USGA cards an ace with Murphy as chief

March 23, 1994|By John Steadman

It's a coveted position of influence and brings enormous responsibilities to protect the inherent traditions of the most honorable of all games yet requires a flexibility to recognize when conditions require a time for change, subtle or otherwise.

The U.S. Golf Association has ordained John "Reg" Murphy as its new president -- which puts him in a role of decision-maker and provides a power base equal to that of any commissioner in all of amateur and professional sports. There is a fundamental difference. No salary is involved. His only compensation comes via pride and an indulgent touch of self-satisfaction.

The assignment is strictly for love of the game. Murphy has made an unprecedented ascent to the highest level of golf authority in America. From the time of his appointment to the USGA executive board in 1988, he has progressed swiftly to its premier level of leadership for what constitutes a two-year term in this important policy-making office.

It's a tribute to the man and his qualities that Murphy moved to the fore so rapidly and is entrusted with such a vital charge. The administration and membership of Caves Valley Golf Club, aware of his status, held a surprise dinner to honor Murphy, one of its own, for being the first Maryland resident to direct the USGA in its 99-year history.

Such elite names, coming from near and far, as Charles Yates, treasurer of the Augusta National Golf Club; Judy Bell, David Fay, Dr. Trey Holland, Vinny Giles and Fred Ridley, all in official capacities with the USGA; Henry Majewski, representing the PGA; Dennis Satyshur, the host professional; and Bill Clarke, retired national president of the PGA of America, gathered to offer testimonials and talk glowingly of Murphy's achievements.

And since former president George Bush, Michael Bonnallack, secretary of the Royal & Ancient Golf Association, Arnold Palmer, Tom Kite, Lee Janzen and Jay Sigel couldn't be there in person, they provided messages via a videotape narrated by announcer Jim McKay, a fellow member of Caves Valley.

"The USGA is lucky to have you as its leader," said Bush. "And if you need a 20-handicapper who can't quite play to it, give me a call." Another golfing president, Bill Clinton, and Gov. William Donald Schaefer, sent written regards.

Bell talked about her first association with Murphy in staging the most successful golf tournament Baltimore has ever known, the 1988 U.S. Women's Open at Baltimore Country Club. "The first time I met Reg I knew he really, really loved golf," commented Bell. "In the 1988 tournament, there was a severe thunder storm at night. I couldn't sleep wondering about playing conditions so at 4:30 a.m. I went to the club.

"The only person there was Reg. He had been napping on a couch and monitoring the weather reports to decide if the course had to be pumped out and what emergency measures were needed."

Fay called Murphy an "innovative traditionalist" and endowed with exceptional judgment. Two years ago at Hazeltine Country Club in Chaska, Minn., lightning killed a spectator. It was a tragic moment. Murphy, then USGA vice president, took on the sensitive obligation to visit the family and offer condolences. "I later rode back to the hotel from the golf course with Reg and he was emotionally and physically drained," explained Holland.

Murphy came to Baltimore in 1981 as publisher of The Sunpapers after holding the position of president/publisher of the San Francisco Examiner and editor of the Atlanta Constitution. A quiet motivator would be one way to describe him. "He's the consummate listener and an expert at it," offered Holland in further assessing the new USGA leader.

When time came for Murphy to respond, he said, "It's a long way from Gainsville [meaning his hometown of Gainsville, Ga.]" . . . and he was talking more than the mere miles logged by the circuitous route he took to the presidency of the USGA. Reg started as a sportswriter, the humblest of beginnings, on the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph and proceeded to build a score of achievements that lifted him to career heights.

Continuing his remarks, Murphy added, "It's impossible for me to articulate my appreciation. But I'm proud of this club [Caves Valley] doing things to honor golf and honor people interested in amateur golf."

Those of dedication who preceded Murphy as head of the USGA will applaud his attitude. The "keeper of the flame," if the record is to be a measuring stick, will set a standard for excellence that may well become a hallmark.

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