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Around the Block with Joe Dey Jr.
May 06, 2008
The only man to serve as head of the R&A, the USGA and the PGA Tour reflects on hard decisions, Ben Hogan's chattiness and the unquestionable sanctity of the Rules of Golf
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May 06, 2008

Around The Block With Joe Dey Jr.

The only man to serve as head of the R&A, the USGA and the PGA Tour reflects on hard decisions, Ben Hogan's chattiness and the unquestionable sanctity of the Rules of Golf

THE GHOST OF Joe Dey Jr. arrived at the stroke of midnight, bearing paperwork. "I'll grant an interview," he said, standing in the shadows by my desk, "but you need to fill this out first." He handed me a battered old clipboard and a golf pencil sharpened to a needle point. � "None of the other golf ghosts asked me to sign in," I said, casting a nervous eye on a two-page form titled GGA FIELD RELEASE AND WAIVER. � "That doesn't surprise me," said Dey. He put his finger on a line marked INTERVIEWEE. "My name goes there. And it's pronounced die." He gave me a stern look, as if he expected me to make a joke. � Dey's appearance disinclined me to do so. A tall ghost with the erect posture of a military man, he wore a dark blazer over a crisp white shirt and striped tie. His raven hair was combed back from a square forehead. His eyes, under thick eyebrows, looked as if they could see through walls—or people.

I scribbled my signature and handed him the clipboard.

"Let's walk," he said. I grabbed a reporter's notebook and followed him to the patio doors, which, in classic ghost fashion, he passed through without opening. (He waited outside in the dark while I fiddled with the locks and slid back the screen and glass doors.) He then circled around the house and up the driveway. I chased after him, catching up as he crossed the sidewalk into the street, where, to my consternation, he turned left and continued walking. "Play away!" he said in a jovial tone.

It wasn't until I noticed his USGA RULES armband that I got it. Dey was executive director of the U.S. Golf Association from 1934 to 1969, and in that capacity he had sent competitors off the 1st tee of major championships and walked the fairways as golf's most respected rules official. He had also served five years, from '69 to '74, as the PGA Tour's first commissioner, a tenure that saw one of his ideas—a Tournament Players Championship—germinate into the so-called fifth major that we now call the Players.

"I was a sportswriter myself," he said, slowing to let me catch up. "I covered the final leg of Bobby Jones's Grand Slam in 1930."

"You were at Merion?" I opened my notebook and uncapped my pen.

"My job that week was to describe every shot Jones hit. I had a pad of paper and a relay of caddies. I'd write the text for each hole and then give it to a kid who legged it to the pressroom, where a telegrapher sent it into the office. It was a great experience."

It wasn't easy writing while walking. Some light from the street lamps filtered down through the pin oaks and maples, but I kept turning my head to see if any cars were coming.

"And you know," Dey continued, "I walked the final 36 holes with Ken Venturi when he won at Congressional in '64."

I thought it was my imagination, but the brick and clapboard houses on either side of us seemed to recede into the night, replaced by ranks of luminescent spectators. A phantom golfer, woozy with heat exhaustion, walked beside a dapper Dey, whose clipboard had become a shooting stick. But just as quickly, the first phantom vanished and another appeared, a man in a white cap keeping up with the unchanged Dey's purposeful stride.

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