105: Rising to the Top of Golf’s Governing Body with Tom O’Toole Jr.

This week I had the chance to sit down with Tom O’Toole Jr., fellow St. Louisan and the former president of the Unites Stages Golf Association (USGA).

As the head of an organization like the USGA, there are a lot of responsibilities and a lot of decisions that have to be made.  In many cases, the decision will likely find some in favor, and some not.  As Tom shares with us, it’s just part of the territory for any governing institution, and the USGA is no exception.

In this interview, we discuss not only the topic of rules and golf, but Tom’s journey from passing the rules exam to becoming the head of the USGA.  The 25+ year journey is one that wasn’t quite anticipated, but one that he looks back on with awe and gratitude.

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Tom O’Toole Jr.’s Background

  • A native of St. Louis, O’Toole has been involved with the United States Golf Association (USGA) since 1988.

  • He has served as a Rules Official at more than 140 USGA championships, including every US Open Championship since 1990.

  • He also has been the official in charge for more than 130 USGA championship qualifiers.

  • O’Toole has been “certified” as a Rules of Golf expert each year since 1990, and he was been a member of the Rules of Golf Committee from 2004-2014.

  • O’Toole was elected the 63rd President of the USGA on February 8, 2014, and was a member of the USGA Executive Committee since 2008.

  • He chaired the Championship Committee from 2010-2014, while serving as the Association’s Secretary in 2010 and Vice President in 2011-2013.

  • In 1992, he founded the Metropolitan Amateur Golf Association (MAGA), a regional association servicing 110 member clubs in the Missouri and Illinois region.

  • He continues to serve on the Executive Board of MAGA.

  • Tom still lives in St. Louis, MO with his wife Julie and sons, Zach (17) and PJ (3).

Highlights from this Episode

  • Tom recaps his start with the USGA and how his involvement began when he was asked by his friend Jim Holtgrieve in 1981 if he would caddy for him at the inaugural US Mid-Am Championship (which Jim ended up winning).
  • Tom tells us a little more about his background growing up in St. Louis, attending and playing hockey at St. Louis University High School, the greatest high school in the world (ok, I’m showing a little bias here ;-).
  • His involvement in the USGA event surprisingly lead him on a journey of helping to start the Metropolitan Golf Association and ultimately his involvement with over 150 USGA events and culminating in his presidency in 2014 and 2015.  He also mentions a few of the people along the way that have inspired, mentored, and had a large impact on his career.
  • Tom sheds light on the volunteers/officials that are involved in the USGA and what that whole process entails.
  • And of course we discuss some of the recent rules debates that have been sparked by a couple of incidents on the course in both the men’s and women’s US Opens; including the Dustin Johnson ball moving on the green, and the infamous grain of sand grazed by Anna Nordqvist.
  • Finally we discuss some of Tom’s greatest memories, challenges and accomplishments during his time with the USGA.

CaddyShack or Happy Gilmore?

CaddyShack (this was a no-brainer because he has never seen Happy Gilmore)

One or 2 of the Most Influential People, Books, or Experiences in Your Life?

Meeting Mike Davis at Medinah in 1990 at one of his first events on the board of the USGA

Who would you like to spend a day on the course with?

John F. Kennedy at Seminole Golf Club

What are you excited about in your near future?

The USGA’s mission of protecting the game and the collaborative effort of the USGA and RA on the new Rules of Golf Book

Where to Find Tom O’Toole Jr. and the USGA:

website: USGA.org

Facebook: USGA

Twitter: @USGA

Other Links Mentioned

Metropolitan Amateur Golf Association

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