Regard the golf ball on the opposite page. And ask any touring professional where it is. Ten to one he will tell you it is in the rough at the U.S. Open, which is exactly where this particular ball was photographed a year ago—during the USGA Open Championship at the Congressional Country Club in Washington, D.C.
It is the rough that distinguishes U.S. Open courses from those on which golf's other major championships are played. In the minds of the competitors it grows as high as an elephant's eye, and it flanks fairways that look no wider than footpaths through the African veldt. Even with large galleries standing only a few yards away, balls have been lost in the Open rough, and sometimes when they have been found players might well have wished they had stayed lost. The pros have a lot of words for the Open rough—most of them short and not carefully chosen—but their sole annual consolation is that they think they know to whom to address the words. It is a singular tribute to a singular man that the golfers call U.S. Open courses Deysville, and that endless locker room conversations begin, "You can tell Joe Dey for me..."
Joseph Charles Dey Jr. is, and has been for 30 years, the executive director of the U.S. Golf Association, which is the ruling body of amateur golf in America. He is a tallish, handsome, dignified, little-known man of courtly manners and quiet graces (you pronounce Dey as in shy) who combines his considerable authority with an ability to wield it well (cross him, and you can pronounce Dey as in dead). He is an anomaly in the modern world: a man of great influence who labors gladly in obscurity, and by moving judiciously and firmly he has become the most powerful individual in American golf. He is to his sport what Secretary McNamara is to the Pentagon, or Will Hays used to be to the movies or Richelieu was to the court of Louis XIII. The public knows of him only as a shadowy figure whose name occasionally gets into the papers along with one of his pronouncements on some sticky problem. Rarely is his picture seen. In golf, however, his voice is from Mount Olympus.
Technically, Joe Dey is no more than the surrogate for the USGA Executive Committee, a body of 15 men who are the overlords of amateur golf. (Professional golf is run by the PGA, but—unlike tennis—the twain do meet in golf, most notably in Opens, tournaments run by the USGA that are, as the name implies, open to both amateurs and professionals.) As the USGA's executive director, Dey administers its business and speaks its corporate mind. Whenever golf or a golfer faces one of the game's infinite quandaries, whether it be at the U.S. Open or during a hotly contested Ladies' Day event at Babbling Brook, the ultimate word must emanate from Golf House, the USGA headquarters in New York where Joe Dey presides.
In the course of a year, Golf House receives more than a thousand formal inquiries—and perhaps twice again that number by telephone—for rulings on some sticky technicality. A caddie has fallen into a bunker with the player's golf clubs before the player has had a chance to hit out. Should the player be penalized two strokes for grounding a club in a hazard? (He should not.) A lady phones to say her club championship has reached the semifinal round with only three players. What should be done? (Play a round robin or decide it by stroke play.) A man in Avon, Conn. makes a hole in one but does not want to buy champagne for everybody. Is he entitled to declare the ball unplayable and take the consequent penalty? (He is not, for the Rules of Golf say that he has completed the hole. Great Britain, however, for years had a "lost in the hole" rule. If the golfer thought his ball was lost and played another it did him no good to later find his first one in the cup.) "I don't know what game that Connecticut gentleman is playing," said Joe Dey, "but it isn't golf."
On a higher, though not necessarily more combative level, there have been rulings at national championships that have had a serious effect on the careers of professional golfers. For instance, during the final round of the 1940 U.S. Open at Canterbury Golf Club in Cleveland, Ed (Porky) Oliver—one of the best-liked tournament pros of the era—had to be disqualified after finishing the 72 holes in a tie with Gene Sarazen and Lawson Little. The group with which Oliver was playing began its afternoon round 32 minutes ahead of its official starting time in order to beat a threatening storm, and the USGA ruled that this had given the players an unfair advantage.
Years later, at the 1957 Women's Open at Winged Foot, Mrs. Jackie Pung, the portly and genial Hawaiian matron, brought home the winning score of 298. But in the excitement and confusion of her victory she signed a faulty scorecard. Her playing partner, who was keeping her score, had mistakenly marked a 5 on a hole where Mrs. Pung had taken a 6. Though the final score of 72 was correctly entered, the Rules called for a disqualification. The USGA championship committee so ordered.
And who has been blamed ever since for the misfortunes that befell these two popular golfers? Why, Joseph C. Dey Jr., of course. Yet Dey is much too loyal a servant of the USGA to ever state publicly how he may feel about such inequities as the Pung case. It is a mark of Dey's fidelity to golf and the USGA that he pleasantly serves as a proxy target for all the brickbats that frustrated and disappointed golfers find reason to throw at the game's Rules, or the USGA's interpretations of them. "I personify the USGA," Joe Dey says, sounding both paternal and philosophical.
Since the day it was first formed in 1894 to conduct a national golf championship, the USGA has been enveloped in an aura of refined gentility. This is largely because its senior officers were and still are almost invariably successful businessmen with proper social credentials. Joe Dey blends comfortably into this background. He wears the soft-spoken suits and the button-down Brooks Brothers shirts of the Eastern Establishment, and he spent enough time at country clubs to get his own handicap down to 10. He and his wife, Rosalie, herself once a topflight amateur golfer, live in the unimpeachable Long Island community of Locust Valley. When his work forces Dey to remain overnight in town, as it often does, he takes a room at the Union League Club, a fortress of conservatism. After 57 years, there are just the right threads of gray in Dey's dark-brown hair and just enough of a weathered look at the lines about his clear brown eyes. There is no mistaking him as anything but a low-key, well-bred gentleman of the old school. You would no more argue with him than argue with Harvard, which is exactly the image the USGA wants to project.
Dey's devotion to golf is of an almost religious intensity, and the fundamental tenet of his gospel is that amateurism is the heart of the game. As he frequently points out, only a fraction of the nation's millions of golfers play for prize money. "Without the spirit of the game, what would the game be?" Dey has written. "The world sorely needs good fellowship and fair play among men. Sport helps us learn them. Consideration of the other fellow is part of the code of golf.... How the game is played is the main concern of the USGA."