“We developed a bias towards action rather than a preference for smoothness"

driver.jpgBradley Klein scores an exclusive "exit interview of sorts" with outgoing USGA President Walter Driver.

His agenda and its implementation, not surprisingly, created a feeling of mistrust, even veiled hostility, among many USGA employees. Driver, too, acknowledges the perceived heavy-handedness on his part and by the Executive Committee but offers no apologies.

“We developed a bias towards action rather than a preference for smoothness,” he says.

I'm sure there are people who understand what that means. I'm not one of them.
Golfweek: During your tenure as USGA president, you oversaw considerable change, including corporate sponsorships with American Express and Lexus. Why the need for so much change?

WD: In the area of structuring what I’ll loosely call the business side of the USGA, what we found was a lack of coordination. In some cases, for example, where we’d like to find a relationship with someone on the Internet side, we found that our broadcast contracts had been negotiated without properly considering the impact of the Internet and were at cross purposes with what we were trying to do. Those things just had not been properly coordinated, there were too many silos functioning and we needed to have coordination among the areas of activity that had been lacking.

I've always believed wholeheartedly that silo coordination was vital.
Golfweek: Your attempt at cost cutting through proposed benefits reductions led to considerable discontent among longtime USGA staffers. What went wrong?

WD: No one at the USGA could remember the last time there was a thorough review of compensation and benefits. It had been at least 18 years, and so we hired two consultants who gave us recommendations about how the overall compensation benefits rewards program was, in their words, “not functioning.” And so we reacted to their expert recommendations and adopted some of their recommendations and not others. But all the Executive Committee did was hire an expert to tell us how to do it.

That's right, it was all their doing!

I didn’t come here with that in mind at all.

We looked at three legs of the compensation stool – benefits, salaries and bonuses.

Uh, I'm sorry to interrupt. But doesn't a stool need four legs? Continue...

Benefits were relatively high, salaries were medium and there was a lack of correlation between performance and rewards. We finished the benefits part first and presented it. It surprised me how it blew up. In retrospect, we should have waited to present the entire package.

Oh I'm sure that would have changed everything!

Golfweek: What stands out among your more than 10 years of volunteer service to the USGA?
WD: Hearing about springlike effect in the fall of 1997, and then learning that 6 million of the approved drivers had already been sold. . . .

Standing with Phil Mickelson on the first tee at Bethpage during the 2002 U.S. Open as the crowd sang ‘Happy birthday’ to Phil. . . .

That's a fond memory?

Meeting with Arnold Palmer in Latrobe (Pa.) to discuss his lending his name to the USGA Center for Golf History, and then being invited to stay for lunch, play a round of golf with him, have drinks afterwards, then dinner and staying overnight at his house and then flying him down at lavish expense to give my introductory speech at the annual meeting.

Wait, that last part was me, sorry!

On Sunday morning of the 2004 Open at Shinnecock Hills, getting a call from Mike Davis: ‘I’m at the seventh hole. I think we have a problem. You better get out here.’ Then (Driver) having to call starter Ron Read at the first tee and telling him, ‘We need to stop the U.S. Open.’"

 That's more like it. That is the Walter we want to remember!