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By Ryan Herrington
It’s rare when the name of a nominee to the USGA Executive Committee resonates beyond the world of corporate board rooms or golf’s high-profile private clubs. Which is why the inclusion of three-time major champion Nick Price on the slate the USGA is set to announce on Monday makes the list uniquely notable. And it’s also why it took a little convincing for Price to ultimately become comfortable with the idea of joining the 15-person governing board for 2018.
“I asked Mike [Davis, USGA executive director] is this going to be a PR role. And he was adamant that it was not,” Price told Golf World over the weekend. “He wants to take the USGA down a more player-friendly path.”
Price, 60, is not the first professional golfer the USGA has pressed into service, but he is certainly the most well-known. Davis first broached Price about potentially joining the Executive Committee more than a year ago, but the timing wasn’t quite right. Now that Price is done with his responsibilities as captain of the International Presidents Cup team, he’s ready to give back to the game in a different way.
Price’s biggest impact will be as a bridge to the competitive tours. A 48-time winner worldwide, including 18 PGA Tour events, the member of the World Golf Hall of Fame no longer plays on a regular basis. But he remains close to the game’s best players while being a respected voice among his peers.
Meanwhile, by having Price on the Executive Committee, the USGA addresses a concern raised—particularly in the midst of some of the various rules controversies that have arisen in recent years—that the association doesn’t take the interest or perspective of competitive tour professionals to heart.
“In the past we’ve all known there has been a certain amount of ‘Our way or the highway,’ ” Price said. “There was always this feeling with the USGA that we were fighting with them. And I don’t think that’s the feeling anymore.”
“I think it sends a message to tour level players that we’re bringing somebody under the tent with us, somebody who has lived that life,” said Jim Hyler, chairman of the USGA Nominating Committee and a former USGA president. “We want somebody involved with us that speaks your language. I think we could not have a better person to do that than Nick Price.”
Also joining Price as new nominees for the Executive Committee are Kendra Graham, a USGA staffer from 1987 to 2003 who oversaw the U.S. Women’s Open and was among the leading teachers of the Rules of Golf; Sharon Ritchey, an executive in the financial sector who also serves on the board of the LPGA Foundation; and Paul Brown, a Maryland banker who has been an official at 35 USGA championships. The nominees, along with the pick for general counsel, Richard Shortz, and the returning members of the Executive Committee, will be formally voted on at the USGA Annual Meeting on Feb. 3 in Miami.
The slate will serve under Mark Newell, the nominee to replace Diana Murphy as USGA president. A lawyer from McLean, Va., who was the rules official in the group with the Dustin Johnson on Sunday at the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, Newell is the logical successor to Murphy as he has been intimately involved in the Rules of Golf modernization process during his previous five years on the Executive Committee, the results of which will be the streamlined rules expected to take effect in 2019.
“I know a lot about the rules, but I can’t begin to speak in specific details like Mark Newell can,” Davis said. “Because he’s literally crafted more of this new language than anybody, and that’s on both sides of the pond. … Without him, I’m not sure this would have been possible. The guy is working eight to 10 hours every day on it. So it’s very appropriate that he will be president when this thing is launched.”
Newell will help determine which areas new Executive Committee members will be focused on. In utilizing Price, Newell has the ability to reach beyond the Zimbabwe native’s sterling competitive resume. Price is also a golf course architect and has an acumen regarding equipment that makes his voice an intriguing one as the USGA continues to wrestle with the issue of technology and distance.
“He is just a great person. I’ve never met anybody in the world of golf who just doesn’t like Nick,” Davis said. “One of the things that appealed to us, he comes at it with a very international perspective. I think sometimes we get labeled because we’re the United States Golf Association, that we’re just in the U.S. But you know we’re very global.”
Before agreeing to serve, Price said he bounced the concept of working with the USGA off some friends in the industry to get their thoughts. All were in favor of him joining the group, seeing too many benefits in having a former player intimately involved in the USGA hierarchy. As for how specifically it will all play out, Price says he’s no entirely sure, but looks forward to finding out.
“This is a whole new thing for me. I’m trying to figure it out,” Price said. “I’m sure after the first couple of committee meetings, it will be a little clearer to me. … For me to give a little bit back to the game by doing this, it’s an important thing for me. I want this to be good for both sides.”
USGA Executive Committee Nominees
Mark Newell, President*
Mark Reinemann, Secretary*
Thomas Barkin, Treasurer*
J. Michael Bailey*
J. Stuart Francis*
Richard Shortz, General Counsel