Drama at The USGA: The Coup Fails

by Jeff Skinner

It seems that those bluecoats at the USGA have been doing their best imitation of a prime time soap opera.  It’s a story filled with inside power plays and backroom deals loaded with manipulation and dirty tricks…hardly what the USGA has represented all these years.

“The Failed Coup at the USGA…Corporate guys vs. golf guys: Glen Nager’s out and Mike Davis wins” is the latest must read from the very well connected Ron Sirak of Golf World. I would say the title says it all but there is so much more, oh so much more.

Outgoing President Glen Nager, and he is going out for good, appears to have lost his personal attempt at remaking the 119 year old USGA into his very own little kingdom.2013 USGA Annual Meeting

Sirak, who has amazing access, chronicles Nager’s attempt to take more power away from the traditional “golf guys” and put the USGA under control of a single CEO.  Nager used his power to take authority from many established positions and put it in the hand of his handpicked cronies.  Finally, many of the old guard at the USGA had seen enough and stood up to Nager’s belligerence and forced him out.

After losing a power struggle to bring broad organizational changes to the United States Golf Association, including what sources say was a bid to create a long-term chief-executive position, president Glen Nager will leave the organization for good when his second one-year term expires Feb. 8, Golf Digest has learned. “I have been involved with the USGA for eight years,” Nager said, “and after I leave I won’t be a part of it again.”

According to sources, Nager, who described himself as a “lame duck” in an interview with Golf Digest, wanted O’Toole removed from the 15-person Executive Committee and passed over as president, and he wanted Davis to report to a chief executive. A high-ranking USGA official says Nager wanted to bypass O’Toole because he considered O’Toole too close to Davis, a longtime USGA ally, to work effectively under a chief executive. “Tom and Mike are almost the same person,” the source said.

Other sources say it was Walter Driver—the chair of the USGA Nominating Committee who served a contentious term as president from 2006-’07—who said to Nager, “You are not going to do this.” Added another source: “The current board just didn’t want to hear anymore from [Nager] on this idea and shut him down completely. He had some very radical ideas, and he got nowhere.” (One former member of the Executive Committee, when told of Driver’s role in standing up to Nager, said: “Gee, I might have to change what I think of him.”)

The good news is that it appears the true roots of the USGA have won out.  It prided itself on being in existence for “The Good of the Game” and the golf guys fought back against the corporate guys.

Added another USGA source: “I’ll tell you what, you’re going to see a 180-degree turnaround in terms of our relationship with some other organizations when Tom takes over.”

2012 U.S. Open ChampionshipO’Toole and Davis, who have worked together for more than two decades, emerge in stronger positions. Since being promoted to the executive-director job in 2011, Davis has grown from the best course setup guy in the business to an efficient manager and a reassuring public face for the USGA.

Davis is in a position to reclaim some of the power that was stripped from the executive-director position during the Driver and Fred Ridley presidencies, when David Fay held the job. Fay had the position for 21 years until resigning abruptly on Christmas Eve in 2010 at the age of 60.

Davis is liked and respected, and insiders say the way he handled the attempt to diminish his power only enhanced his stature in the organization.

“There is no question that Mike is sounding more emboldened as a result of this experience,” says a high-ranking USGA official.

The clash ultimately was between what USGA insiders are referring to as “the golf guys” versus “the corporate guys.” The golf guys won, at least for now.

Be sure to click though to read all of Sirak’s fascinating account of the entire episode.  It is thorough, full of insider information and Sirak gets down to the nitty gritty.

As far as Mike Dave regaining some of the power usurped from him by Nager I can say it’s well deserved.  But then, I am prejudiced.  You see last summer I wrote a letter to all the heads of the USGA, Davis and Nager included.

I received a thoughtful response from Davis.  And at The Presidents Cup I had a chance to talk to him and he thanked me for my input and I became an even bigger fan of Mike Davis.

Glen Nager…I never heard from him.  Maybe that says something about the two of them.

The USGA will be better off without Nager and so will Mike Davis.

Click here for Sirak’s article.



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