• Nick Price: Shaking the bag

    Nick Price
    Ready for change

    Nick Price, the ever-popular US-based Zimbabwean, has a new purpose – and golf is the winner, writes MICHAEL VLISMAS in Compleat Golfer.

    Relax. Your game is in good hands. Yes, it’s changing. But it’s all going to be OK. Nick Price says so, and that’s all you need to know.

    As he speaks from his home in Florida, the calmness Price brings to our discussion around where golf is headed, where the United States Golf Association (USGA) is headed and where the US Open is headed makes it feel as if he is in the room right next to you with a hand on your shoulder saying, ‘Don’t worry. We love the game as much as you do, and we’ve got this.’

    And it’s exactly this measured demeanour, combined with a wealth of experience at the highest level of the game, that made USGA executive director Mike Davis and his team do something unique in golf by appointing Price to their executive committee.

    This is the first time the USGA has a professional golfer of Price’s stature – three-time Major winner, World Golf Hall of Famer, former world No 1 and former Presidents Cup International team captain to name a few – sitting on its executive.

    ‘The world is changing at a faster rate than it’s ever done. We’re all running at a frantic pace out there. And the game
    is changing too. We’ve got to figure out if it’s changing the right way,’ says Price, as he sums up what he hopes to bring
    to his new role.

    ‘I think the next four or five years in golf will be very important. Whether you talk about equipment, access to the sport for underprivileged kids, the expense of the game – there are a lot of factors in golf that are coming to a head.

    ‘There are no major problems in golf right now. It’s just a question of whether we’re on the right track and are decisions being made for the good of the game in the long term? It’s about the health and wellness of golf in the future. How do we keep this great game attractive to everybody? How do we help improve access to golf for people with very little money? Where are Millennials going to play golf? Are they going for virtual golf or to TopGolf facilities? These are things we need to look at.

    ‘We had the recession of 2008 and a lot of courses closed down, and so many others are struggling to make ends meet. The last thing we need is for courses to shut down. We’re trying to grow the game because it has been static. But these are all factors we need to address in unison.’

    And it’s in this area in particular – communication between all the vested parties in golf – that Price believes he
    can make a very real difference.

    ‘One of the things I was keen on doing was to bridge the gap between the USGA and pro golfers. There’s always been a
    bit of animosity between the two, along with a misunderstanding and a lack of direct communication. It’s nobody’s
    fault other than there hasn’t been anybody there to bridge that gap.

    ‘I’d like to show pro golfers that the USGA is not the enemy. They are the guardians of the game and they make decisions on the game, but they also want to listen to what everybody has to say. There needs to be more communication. They have a great rapport with the R&A and that’s always been the case.

    ‘But a lot of people have a substantial amount invested in this game, be it the pros or equipment companies and so on.

    ‘I think the USGA has done a wonderful job in recent years of trying to communicate better, and that’s a positive thing. Having met with everyone on the USGA executive committee and knowing all of them, I can tell you there are some incredibly smart people when it comes to organisational skills, marketing and technical elements. And every single one of them has their heart in the right place. They want to do what’s best for the game, and that’s impressed me most. There are no hidden agendas. They’re a great bunch of people who are misunderstood because of a lack of effective communication between the parties.

    ‘Changing this won’t happen overnight. But it is going in the right direction. I think Mike Davis has done a wonderful job of restructuring the USGA, and it will pay dividends for him and the game soon.’

    The US Open is often the greatest touchstone reflecting sentiment around the USGA, particularly among the professionals. Even here, Price is going to have immediate input. At the beginning of May, he was ready to join the USGA’s advance party to Shinnecock Hills, which included a walk of the course with Davis to see what needed to be improved upon for the championship and consult on elements of course set-up.

    And he once again brings perspective to an event that has had some controversial moments when it comes to course set-up.

    ‘I think the USGA wants the US Open to be a very good test of golf where all the clubs in the bag are used, and where there aren’t any negative issues with the golf course.

    ‘Every Major evolves as time goes by. Look at how The Open Championship and The Masters have evolved. All of
    them change, and the courses and the game change. And consider this. This year it will have been 14 years since the
    US Open was last played at Shinnecock. Just think how much has changed in the game and in the USGA in 14 years. It’s a different championship in that sense.

    ‘The USGA tries to stay ahead of the game, and when it comes to the US Open, the challenge is to keep figuring out what is going to make the course a great test for the players and what is going to keep the US Open as the ultimate test of golf.

    ‘Yes, the USGA has perhaps gone very close to the edge where it’s become questionable as to how the course is set
    up. But it’s hard to get a course on that edge without sometimes going over it. Weather has such a huge part to do with it when the set-ups have been questionable. When Tom Kite won at Pebble Beach in 1992, the wind blew so hard and the greens became very difficult. Nobody can help that. And nobody at the USGA does that with any intention of creating ill will. That’s something that’s misunderstood by a lot of players.’

    As much as he had his own trials and frustrations with the US Open in his playing career, Price believes there are certain non-negotiables when it comes to the course set-up of this – or any other – Major.

    ‘Every Major should have a firmness to the golf course which penalises errant shots. Golf is two games. It’s played in the air and on the ground. The best golf courses test both of those. I think it’s going to be important to get firmness on the fairways. I’m not saying they must be like concrete, but if you mis-hit a shot, it must run off just like the links courses.

    ‘One of the things I learned only towards the end of my career is that a US Open is a test of patience. I realised I was going to make bogeys and would hit good shots that may end up bad. The golfers who lose their patience will always struggle to win at a US Open. It’s not a regular Tour event. It’s not the course guys are going to overpower. Par is always a very good score at the US Open.’

    In just the short time we’ve spoken, you can see why long dinners and lunches or golf games between Price and Davis could have contained equally long and stimulating discussions, debates and even a few arguments about a passion shared by both these men – what’s good for the game of golf?

    ‘Mike and I have been friends for a number of years and have always shared ideas of what’s happening to the game and how it’s changing.

    ‘This new role is an exciting thing for me to be involved in. If I can contribute in even the smallest way to helping make
    the game better, that’s also exciting.’

    What was just an offer to be a friend to bounce ideas off every now and then very quickly became one of the most unique positions in golf for Price.

    ‘I went from offering my services to jumping in boots and all. It was a surprise and a huge honour. I’m in a different situation than I’ve ever been in my life before.’

    And you can rest assured, fellow golfer, your game is going to be much better for it.

    – This article first appeared in the June issue of Compleat Golfer, now on sale!

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