By Barry Svrluga
Thursday, March 3, 2011; D02
When Congressional Country Club hosts its third U.S. Open in June, Mike Davis's fingerprints will be all over the course. He was behind moves to take trees out, move rough in, push tee boxes back - all the elements that have gone into each course Davis has set up for the Open, dating back to 2005.
But when golf's national championship is held at the Bethesda club, Davis will be one step removed from the competition he helped coordinate. The United States Golf Association announced Wednesday that Davis, who has gained widespread praise from players and course architects alike for his keen understanding of how to properly set up challenging-but-fair layouts, is taking over as the governing body's new executive director.
Davis, 46, succeeds David Fay, who retired in December after a 32-year stint with the USGA, the last 21 as executive director. But in accepting the job, Davis made one thing clear: He still wants to be heavily involved in both selecting sites for the U.S. Open and setting up the courses, his most high-profile duties in his old job as the USGA's senior director of rules and competition.
"I've been public about this before: I love the golf course setup part of what I've done for the last 12 years," Davis said in a teleconference with reporters. "I love putting that puzzle together, and it really is a puzzle of sorts. . . . That's one area that I just have incredible interest in, and thankfully the board will allow me to continue that role."
The USGA annually stages 13 national championships annually, and Davis has been in charge in setting up the courses for several of those championships, including the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Women's Open, and he has been credited for thinking creatively - moving tee boxes forward and back, creating holes that play differently on different days. Davis said he will still take to those duties each morning during the Open at Congressional - arriving at 5 a.m. and working on setup issues through 8:30 or 9 - before he turns his attention to the other aspects of his new job. He'll then engage with the grounds staff and greenskeepers in the afternoon to prepare the setup for the next day.
Davis has been with the USGA in a variety of rolls since 1990 - "basically my entire adult working life," he said - and he edged out what USGA President Jim Hyler called a strong field of internal and external candidates for the job. Davis likened following Fay - the bow-tied face of the USGA for more than two decades - to following John Wooden, Bear Bryant or Jack Welch.
"Mike is the consummate golf person," Hyler said. "He loves the game. It's all about the game with him. He loves the USGA. He's been here 21 years. He has great institutional knowledge of the association, and he is the right person to lead the association."