David Fay is retiring from the U.S. Golf Association, his two decades as executive director marked by a steady push for golf's return to the Olympics and for the U.S. Open to be held on golf courses that anyone could play at a reasonable price.
Fay's announcement Friday was somewhat of a surprise, although he turned 60 two months ago and said it was an important milestone for cancer survivors. He joined the USGA in 1978 and became its sixth executive director in 1989, serving under 12 presidents.
Mike Butz, the deputy executive director since 1995, will take over Jan. 1 until a national search to find Fay's replacement.
"Things are in good order," Fay said in a statement. "Our senior staff leaders, each of whom I have put into place, are highly talented and motivated. And looking ahead, there are a number of multiyear projects on the drawing board ... which makes this, for me, a good time to move on. Leave on a high note, as Seinfeld would say."
Fay was most visible during the U.S. Open, dressed in his trademark bow tie in the NBC Sports booth as possibly the premier rules expert in the country. His real passion, however, has been making golf more inclusive.
He showed that in the late 1990s when he resigned his membership from Pine Valley because he felt belonging to an all-male club would sent a mixed message in his role (the USGA had two presidents in the past six years — Fred Ridley and Walter Driver — who kept their memberships at all-male Augusta National).
Even as PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem showed little interest in the Olympics a decade ago, Fay continued to lobby for the sport's return to the Olympic program.
But his legacy might be public golf.
Never afraid to take chances, Fay was behind bringing the U.S. Open to Bethpage Black in New York in 2002, which cost no more than $50 for residents to play. It was such a huge success that the championship returned there in 2009, one year after it was at city-owned Torrey Pines in San Diego. The U.S. Open will go to Chambers Bay outside Seattle and Erin Hills in Wisconsin, two other public courses.
In another bold move, Fay announced that the U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open will be held in consecutive weeks in 2014 on the same golf course — Pinehurst No. 2.
"It's been a rewarding, satisfying and a fun run," he said.