When Joseph C. Dey Jr. resigned last January as executive director of the United States Golf Association a good many people—some but not all of them outside the hallowed grounds of the golf establishment—wondered if the power and glory of the USGA might go right along with him. It was not an unreasonable reaction. For 34 years—since Dey joined the organization, whose staff, at the time, consisted of himself and two secretaries working in two rooms over a bank in New York City—the USGA, in the public mind at least, was Joe Dey.
In his three decades as potentate of amateur golf Dey was the force behind much of the growth and improvement in the organization of the game: the membership roster of the USGA quadrupled to more than 3,700 clubs; the number of annual championship tournaments conducted by the association was raised from four to nine and the international competitions from two to six; and the prize money in the U.S. Open multiplied 40-fold, from $5,000 in 1934 when Olin Dutra won at Merion to $200,000, the figure that will be divided up in Houston this week. Dey was also responsible for moving the USGA into the publications business, into movie production and, most important of all, out of its parochial Eastern attitudes. He invested it with a laudable sense of geography. In 1936 all four USGA championships—the Open, Amateur, Women's Amateur and Public Links—were played within the Metropolitan New York area. This summer the nine championships are dispersed in equal measure across the land from Erie, Pa. to Spokane.
All of this done, Dey left four months ago to become the much-heralded "czar" of the PGA tour and, as will happen when monarchs of like reputation depart (will the FBI lose the trail when J. Edgar quits?), serious questions regarding the future welfare of amateur golf were in order.
But while heavy rains have taxed the drainage system of the basement at Golf House (the charming town-house headquarters of the USGA in Manhattan) and while just the other day a man delivered burial flowers to the place thinking it a funeral home, the USGA is—honest—alive, well and in the capable hands of P. J. Boatwright Jr. ("All right with Boatwright," as they might, but don't, say in the quiet rooms of Golf House.)
P. J. Boatwright Jr. is a tall (like Joe Dey), handsome (like Joe Dey) man, with a lofty, dignified manner (like Joe Dey), who wears the muted suits and button-downs of Brooks Brothers (like Joe Dey) and handles his position with a strict adherence to The Right Way of Doing Things (just like Joe Dey), which is all as it should be. He has been Dey's assistant for nine years, studying at the knee of the master, learning the nuances of the organization and its main job, preparing himself and specializing in interpretation of the Rules of Golf. He was a participant in the last two quadrennial conferences between the USGA and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (the only other rule-making body in the world) and has drafted most of the rule decisions handed down by the USGA in recent years.
Though Boatwright's name is not a clubhousehold word, this is a year for that kind. P. J. ("Purvis James—I don't usually tell people that") is known well enough in the circles that count. He has been making speeches throughout his tenure as assistant director of the USGA so that officers of state golf associations easily identify with him. He has been the presiding USGA staff member at the annual Boys' Junior tournament, so many of the younger pros on the tour remember him. And anyone who has played in a U.S. Open in the past nine years also would recognize P. J. Boatwright. His was the voice that said "Play away, please" on No. 1 and his the hand that took the scorecards on No. 18. In toto, P. J. Boatwright has been there.
Additionally, Boatwright is probably the best player ever to hold a high office in golf's officialdom. A native of Augusta, Ga., he developed into a fine amateur while a student at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. In the 1950s he won the Carolina Open twice and Carolina Amateur once. He holds two of the five course records at Pinehurst. He was medalist in the 1948 Southern Intercollegiate over such names as Art Wall and Mike Souchak and later appeared in three U.S. Amateurs and the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion, where he made the cut despite a 6 on the opening hole and a near trampling later at the 14th.
"I had my ball up and ready on 14 tee," Boatwright recalls, "and then here came Ben Hogan, the year of his great comeback, up the 18th. There were no ropes up then, and Hogan's gallery stormed over the tee, knocked my ball down and just about chased me off the course."
Boatwright, 41, now lives with his wife Nancy, their son and two daughters in Westport, Conn., a grand bastion of social credentials situated on Long Island Sound and featuring a community-owned golf club—Long Shore—where P. J. does not often get time to play anymore. His handicap still hovers around 3, but he is more interested these days in the development of his 13-year-old son, Purvis James Boatwright III, who took up golf last year and now shoots in the 70s.
In the soft, mellow tones of his native South, Boatwright talks of his new position with little awe but great respect for his predecessor, Dey. "I think my influence will be the same as Joe's was," Boatwright says, "and I mean right away. It's the nature of the job."