Keith's accomplishments in the legal world, and even had consulted her over a situation of mine that I tried to convince Frank was not worthy of his energy. He would have none of it, as the repugnant behavior of an individual had him convinced he could help me and that it required immediate attention.
As recently as March 14th he had sent me an email letting me know how clueless I was (he was mystified by my admiration for Jim Murray and Arnold Palmer). I never took these personally, as I knew he was just trying to keep me honest. Based on conversations with many others, it was just Frank’s way to be the administrator of tough love.
Already, I miss him terribly. Golf will miss him. Life will miss him. The world is a much less interesting place today without Frank Hannigan to set it straight.