The USGA news conference, traditionally held on the Wednesday morning of U.S. Open week, is one of the most interesting events of the entire week, at least for those interested in course set-up and conditioning for this major championship.
There is some pomp and circumstance to make your way through, but at its core, the news conference offers an opportunity for USGA officials — most notably that year's chairman of the championship committee and Mike Davis (pictured here), the USGA's executive director — to talk about changes that were made to the course prior to the tournament, how that course will be set-up for competition and the overall condition of the course heading into the first round.
It's also a chance to recognize and, almost always, heap praise on the host superintendent and his staff. And that certainly was the case this morning at The Olympic Club, where DGMO (for those blog newbies, that's the acronym I'm using this week for director of golf maintenance operations) Pat Finlen, CGCS and his staff were virtually buried in the stuff throughout the course of the 45-minute long session.
Consider this comment from Tom O'Toole, the chairman of the USGA's championship committee, as he thanked a host of folks for their roles this week:
But to separate out the golf course superintendent, Pat Finlen, as Mike Davis has said many times, the most important critical figure in the U.S. Open production is the golf course superintendent. Pat Finlen has stood by Mike, myself, in this setup for the last three years and really accommodated our every need. He deserves special kudos from all at the USGA and all who witness this great championship.
Later, there were these words from Davis himself:
Tom mentioned about Pat Finlen, the golf course superintendent. For those that come to the U.S. Open every year, I know this is going to sound like a stuck record because what Tom said is absolutely the case, that there's no person that really influences this championship more. When you look back at the successes over the decades, the golf course superintendent and his staff are just a marvelous group to work with and Pat, if you wouldn't mind standing up just so everybody knows who you are. (APPLAUSE)
Olympic's Lake Course got it's fair share of attention, too. For those interested in reading these comments at more length, I'd refer you here for a full transcript of the news conference. But Davis led his comments by saying, "We're absolutely delighted with where we are right now with the conditions. The greens are as good as any greens we have seen at a U.S. Open. They putt beautifully. The fairways are perfect. The rough is aptly named ... it's rough. And we're just delighted."
All in all, this particular news conference is a great platform to turn at least some of the spotlight on the golf course management profession and the job of the superintendent before the 156 players who will be competing in this year's championship take hold of that stage.
And it's importance was emphasized as much by who was in the audience as what was being said on the podium. Six members of GCSAA's national board of directors were there — president Sandy Queen, CGCS; Finlen, the current vice president; secreatary/treasurer Keith Ihms, CGCS; and directors John O'Keefe, CGCS, Peter Grass, CGCS, and Darren Davis. Matt Shaffer, who will serve as the host superintendent at next year's Open at Merion, was there (did a short interview with Matt that I'll blog about later). Garrett Bodington, the superintendent at Sebonack on Long Island, which will play host to next year's U.S. Women's Open, was there, along with his club's executive director, Mark Hissey.
So however you view the proceedings, it was a pretty nice moment in the sun for the golf course management profession.