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Amateur golf needs Mike Whan

Though USGA plucks its new boss from a major pro tour, Whan can redirect governing body's focus on professionals, reader contends

Mike Whan is the new USGA head (“USGA introduces Mike Whan as CEO,” Feb. 18). That got me thinking about the USGA in general.

I suppose his hiring is a good thing. Whan helped the LPGA improve its financial situation with more tournaments and better purses, and he probably will improve his financial situation with his move to the USGA. 

It's interesting that the USGA, the arbiter of the amateur game, has chosen its next leader from the world of professional golf. Perhaps, though, it makes sense, since increasingly the USGA seems more concerned with professional golf and its feeder system, the tournaments for elite amateurs that the USGA runs. The issues that seem to obsess the USGA, especially distance, seem to chiefly apply to these groups. 

The USGA governs amateur golf in the United States and Mexico. That its rules apply at PGA Tour events and the Masters is simply a courtesy on their part, and in the case of the PGA Tour, it might soon choose to tweak some of those rules. How about the rest of us, the real amateurs, the vast majority of golfers who don't fit into that elite group, the men, women and kids who just enjoy playing the greatest game ever? Most of them don't have handicaps, perhaps making them invisible to the powers-that-be, but amazingly you don't have to have a handicap to play and enjoy this game. 

The USGA provides the rules, and it could do a better job there. The turf research that it sponsors is valuable to course operations, especially if you're building a new course or renovating an old one. As courses face demand to lower chemical and especially water usage, the USGA research in these areas will be important for all of golf. The USGA also professes to “grow the game.” Or does it? The First Tee and Kids on Course are excellent programs, but if you asked anyone who was not involved in golf about them, they likely wouldn't know what you're talking about. 

I give the USGA a B-minus on the rules. Ditch the stroke-and-distance penalty, guys. It'll speed up play and make the game a little more fun. As for the turf and maintenance program research support, that's good for everybody. C or even C-minus for growing the game.

The USGA needs to do a better job of bringing the message about these excellent programs to kids whose parents don't know about golf. Free up some of that U.S. Open money to promote the programs in middle and high schools everywhere. Yes, it’s a little more complicated than that, but the pandemic has shown that kids can be interested in golf and not just baseball, football, basketball and other sports heavily promoted in schools and municipal recreation centers. It's harder than setting up U.S. Open courses but more rewarding for the game in the long run. 

Good luck, Mike Whan. Amateur golf could use a smart, innovative leader. 

Blaine Walker
St. Paul, Minn.

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