PARAMUS, NEW JERSEY | It had been 48 years since Ridgewood Country Club last hosted the U.S. Amateur. The 1974 tournament, won by Jerry Pate, had one of the great fields in event history as players such as Curtis Strange, Gary Koch and Bill Campbell made deep runs through match play.
Among the competitors that week was Stu Francis, a Madison, Ohio, native who captained the Princeton University golf team. Playing in his first U.S. Amateur, about 50 miles away from campus, Francis began a lifelong friendship with eventual Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley and embarked on what he calls a “love affair with the USGA.”
While that love will never end, this year’s U.S. Amateur marked an end point. Francis, the USGA president since 2020, is nearing the close of his three-year tenure. This past week was the last major USGA championship before Francis passes the baton to Fred Perpall.
“It’s striking how it's worked out,” Francis told Global Golf Post while sitting in the Ridgewood clubhouse. “I mean, who could have scripted it where my first U.S. Amateur was at Ridgewood in 1974 and my final role as president of the USGA will be the U.S. Amateur at Ridgewood in 2022? It’s kind of fitting to finish up here.”
Francis had some help reliving memories of the ’74 tournament. David Repetto, who caddied in the tournament as a 17-year-old high schooler, spent thousands of hours over the last few years connecting with players who competed that week. There were 200 players in the championship, and Repetto found all but about two dozen of them.
Those efforts formed the basis for a reunion that took place on Friday at Ridgewood. There was a large banner outside the clubhouse welcoming 1974 U.S. Am competitors as more than 20 of them came together, along with Ridgewood members and tournament volunteers, to enjoy a luncheon. Pate was among those who were present, and he told a few interesting stories from his victory. One of the most humorous tales was Pate describing how he failed to bring a blazer to wear in the clubhouse, which was mandatory attire at the time. Pate borrowed a blazer from a clubhouse attendant, who told him that he could keep it if Pate went on to win. He left the course later that week with the trophy and a blazer.
Reconvening with competitors such as Pate made Francis’ week even more special.
“It really was quite meaningful to be able to reconnect with people who achieved the same level of golf you had at that point in time,” Francis said. “And you know, everybody's gone a variety of different directions. Competitive golf just imprints upon you these moments in time that you remember to a much greater degree than if you were going down to your corner store to pick up five items right now.”
"The momentum the USGA has now in leading the game, conducting great championships at great sites, helping to grow the game, simplifying the rules and handicapping … I feel like we have accomplished a lot over the past three or four years.”
Francis’ tenure as USGA president has involved a variety of challenges, including navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, working through the modernized rules of amateur status and formulating new regulations on equipment. There have also been substantial efforts to get events such as the U.S. Women’s Open to better venues.
An update on equipment regulations is expected soon. Decades from now, those decisions could be the biggest lasting legacy of his tenure.
“We've made continual progress on equipment standards and the distance topic in terms of first laying out a perspective and getting feedback from manufacturers,” Francis said. “We’re very close to putting out our next step in the process. It's a pretty defined process from 20 years ago to the current protocol, but we're making good progress. I actually think we have an understandable way of looking at it now that the golf industry should embrace.”
His work isn’t quite over – that will officially come next February – but Francis is satisfied with how the USGA has impacted the game.
“I'll reflect a little more later on, but I do feel good,” Francis said. “I still feel like we're coming into the last few holes where we're doing OK, but we have to finish the round. The momentum the USGA has now in leading the game, conducting great championships at great sites, helping to grow the game, simplifying the rules and handicapping … I feel like we have accomplished a lot over the past three or four years.”
Golf is a game of reflection, and nothing brings up that type of reflection like coming back to the site of a lasting competitive memory.
For Francis, Ridgewood marked the reflection of a beginning and an end.