The era of Mike Davis as the USGA's lead setup man for the US Open is now over. Davis, who is the organization's CEO and executive director, is voluntarily stepping away from the role moving forward, according to a Golf Channel report.
Davis has been the head setup man at the US Open since 2005, when he took over for the maligned Tom Meeks, who was charged with ratcheting up the championship's difficulty to the point that it was losing the attention of fans and the respect of competitors.
Davis restored that, instituting graduated rough length to lower the penalty for minor misses. Scoring remained difficult, and several winning scores were at or over par. However, golfers and fans seemed to appreciate Davis presenting a fairer version of golf's toughest test, which included driveable par 4s, using a variety of tee boxes and quirky changes generally embraced by fans.
However, the job of being USGA CEO and executive director since 2011 hasn't afforded him the same time to setting up the most important championship the organization administers. The result has been three of four US Opens where player complaints have been louder than normal.
Some bad luck, some bad choices
Unfortunately, Davis and team didn't catch a break with weather at Chambers Bay, where the first-time host looked (and in places, was) dead on TV for the first year of a 12-year Fox contract.
Oakmont was a winning setup, though the rules controversy literally following Dustin Johnson around the golf course on Sunday marred a strong finish.
Erin Hills got drenched with rain, and the typically reliable wind eluded that part of Wisconsin for the week. On the rare par-72 Open setup, Brooks Koepka (and several others) demolished the rookie host. The Open was suddenly too easy, even if it really wasn't.
Then Shinnecock Hills this year was a problem come the weekend. The difficulty of the weekend setup (particularly on 14 and 15 on Saturday), combined with misjudging the volume and timing of watering the course, created a 10-shot swing on Saturday whereby Daniel Berger and Tony Finau found themselves resting early and then with the final tee time on Sunday. As Davis said, “Well-executed shots were not only not rewarded, but were punished in some cases.”
The USGA had "lost" Shinnecock again, 14 years after a disaster there made many in golf wonder if the relationship between the governing body and the club was irreparable.
Davis and company swore there wouldn't be a repeat at Shinnecock. It wasn't a carbon copy, but it was controversial nevertheless.
A succession plan
Despite what other people might want to think, Davis told Golf Channel a plan to step aside has been in the works for two years. It's believable, considering how important it was for Davis to get Shinnecock right this time on behalf of the organization. Now, he'll hand over setup duties at Pebble Beach this June and beyond to John Bodenhamer, who was brought in 2011 to setup the US Amateur and has taken on an increasingly important role in the organization.
Bodenhamer is now not only the Open setup man, he oversees the whole championship operation that week.
“John is going to take the lead, I will continue to be part of it,” said Davis to Golf Channel. “I will continue to watch the golf course closely, mostly on the broadcast. But we need somebody to be the face, and John will be outstanding at that."
Bodenhamer is hoping to perform some outreach to the competitors and the public, explaining the setup and why it's done the way he now chooses. The USGA has never aimed for the players to be completely content with their approach, but it will be key moving to a new leading setup philosophy that the best in the world understand and respect it.