Mexico Open at Vidanta

Vidanta Vallarta


The USGA wants your nomination for its highest honor

October 17, 2019
Screen Shot 2019-10-17 at 1.51.23 PM.png

Before the United States Golf Association made the final decisions on the rules overhaul that brought us flagstick-in putting, knee-height drops and common sense about accidentally moving balls, the governing body asked golfers to email suggestions. My idea to grant every golfer a set number of minutes to search for lost balls per round (find that opening snap-hook into the pine straw quickly, then bank that extra time to comb the wet fescue behind 18 green when your match or score is really on the line) was not adopted, but I’m not aggrieved. As cathartic as it would’ve felt to inform a playing partner looking for his 10th lost ball of the day he has only five seconds, it’s impractical to ask everyday golfers to administer a running clock.

I bring it up again only because I have an excuse. The news is, in this same spirit of soliciting feedback from the golf community, the USGA is now asking for nominations for its Bob Jones Award. This is a big deal. Although the actual trophy, a bronze statuette of the great amateur from Atlanta who won the Grand Slam in 1930 and co-founded Augusta National, is much smaller than the U.S. Open trophy, the Bob Jones is unquestionably the highest honor the organization bestows.

“Presented since 1955, the Bob Jones Award highlights the most noteworthy demonstrations of sportsmanship in golf, and celebrates those individuals who, in the spirit of its namesake, have displayed character, integrity and respect while playing the game. Beyond his playing career—with a record-tying nine USGA championship titles—Jones embodied the game’s values throughout his life.” This is the official language from the USGA.

Put another way, there are a lot of people who’ve won and will win the U.S. Open who will never win the Bob Jones Award. A complete list of winners can be found here. There are the usual legendary pros (Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Peggy Kirk Bell), but also some names less well-known, like senior amateur champ and volunteer Gordon Brewer Jr., or philanthropist Tom Cousins.

“The recipients of this award ultimately tell the story of what greatness truly means, and better than we could describe,” says Mike Davis, CEO of the USGA. “These people are the gold standard for character, whose values exemplify all that is good in golf. These people should be celebrated at the highest level, and their stories need to be told.”

So who are you going to nominate?

How about Mike Keiser? The greeting-card magnate turned golf-course developer brought us Bandon Dunes and Cabot and more, with more on the way. As Golf Digest senior editor of architecture Ron Whitten wrote in our August issue, Keiser “made golf great again, at a time when many were predicting its decline and fall. At the start of this century, Keiser redefined public golf as immersive and escapist. He built layouts on the fringes of continents, enormous sandboxes where grown-ups can decompress in weeklong sessions, playing two or even three rounds every day. It’s an exhausting yet exhilarating pursuit, the perfect remedy for 21st-century angst.” By insisting on walking, Keiser has also done more than anyone to get physically capable golfers to reconsider mindlessly jumping into carts. That alone is worth the honor in my book.

You might notice Lee Trevino’s name is missing from the list of recipients. If we’re talking about character, arguably no one rose higher from less. Working in the cotton fields of Texas when peers were starting kindergarten, hustling as a caddie and gambler out of pure necessity, to somehow become a six-time major champion and inspiration to all of Mexico, well, what a man.

What about Kelly Slater? Sure, the scratch player has only devoted his life to golf recently, logging about 150 rounds a year. But by exporting traditional discipline, focus and sportsmanship to the surfing world, no one has carried the values of golf farther. Culturally, getting golf clubs into the hands of new action sports stars like Evan Geiselman and Sean Malto is more impressive than Alan Shepard bringing a 6-iron to the moon.

A college golf coach has never won the Bob Jones Award. I’d eagerly nominate our former longtime assistant at Washington & Lee University, the most inspiring and devoted guy to ever rock a ponytail at a Division III tournament, but his case for greatness is shaky and my play certainly didn’t help. So how about Mike Holder, who was head coach of the Oklahoma State University men’s golf program for 32 years before becoming athletic director, and who led the team to eight national-championship titles? In addition to producing a long list of tour players, Holder has coached more than 100 All-Americans. Perhaps most important, he led the fundraising effort to build Karsten Creek Golf Course, a premier venue that raised the standard for collegiate golf facilities. Rickie Fowler, Peter Uihlein, Matthew Wolff and Viktor Hovland were coached by Holder’s successor, Alan Bratton, but their allegiance to the school is a testament to the environment Holder continues to shape.

But never mind who I’m considering. Who are you going to nominate? Think fast, because you have only a week. The deadline for submissions closes at 5 p.m. Oct 25. Email with a golfer’s name and all the good reasons.

The 2020 Bob Jones recipient will be announced in January and will be formally honored during the week of the 120th U.S. Open Championship, June 15-21, at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y.