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One Good Call

On second thought, the USGA did the right thing

"I'M THE decider," a recent president famously proclaimed, but he had only Congress, the voters and world opinion to contend with. David Fay had it tougher. He had to mollify 34,000 sopping-wet, mud-splattered golf fans.

Fay, the executive director of the U.S. Golf Association, refereed last week's first-round rain-check snafu at Bethpage Black. Responding to mounting criticism of a no-refunds policy that he admitted was "both vague and rigid," Fay announced last Friday that Thursday's tickets would be honored on Monday if the rain-plagued tournament ran that long. If it didn't, crabby first-rounders—who got to see about three hours of golf before the deluge—would be granted a 50% refund.

But don't call Fay the decider. "That decision was made by consensus," he said on Saturday while monitoring second-round play from the NBC television booth. "It was a big decision with a lot of meetings and input from a number of experts. I don't think we've ever had a decision as complex as this."

Golf tournaments are not exactly Roe v. Wade, but a competition drawing up to 34,000 spectators a day will have its share of problems. The USGA divides its headaches into two categories: Inside the Ropes and Outside the Ropes. The Inside authorities—senior director of rules and competitions Mike Davis and USGA vice president Jim Hyler—dictate the conditions of play. The Outside authorities are Mike Butz, deputy executive director of the USGA, and U.S. Open managing director Reg Jones, who oversees everything from spectator safety to vendor management. "In 99 cases out of 100, that's all you need," says USGA treasurer Irving Fish.

Bethpage presented the 100th case. The blogosphere and sports-talk shows went nuts on Thursday evening when a USGA official said that spectators could throw away their Thursday-only tickets. Fay got an accidental earful of the outrage when he gassed up his car that night, and he got more the next morning when he stopped for coffee at a Dunkin' Donuts. "People can be very vocal," he said, nicely understating Long Islanders' gift for Buttafuoco-like invective.

Reading the mood and spurred by telephone calls from New York governor David A. Paterson and attorney general Andrew Cuomo, Fay and nine of the USGA's best minds repaired to the championship operations trailer to hammer out a settlement. The product of their deliberations—including a onetime refund offer that would have cost the USGA an estimated $2 million if there had been no golf on Monday—was passed without the need for a vote. "The USGA is all about consensus; it really is," said an approving Fay.

But what if the conveners had been deadlocked? Could the executive director have acted on his own?

Fay shook his head. "The USGA president would be the person to decide."

That would be James F. Vernon of Pasadena, Calif.


Photograph by ROBERT BECK

YOU MUST BE KIDDING Fans raised a stink when the opening round was washed out and the USGA at first said there would be no refunds.