As the dust finally settles on Oakmont and the 2016 U.S. Open, Dustin Johnson's follow-up win at the WGC Bridgestone helps shift a little more focus on the winner and away from the rules issue that arose.
While golfers still discuss the rule and decision that prompted the officials to intervene, it is important to better understand the culture that led to a moment which, had Johnson lost the U.S. Open over the ball moving on marble-like greens, might have done permanent damage to the reputation of the U.S. Open and golf.
Why did the USGA feel so compelled to intervene in a situation that few outside the rules community saw as requiring definitive action? Especially given that so many golfers recognized the issue was caused by excessive green speed. For those of us who've been frustrated with the use of green speed to offset regulatory malfeasance on the distance issue, the number of golfers making the connection between the issues is heartening.
Still, we would like to better understand the culture that focuses so much effort on the high-risk business of running up Stimpmeter speeds or adding tees to U.S. Open courses or policing innocent pro golfers, better known as: ABTB (Anything But The Ball).
So I was advised to go back and read Chris Millard's 2007 Golf World cover story on USGA President Walter Driver,. Ironically, the story preceded the U.S. Open at Oakmont. The story resonates on many levels, from understanding the USGA's focus to how much behind the scenes debate occurs.
Sadly, we know Driver has continued to influence the organization via the nominating committee, with his crowning achievement the naming of pal Diana Murphy as president to continue the corporate prioritization of the USGA's approach.
It's well worth a re-read, but this was one of the more enlightening moments:
Proponents of Driver say he has single-handedly shaken the USGA out of a slumber induced by the influx of cash the USGA fell into when it reconfigured its television rights contracts in 1994. They say he has tried to inject into a bloated USGA some badly needed business principles (the title of Driver's speech at the USGA's annual meeting in San Francisco last February was "The USGA As An Organization And A Business"). Detractors, many of whom see the USGA as a charitable organization first, say Driver has imposed his will on its culture and that his administration has disenfranchised everyone from Golf House staffers (those who work at USGA headquarters in Far Hills, N.J.) to equipment manufacturers to the organization's once-revered past presidents.
"I would say his effort to instill a new level of business-like procedure at the USGA has been important," says Reg Murphy, USGA president in 1994-95 and the man who authored the association's lucrative TV move from long-time partner ABC to NBC in 1994. "He's tried to create a more business-like organization. There are people who resist that idea, by the way, that the USGA ought to operate like a business."
And nine years later, that business is operating in a way that has MILLIONS of golfers wondering what on earth it is up to.