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News & Notes
Edited by Kevin Cook
October 12, 1998
Heavy HitterLawyer Leonard Decof makes a practice of winning golf's legal wars
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October 12, 1998

News & Notes

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Thirtysomething

Only the top 30 money winners play in the season-ending Tour Championship on Oct. 29-Nov. 1 at Atlanta's East Lake Club. With three weeks left for players to qualify, these are the men on the bubble.

 

PLAYER

EARNINGS

LAST FIVE

25

Jeff Maggert

$908,164

$163,490

26

Bob Estes

906,784

97,233

27

Tom Watson

897,385

421,612

28

Tom Lehman

894,214

246,892

29

Andrew Magee

871,502

141,282

30

Bob Tway

850,824

147,866

31

Trevor Dodds

785,250

51,162

32

Stewart Cink

783,941

56,943

33

Skip Kendall

777,087

109,519

34

Steve Flesch

772,372

64,804

35

Ernie Els

763,783

96,145

36

Steve Jones

727,344

129,282

37

Stuart Appleby

717,962

88,625

38

Steve Pate

713,904

55,654

39

Chris Perry

710,806

435,950

40

Steve Elkington

695,775

532,361

Heavy Hitter
Lawyer Leonard Decof makes a practice of winning golf's legal wars

At 10:15 on a recent Friday morning, Leonard Decof swiveled in a maroon leather chair in his Providence law office. Decof, 74, picked a phone message off his desk. He turned to his window with its view of Rhode Island's gleaming white capitol dome. " Norman called again," he said. Decof was on the phone to his client Danny Edwards, president of the upstart Tour Players Association ( TPA). "Greg's very interested in joining," Decof said.

Edwards had news of his own: PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem had agreed to a meeting with him and TPA secretary Larry Rinker. "What should we do?" Edwards asked.

"Meet him," Decof said. "Stay patient, stay relaxed and everything will be fine."

Decof, golf's unbeaten legal heavyweight, led Karsten Manufacturing against the Tour and the USGA in the square-grooves case that began in 1989 and lasted until '94. He advised Casey Martin's legal team and recently became Callaway's hired gun in its fight with the USGA over high-tech equipment. He helped draft the LPGA constitution. All this golf action has come toward the end of a 45-year career that includes a 3-0 record in cases argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. Now Decof works for the TPA, which he sees as the cure for what ails the Tour. "There's too much griping between players and the administration," he says. "Everybody needs an association. If Steven Spielberg isn't too big to join the Directors' Guild, who's to say Davis Love doesn't need the TPA?"

Love, for one. "What are they going to do, overthrow the Tour?" Love asked at last week's Buick Challenge. One of four player-directors on the Tour's nine-man policy board, Love calls Edwards and Rinker "divisive players" but goes on to say, "If Danny wants my spot on the board, he can have it" Of the TPA, he says, "We want their input. We want them to know that the Tour works for them, but they can't seem to get that through their heads."

Like Love, David Duval wonders why the TPA's leaders are rocking the boat. "They say they don't want to be confrontational," Duval says. "Then they hire a lawyer who has a history of being confrontational with the Tour."

Golfers including Norman, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer have challenged the Tourocracy in the past 20 years, but each insurrection fizzled out. "The difference this time is Leonard Decof," Edwards says. "Nobody knows more about the inner workings of the Tour."

The lawyer was always a harder. He was born on the kitchen table of his parents' tiny apartment in Providence. His mother, an immigrant from Russia, was a department-store cashier. His father drove a taxi. Decof attended Yale, served as a first lieutenant in the Marines during World War II, then graduated from Harvard Law School. He became a leading medical malpractice lawyer and in 1984 won a $20 million judgment from Goodyear for the family of Mark Donohue, the race car driver who was killed in a 1975 crash.

Decof developed a golfing clientele by accident. As a member at Frenchman's Creek Country Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., in the 1970s, he befriended Gardner Dickinson, the head pro and former Tour player, and Dickinson's pals Nicklaus and Sam Snead. Soon the pros were turning to him for legal help. In the early '80s Decof helped get the Senior tour started by negotiating for the players with Tour commissioner Deane Beman. (Finchem, Decof says, "isn't as reactionary as Beman, but you have to remember that Finchem is of the system. He came up under Beman.") Since then, Decof has advised Snead, Jerry Barber, Chip Beck, Doug Ford and Bob Gilder on legal matters, and helped Nicklaus and Jim Flick launch their golf schools.

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