It’s not every day that incoming and outgoing chief executives get a quiet moment to sit down and compare notes on career decisions, favorite music and movies, even their guilty pleasures. But that’s the position in which Mike Whan (the outgoing LPGA commissioner and incoming USGA chief executive officer) and Mike Davis (Whan’s USGA predecessor) found themselves in a couple of weeks ago in San Francisco.
Seated face to face in a room at the Olympic Club’s City Clubhouse, about 10 miles north of the U.S. Women’s Open venue, two of the game’s power brokers candidly riffed on childhood jobs, golf rules and etiquette, the joy of Coke Zero and thin-crust pizza — and one unforgettable flight to Singapore. Over the course of about 20 minutes, Whan and Davis shared insights, opinions, memories and more than a few laughs.
You can read their conversation below (it has been lightly edited for clarity), or check out the video above.
WHAN: Mulligan off the first tee, yes or no?
DAVIS: Absolutely no. Haven’t hit a mulligan in about 10 years.
WHAN: I can see how much we’re not gonna agree. Your turn. [Laughs]
DAVIS: Have you ever thrown a golf club?
WHAN: Last week. My 6-iron throw was beautiful, right to left. The shot that preceded it was not so beautiful. [Laughs]
DAVIS: Very good.
WHAN: Burger and beer at the turn? Or granola bar and Gatorade?
DAVIS: Sadly, it’s the former. I’ll leave it at that. [Laughs] What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
WHAN: Thin-crust pizza. My wife and I are kind of on this sugar-busters thing for the last few years. One of the things you can’t have is dough. You know, bread and dough. So I get a thin-crust pizza because I tell her that’s really not that much dough. But I’ll eat a full, large thin crust by myself.
DAVIS: That’s not so bad for a guiltiest pleasure. [Laughs] I thought you were gonna go down another path.
WHAN: What’s the one shot that makes you the most nervous to hit?
DAVIS: Without a doubt, put me on a tight lie, having to hit a pitch shot over a bunker. All I will say, don’t stand on the other side of the playing stick. [Laughs]
DAVIS: Who’s in your dream foursome?
WHAN: Oh, easy question for me. Austin Whan, Conner Whan, Wesley Whan, my three boys. I get to do it about once a year on Thanksgiving Day. You know people always tell you about who you most wanna play with, and as you and I know, we’ve had a chance to play with some pretty impressive golfers. But there’s no better day than my three boys.
DAVIS: Very neat.
WHAN: Favorite golf format, Mike?
DAVIS: Foursome, match play. In other words, alternate shot. It is great. I don’t know why it’s not played more in the United States. If our country could play more alternate shot — it is such a strategic thing. Some people call it the “I’m sorry” format, because—
WHAN: —because you’re always saying it. After about six questions, we have an answer we both agree on. [Laughs] You’re up.
DAVIS: Last book you read?
WHAN: The Wager, by a friend of mine named Kerry Casey. It’s about a golf bet that involves the LPGA. He would text me every couple of weeks and ask questions about golf and rules and LPGA formats. I never knew what exactly he was up to. And then about seven months later, he mailed me the book. I read it the last month.
DAVIS: Have to put that on my list.
WHAN: First concert you ever attended?
DAVIS: Assuming you’re not including my disastrous first grade piano recital—
WHAN: Is that on film, by the way?
DAVIS: —which was terrible. [Laughs] My mother made me quit after the first year I was so bad. I think my first concert was in 9th grade — I went to see the Eagles.
WHAN: Oh, solid. Two questions we agree on.
DAVIS: Greatest golf shot you ever witnessed in person?
WHAN: We both have seen a lot of incredible golf. I’ve been really lucky to have a front-row seat to a lot of different shots. I actually can’t tell you the player, but it was our first competition back from Covid.
We were at Inverness, in Toledo. A young player, who I didn’t know from Japan, she’s in a fairway bunker. She’s not very tall, the fairway bunker is. She asked her caddie for a hybrid. So the ball’s up here [raises his hand], she’s standing in the sand, and she’s 220 to the thing.
I’m thinking, What’s she going to use? Punch a little hybrid down there 15 yards?” She takes a full swing, swings it out right to left, it stops five yards [from the hole]. It’s Covid, right? No fans. Only staff there. Her caddie looks at me, I look at her caddie, and we’re both thinking, No one will ever see the shot we just saw. It was the greatest golf shot I’ve ever seen. You couldn’t replicate that if you had a hundred shots at it.
DAVIS: I was just thinking about that no one will ever see it. So my father, a pretty good golfer, wasn’t until later in life, he had had his first hole in one. Calls me up — he lives in Pennsylvania — and says, “Mike, I finally hit my first hole in one.” I said, “Dad, who are you playing with?”
WHAN: Nobody there?
DAVIS: “Eh, I was playing by myself,” he said. This even goes further. So I was relatively new with the USGA and getting good with the rules. He says to me, “Yeah, I caught a good February day — 40-some degrees — but there was still ice in the hole. It went in the hole, but it wasn’t the whole way below the lip.” I said, “Dad, if it wasn’t in the hole, it wasn’t a hole in one.” [Laughs]
WHAN: It’s good to know you hold the rules against everybody equally.
DAVIS: That’s right.
WHAN: What’s the most underrated golf course you ever played?
DAVIS: Santa Claus Golf Club. It’s in northern Finland, right up on the Arctic Circle. I went there probably 10 years ago; I was speaking in Helsinki. We went up and we played snow golf. It was the funnest thing I think I’ve ever done in golf. It was just great. The greens are not called greens, they’re called whites.
And when you hit it out into the so-called rough — you’re using orange balls, by the way — it disappears in the snow. The greens probably putted 10, 11 on the Stimpmeter. It has to be the right temperature, where [the greens] get a little glaze to them. Never thought I’d be up above the Arctic Circle playing golf.
Never thought I’d be up above the Arctic Circle playing golf.
WHAN: Santa Claus Country Club?
DAVIS: Santa Claus Golf Club.
DAVIS: If you could be a front man in any band, what band would it be?
WHAN: Anybody who knows me, knows the Eagles are my go-to band. I’m a guy who has the wireless speaker on the golf cart. When we get to the 18th tee box, we always have to listen to “Hotel California.” That’s my finish song.
So when we were playing in Singapore with the LGPA, we were flying from Thailand to Singapore. I get on the plane and I’m sitting on 1B; I always sit in the first seat on the aisle. These guys start walking up, I’m like, “I know that guy, but I’m not sure from where.” The next guy walks up, I’m like, “He looks familiar.” All of a sudden, it hits me, the Eagles are on our flight.
DAVIS: No kidding.
WHAN: I’m sitting next to the backup drummer. So we start talking. I said, “Listen, this is going to sound so groupie-like, but I have seen the Eagles live, like, six times.” He said, “We’re going to Singapore, where are you going?” I said, “Singapore.” He goes, “We’re gonna be there for three nights. I’ll give you tickets for every night.” I’m like, “I can’t — I can’t do that. I can’t do that and do the job.”
But, yeah, so the Eagles for me. There’s a documentary called History of the Eagles. It’s six hours long on Showtime. My family knows it’s required viewing if you’re a Whan, including my parents. I made my parents watch it. If you’re in the Whan family, you have to view the History of the Eagles.
DAVIS: It’s a wonderful group. Still love listening to them.
WHAN: Most nervous you’ve ever been on a golf course?
DAVIS: Playing, it would have been the first time I played with Jack and Arnold.
WHAN: I can see that.
DAVIS: I’ve been kind of nervous on the golf course administrating, too. Giving a ruling and I’m thinking, “I think I’m getting this right.” But no, it was with Jack and Arnold on the first tee.
WHAN: You were talking about your downhill wedge lie. So one of the first pro-ams I played, when I worked at TaylorMade, we were playing at La Costa — I think I was playing with Ernie or Phil. I’m on the range and I said the guy who caddied for me, who was a buddy of mine, “Let’s go over and how to a few chip shots off the really tight lies,” because we don’t play the Tour level all the time. So I start hitting these, you know, belly chip shots; the real driving range was above us and I’m below.
And I just bellied one, and it comes sizzling over the range. I jump up to look and see it hit Greg Norman’s caddie right in the chest. He kind of goes down on a knee for a second, like, to catch his breath. I look back, and the guy caddying for me is running. He has left the bag and he has taken off. [Laughs] I’m like, “Yeah, this pro-am’s not gonna go well.”
I jump up to look and see it hit Greg Norman’s caddie right in the chest.
DAVIS: Oh boy, okay. If you could go back in time—
WHAN: Yeah, please.
DAVIS: [Laughs] —what would you tell a 21-year-old Mike Whan?
WHAN: Don’t wait so long to follow your dreams. I went to school to be a sportscaster. Then I realized that sportscasting — for some reason somebody talked me out of that. I went into business.
I really enjoyed business. I was good at business. But I really wanted to put what I love and what I do together. That’s why I went into golf. Hindsight, I should have, from the very beginning, put things I love together.
But for the longest time, I kind of followed the path that people thought I should follow. I follow the path that I knew would make my dad proud, and I knew that my college professors wanted to do. At 21, I wish I would have had the guts that I had at 31. It took me a while to step out and be that comfortable.
DAVIS: You’d have been a good sportscaster, by the way.
WHAN: [Laughs] I definitely speak fast enough. One round anywhere in the world, where you playing?
DAVIS: One round would be at Cypress Point, but if it was the last round, it would be Chambersburg Country Club [in Pennsylvania], where I grew up. Who’s your favorite golf swing of all time?
WHAN: Mickey Wright and Nelly Korda, for different reasons. I have a teacher who — usually she’s showing me a video of me, and right above the video is Mickey Wright. You get to see at every stage how outta whack I am versus perfection. But if you stand at the range and watch Nelly Korda hit 4-irons, everything about that is—
DAVIS: It has a great sound, too.
WHAN: Yes, it has a great sound. I always envision myself as having this big, high-flowing swing. Then you see it on video, I’m like, “God, I’m a hockey player.” [Laughs] If you had a young kid and had to get him or her started, I’d watch film of Mickey Wright and I’d take him or her to see Nelly Korda.
DAVIS: I never met Mickey Wright. But I talked to her probably six, eight times on the phone over the years. We got all of her memorabilia at USGA Museum. We have, in her room, we have a video of her swinging. Unbelievable—
WHAN: It’s flawless, right?
DAVIS: Ben Hogan always said, “Mickey Wright—”
WHAN: —best swing he ever saw.
DAVIS: Yes, best swing he ever saw.
WHAN: Mike, are you a night owl or a morning person?
DAVIS: Morning. Very early morning. I’m pathetic at night.
WHAN: [Laughs] We have that in common.
DAVIS: But definitely a morning person.
WHAN: I have a buddy from college, he sends me text messages at 11:30 at night, I return them at 4:45 in the morning. Somewhere in the middle, we occasionally cross paths.
DAVIS: What’s the best golf movie of all time? Let’s see if you get this right, because there’s one answer to this.
WHAN: I know the answer that you want me to say, but this is my answer: There’s a movie called Seven Days in Utopia. Have you seen that movie before?
DAVIS: The book’s great.
WHAN: It never gets mentioned among the greats. But my world, it’s great because it’s not only about the game, it’s also about what the game can do to ease your mind and how an easier mind helps the game.
Se Ri Pak said to me one time — we were playing golf and she said, “You play golf like you’re late for a meeting.” I said, “Well, I usually am late for a meeting.” She goes, “But when you tee off, like, your only goal is to finish. Your goal isn’t to hit another good shot. Your goal is to get done.” It stayed in my head. That was probably 12, 13 years ago.
Se Ri Pak said to me one time — we were playing golf and she said, ‘You play golf like you’re late for a meeting.’
DAVIS: I’m like everybody else — can go through almost every other line of Caddyshack. But I forget the name of movie when Francis Ouimet won the—
WHAN: —The Greatest Game Ever Played, I think it’s called.
DAVIS: Yes, when he beat Harry Vardon and Ted Ray at The Country Club. That is such an inspirational movie. I love it. OK, if you could only play one course the rest of your life, where are you playing?
WHAN: It’s funny. We both feel the same way about Cypress Point. Cypress Point, to me, was the greatest golf experience that — I mean, I’ve only played it once, but once was enough.
I put Pine Valley and Augusta in the same category. But you also made me think a little bit about when I was a kid growing up, I worked on the grounds crew at a course called Cold Stream Country Club, in Cincinnati—
DAVIS: —oh, I played it. Dick Wilson design.
WHAN: Yeah. It’s funny, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve put pins in the wrong places there, or put down the blades in the middle of a fairway when I shouldn’t have. But if I had to go back and play one last time, I’d probably go back there, because I started there as a bunker boy.
For one whole summer, I worked in the bunkers and the greenskeeper said, “If you make it through a summer, I’ll teach you how to use the riding apparatus.” And when you’re 14, like, riding apparatuses, that’s as good as college. So—
DAVIS: —by the way, I’m half-laughing because when I started at the USGA, so P.J. Boatwright was there and Tom Meeks was there, and vernacular was so important. You never said a “USGA Tournament.” You got the bunker part right. You never say “sand trap.” You don’t say “pin,” either. It’s flags—
WHAN: Flags, not pins. I—
DAVIS: —it’s flagstick. You’ll get reminded of that one.
WHAN: Okay. [Laughs]
WHAN: Please send your emails to M1@USGA.org. [Laughs] Okay, here’s an easy one for you. Blue blazers or quarter zip pullover? No pressure.
DAVIS: Well, you know, if you wear the navy blazer, there has to be some dandruff on it to be genuine USGA. But I could go either way.
If you wear the navy blazer, there has to be some dandruff on it to be genuine USGA.
WHAN: Okay, got it.
DAVIS: One thing your new colleagues at the USGA should know about you?
WHAN: The interesting thing about me coming on is everybody at the USGA knows somebody at the LPGA. So I’m amazed how much they already know. I walked into the trailer this week at the U.S. Women’s Open and there’s a refrigerator full of Coke Zero, top to bottom. I’m a Coke Zero fanatic.
And there’s four boxes of Atkins Bars. I eat, like, 18 Atkins Bars a day. It’s, like, the only thing I eat. As I said before, I’m a morning person, I’m highly caffeinated before 7 a.m., and I’m done at 4.
DAVIS: No Diet Cokes after 4?
WHAN: No Diet Cokes after 3, actually. And a water between every Coke Zero. That’s my deal with my wife. Have to drink one water for every Coke Zero. I have a friend who used to work for me who said, “I only wanna do my performance reviews over dinner,” because at dinner, I’m kind of I’m shutting down. [Laughs] He goes, “You talk slower, I understand you, you let me talk back.” In the morning, it’s all my show.
DAVIS: If I’m having a day where I just need a pick-me-up, I’ll go in and get coffee. Since Covid, they shut down the coffee machines at the office [in Far Hills, N.J.]. I get in there and I can’t work when I get in the afternoon. I gotta have that coffee.
WHAN: Coke Zero, baby. It’s the way to go. It’s the wave of the future. [Laughs]
WHAN: Who’s your dream foursome?
DAVIS: I’d like to say father and son in it. But if I was thinking about for golf, I would say I’m so enamored with Bob Jones, with Mickey Wright and Ben Hogan.
WHAN: May not be a lotta conversation in that group—
WHAN: —but they’re going low. [Laughs]
WHAN: Mike, what advice would you give to a person who’s walking in as the new CEO of the USGA?
DAVIS: I would say, “Ask yourself constantly what’s in the best interest of the game.” When you get in, particularly in governance things, there’s always that question of should we or shouldn’t we do something. If you just say to yourself, “What’s in the best interest for golfers, what’s in the best interest of golf courses,” and the game as a whole,” it helps you get past some of those times. Just think about what’s the right thing for the game long term.
WHAN: Good advice.