February 4, 2016

What Diana Murphy hopes we're talking about as she takes over as USGA president

CORONADO, Calif. -- Perhaps some day Diana Murphy will be known as the Buzz Aldrin of the USGA, or the Monty Ward.

Aldrin was the second man to walk on the moon, following in the footsteps of Neil Armstrong. And Ward was the second to pitch a perfect game in major league baseball, after the immortal Lee Richmond (OK, maybe Richmond isn’t as famous as Armstrong).

Come Saturday at the USGA Annual Meeting near San Diego, Murphy will become the second female president of the governing body, 20 years after Judy Bell.

USGA/Chris Keane

There is, however, a chance Murphy’s brush with near-history will be more akin to those of Ben Hogan and Mickey Wright. Hogan was the second man to complete the career professional Grand Slam, after Gene Sarazen, and Wright was the second woman, after Louise Suggs. While Aldrin and Ward are footnotes to history, Hogan and Wright are in the conversation when talk turns to the best ever in men’s and women’s golf.

The one thing clear is that Murphy is hoping to be remembered for her governing skills not her gender.

“I want to be the right person for the job, not the right girl,” Murphy, 59, recently told GolfDigest.com. “This is not about me, this is about the USGA and doing what is best for the game of golf.”

From talking with Murphy you get the feeling she wants to be like the perfect USGA rules official or baseball umpire: So good at what she does you don’t even notice she’s there.

Two strong women—her mother and maternal grandmother—raised Murphy, whose father died when she was a child, in a West Virginia coal-mining town. Like Bell, Murphy has the strength of her convictions and a passion for golf.

The topics of the seminars here Saturday give indication of Murphy’s priorities. One is “Rules and Beyond: The Future of Governance.” This hints at the USGA’s effort to better explain its role and why things such as the recently enacted ban on the anchored putting stroke and the ban on solo-round scores for handicap purposes are good for the game.

The other session is “Golf and Water in California: The Game as a Responsible Neighbor.” This brings the USGA down to face real issues, another step toward dispelling the association’s image as blue bloods in blue blazers out of touch with the rank-and-file golfer.

And then there is Murphy’s gender. It does send the right message at the right time. Inclusion is a crucial image to put forth at a time when growth of the game is stagnant.

With youth football in decline because of concussion fears and youth soccer banning headers because of the same concerns, there is an opportunity for golf to grow. It needs leadership that exploits the opportunity.

Murphy’s husband, Reg Murphy, was the USGA president who immediately preceded Bell, serving in 1994-’95, giving Diana’s ascension an odd symmetry. Not only is she the second woman to serve as USGA president, she’s the second person in her household.

So will it be Buzz and Monty or Ben and Mickey? We’ll find out over the next two years. For Murphy, the measuring stick will be whether she left the game in a better place.