“But when he started to play, he just fell in love with the game,” O’Connor said last week. “He’s such a hard worker, so dedicated to anything he puts his mind to, I knew he’d work at it and get better.”
Such is this Washington story: A Supreme Court law clerk becomes a prominent attorney, arguing cases in front of the body for which he once clerked. Along the way, he takes the advice of a mentor, the late Andrew Kramer – “You can have an office at the law firm, or you could have an office with green grass” — and enthusiastically attacks golf. A frequent playing partner: his old boss, Justice O’Connor.
And on Saturday, Nager will have a new job, albeit a volunteer one: president of the United States Golf Association, the organization charged with governing the game stateside, with a significant hand in overseeing it worldwide. Nager will officially take his new post during the USGA’s annual meeting in Houston.
“His skills are perfect for that job,” O’Connor said. “Glen’s not just a smart person – and he’s very smart – but he’s nice, and genuine, and he listens to people and gets their opinions and values them. And he cares about golf. He loves it.”
That love was not born by beating balls for hours at a range as a kid. Still, his rise to the top of the USGA – from a blind call in 2006 asking if he would serve as the organization’s general counsel, to becoming one of the world’s foremost experts of golf’s arcane rules – seems natural to those who have come to know him.
“I would say Glen Nager is one of the smartest — if not the smartest — people I’ve ever met in my life,” said Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director, who will report to Nager. “To sit back and watch how his mind works, it’s just fascinating.”
After growing up mostly in Texas – but traveling the world some, as his father was a chemist for Shell Oil – Nager went to the University of Texas and graduated in three years. At Stanford Law School, he became the youngest president in the history of the Stanford Law Review. That led to a clerkship for the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District. And the next summer, 1983, he became the first clerk O’Connor hired. At 25, he wrote the first drafts of opinions for the Supreme Court.
“It was a heady experience,” Nager said. “She really needed her law clerks and relied on her law clerks. She’s a taskmaster, but you were real participants. You were expected to get to the heart of the case.”
O’Connor, too, developed a reputation for caring about the lives of her clerks – both while they worked for her and afterward. So even after Nager finished his clerkship, he and O’Connor developed a kinship around golf. O’Connor, too, came to the game late in life, only after she turned 40, and only after she and her husband visited friends on a Wisconsin vacation – during which golf was considered mandatory.