The circumstances that led Devin Gee to Oakmont were far from ideal.
Gee, then a college sophomore going through the PGA Golf Management program at Methodist University, initially was set to go to Medinah Country Club outside Chicago for his second internship. However, in 2006 when Gee’s father, Newman, suddenly died at age 50 due to a logging accident in the family’s home state of Maine, an audible needed to be called.
Adam Kushner, a close friend and an intern at Oakmont at the time, saw Gee struggling to cope with the loss of his father. When one of the other interns at Oakmont dropped out just before the summer, Kushner recommended Gee as an 11th-hour replacement, a move that would allow him to be with a good friend and much closer to home.
“ ‘Kush’ called me and said, ‘Hey, I know this is unusual, but why don’t you call Medinah and see if you can’t come to Pittsburgh instead so you can be here with me for the summer,’ ” Gee remembered. “I don’t know who the young guy was who gave up his spot, but I certainly owe him a Christmas card every year.”
Nearly 15 years later, Gee has never left. He quickly rose through the ranks and assumed the role of head professional following the 2016 U.S. Open, taking over for the legendary Bob Ford. Despite being just 30 years old at the time, Gee had become an overwhelming favorite of Oakmont membership. Ford jokes that Gee being named head pro was the least controversial decision the club has made in years.
“He had 10 years to endear himself,” Ford said. “I don’t know if Oakmont is unusual or not, but people there just really love the staff and assistants there and take them in as family. Devin’s an incredibly likeable kid who has lasted a long time, and everyone has always loved him.”
Anyone who knows Ford can speak to his Arnold Palmer-like ability to make each person around him feel valuable. Gee has cultivated that same charm, becoming a thoughtful and well-spoken man who comes across as if he’s been your friend for decades.
That shared chemistry and understanding between the two began back on Gee’s initial internship when he was a valet attendant out at the bag drop. Ford’s office, now Gee’s office, has a window that looks out directly at the bag drop, so Gee spent the entire summer on his best behavior. No checking his phone. No sitting in his car for an extra moment of solitude. Just pure focus on the task at hand, always with the thought that Ford’s watchful eye was mere yards from him.
“I knew he was just looking out of his office, watching every move I made,” Gee said. “Fast forward seven or eight years and I am the first assistant at Oakmont and I’m 4 feet away from him every day. He didn’t look out the window one time that entire time span.
“Now it’s my window and I probably look out it more than he did but still not very often.”
When Gee became Ford’s first assistant, there came a three-year transition period where Ford was still working full time but everyone on staff knew Gee was going to become head professional. That allowed for a special relationship to develop, giving them space to joke about Gee’s first internship while also going over serious topics, golf or otherwise. Ford still comes to Oakmont four months of the year, but when he’s not there, Gee calls him regularly for advice and friendship.
Much like Ford stepping into the father figure role, Gee’s ascension at Oakmont happened naturally. It wasn’t something Gee pined for in any sense. He didn’t have an agenda to become the head pro, even admitting that it barely crossed his mind until the discussion began. Gee figured if he had success at Oakmont, the time eventually would come for him to become a head pro somewhere – he just didn’t realize that somewhere would be Oakmont.
“From Day 1 here, the membership literally takes you in as family and you feel like you are a part of something bigger,” Gee said. “I was always appreciative of that atmosphere and it made me into the professional I am today. It’s a neat feeling knowing that everyone here has your best interest at heart. Not just Bob or a couple of people on the staff, but it’s the entire club.”
Gee explains this another way by saying that when an Oakmont assistant lands his or her first head pro job, the ensuing avalanche of congratulatory emails, texts and phone calls is something that stays with that person.
For Gee, it’s a reminder of why staying at Oakmont has been so rewarding.
“It’s a 24- to 48-hour period that I know from when it happened to me, I will never forget,” Gee said. “There’s really nothing like it, just like there’s something special about the energy you get when you step onto the property.”
For someone who became the head pro at Oakmont around his 30th birthday, Gee has put together the foundation for following Ford and the club’s other historic head pros. That certainly includes taking care of membership, being a people person and understanding merchandising, but one of the biggest pieces to the job is being a great player.
It comes with the territory. Lew Worsham, the head pro before Ford, got the job in April 1947, won the U.S. Open that June and played in the Ryder Cup that September. Ford played in three U.S. Opens, including his T26 finish in the 1983 edition at Oakmont, plus 10 PGA Championships. He won the Pennsylvania Open three times.
Gee has some serious playing ability, too. He won the Tri-State Open in June and earned first-team honors on Global Golf Post’s All-Pro list in 2018.
“I’m not in that neighborhood by any means, but just growing up around Bob, I know it has to be a priority,” Gee said. “And just personally from an instruction standpoint, I’m always curious what playing background teachers have because it’s important to know what it’s like to be under pressure. When I’m giving advice, I want to base it on what I’m feeling in competition and certain pressure scenarios I feel.”
Like everything else Gee does at Oakmont, it all comes back to empathy. If you can understand how someone else feels – whether that’s a member, an assistant, a guest or anyone else – the human element takes precedent.
In four years, Gee has established himself a top head pro. And who is better to explain how that’s happened than Ford.
“Obviously I’m very interested in his success, but I think he’s done great,” Ford said. “He’s become an incredible player since he took over and actually he keeps getting better and better. People love that at Oakmont. His teaching is great, too.
“He just cares about people and cares about the job.”