Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Upheaval at the USGA

There are all kinds of upheaval and head-ducking going on at the U.S. Golf Association.

The manure first hit the oscillator the week of the U.S. Open at Oakmont when Golf World magazine came out with a cover story headlined "Can the USGA survive Walter Driver?"

Driver, of course, is the high-powered, hard-driving Atlanta businessman who is president of the USGA. Even Driver's fans -- and he has his fans -- tout him as a "change agent," meaning nothing and nobody is safe these days at the USGA.

But the cover story, which was long, well-researched and damning, suggests that in the first 1 1/2 years of his two-year term Driver has tried to bring a corporate-style management to the USGA not used to it.

That might not be such a terrible thing, but Driver comes off as an impersonal, imperial, impervious man who has left many of the USGA staff of 300 cowering in fear. While the top dogs at the USGA earn hefty salaries and fly around in leased jets and drive leased Lexuses, the rank-and-file folks aren't paid nearly so well and they are seeing their benefits get cut.

In the past week or so, two top people have left: Tim Moraghan, the USGA's chief of agronomy, and a man who plays a major role in setting up U.S. Open courses. Many insiders believe Driver had been gunning to take down Moraghan ever since the disaster at Shinnecock in 2004.

Also gone, suddenly, is Marty Parkes, senior director of communications, and No. 4 on a USGA staff flow chart. Insiders suggest Parkes got the blame for not being able to kill the Golf World story before it ever got published.

I don't know Driver well. The longest conversation I've had with him was maybe 10 minutes long at the Open a few weeks ago. But I remember well the impression he was making on USGA staffers at the U.S. Amateur at Merion two summers ago, just as he was about to take over.
I remember him walking past me and a couple of USGA staffers one day. As he passed I could almost feel a chill. And as I looked over at the USGA staffers, they were almost shuddering.
"I'm not looking forward to the next two years," said one.

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