Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches

PGA National (Champion Course)


Frank Hannigan: Words From The Wise

March 21, 2014

I broke my hip last summer. I was recovering in normal fashion, then I got up in the middle of the night and fell down. Although I didn't break anything, it has triggered real discomfort. I exist on banned substances.

Somebody once described me as the best 11-year old baseball player on Staten Island. Unfortunately, I was washed up in a couple of years.

When I was a boy, they had a belief that kids who did very well in school should be advanced quickly. So I was skipped three times and had just turned 16 when I got out of high school. I majored in English at the local college, Wagner. I was totally infatuated with basketball. As a senior, I was seventh or eighth man on a pretty good little team.

I had discovered golf on Staten Island when I was 14 at Silver Lake, one of the courses owned by the city of New York. I had wooden-shafted clubs I had gotten from my mother's boss. I eventually got hooked on golf the same as anybody else -- the feel of the game, the occasional good shot. And there was the camaraderie.

On New Year's Eve in 1960, I was on the Staten Island Ferry going to see the final of the Holiday Festival basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden. There was an ad in the classifieds: Golf Editor Wanted.

__ I was interviewed__ by Joe Dey at USGA headquarters at 40 E. 38th Street. He asked me if I knew the Rules of Golf. I said, "Sure." I had been endorsed by two big newspaper writers, Lincoln Werden of the Times and Dana Mozley of the Daily News. Mr. Dey told me very quickly I was hired.

Joe Dey came to personify the USGA, but he had some strange ideas. He proposed to me that the U.S. Open be a three-week operation -- tournaments in the East, Midwest and West, a 216-hole event. In his mind it would make the Open bigger and better, and the more holes, the more likely the best player would win.

__ I think of the Rules__ of Golf as probably the USGA's greatest success. They have no power to enforce anything. All they can do is make sure the rules are used at their national championships. Everybody else can do whatever the hell they want. The fact that they don't speaks well for the USGA.

The USGA adheres to a structure that is totally out of date. All power is granted to the volunteer executive committee. It is absurd to say the president, who has a full-time job and may live 2,000 miles away from Golf House, is the chief executive officer.

Glen Nager, the current president, seems to get high marks. After this year he'll be gone. Who the hell ever heard of an organization where the CEO is regarded as a great success, and he's gone after two years? It's nutty.

From afar, it seemed that in the 1990s things at the USGA were a mess internally. With a different kind of structure, it's possible they might have acted more positively and forcefully on what I think is a tremendous USGA failure on the explosion of distance through equipment.

What made a big difference was the almost accidental discovery by Japanese manufacturers that the very thin-faced metal drivers had this excessive spring-like effect. The spring-like effect would have been very hard to handle, but the USGA should have been willing to risk big-time litigation. As for the golf ball, they could see that coming. Frank Thomas had been talking in my time there that the balata ball was coming to an end.

Contrary to what people may think, the USGA has no responsibility to grow the game. There has never been a successful attempt by any entity that really caused more people to play golf.

The country has changed dramatically. There was a time on Saturday morning the father of the house would throw his clubs in the trunk at 8 o'clock and say, "See you for dinner." Not now, because the wife has worked all week too.

When I was executive director, the 1986 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills was a huge success. I'm enormously proud of that. They had an absolute disaster at Shinnecock in 2004. I simply don't understand what happened. You water the damn golf course.

I was in the scoring tent at the Open for many years. On the first day at Hazeltine in 1970, when everybody was shooting 79 or 80, Sam Snead was paired with Lee Trevino. They do the scorecards. Snead gets up and Trevino says instantly, "You haven't signed your card." Sam signs the card, and Lee says, "If I've got to come back tomorrow, he's got to come back."

Byron Nelson was the sanest great golfer I've met.

__ I was responsible__ for Judy Rankin being on TV. She made an appearance on ABC's 1984 U.S. Women's Open broadcast. The next winter I lobbied long and hard for ABC to hire Judy as an on-course announcer. I thought she was good, and I thought it was damn well past time to have a woman on the broadcast.

Sometimes I feel very good about my career, about all of it. Sometimes I feel it was monumentally trivial, the whole damn thing.