PEBBLE BEACH — John Bodenhamer has strong connections to Utah, having played for four years on a nationally ranked BYU golf team in the early 1980s and later working in Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch’s congressional office in Washington, D.C. for a couple of years. Since 1990 he has worked as a golf administrator in the Northwest and for the past eight years with the United States Golf Association.
Now Bodenhamer has one of the most challenging jobs in the golf business, certainly for this week.
After overseeing the USGA’s various amateur and professional championships since 2011, the 57-year-old native of Tacoma, Washington was given the unenviable task earlier this year of being in charge of course setup for the U.S. Open, which begins later this week at Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Unenviable, because it’s basically a no-win proposition. If the course is set up perfectly, golfers are unlikely to say anything. However, if there is anything that they don’t like, they’re going to let the whole world know about it.
“I’ve gotten congratulations and condolences,” Bodenhamer says with a chuckle about his new assignment.
The U.S. Open has had its share of controversies over the years, including last year when Phil Mickelson hit a moving ball as it steamrolled down a fast green. In 2004, the greens at Shinnecock Hills were allowed to dry out so much that some were unplayable and the grounds crew was forced to water the greens between groups. Four years ago at Chambers Bay, a lot of players complained about the overly fast conditions, which left the course looking yellow, it was so dried out.
In recent years, USGA executive director Mike Davis has overseen the course setup, but this year he has handed the duties over to Bodenhamer.
“Last fall, he came to me and said, ‘John, I’d like you to oversee everything for our championships, all the inside, outside the ropes, fans, grandstand, tickets,'” he said. “For the U.S. Open, Mike wants me to step in and oversee and manage all of our agronomical preparation and really lead the course setup side of it. Mike has asked me to take what has been a day-to-day responsibility from him and oversee it so he can be freed up and be our CEO.”
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A top amateur golfer growing up in Washington, Bodenhamer was all set to go to the University of Houston when he was contacted by BYU coach Karl Tucker.
“He said, ‘why don’t you come down and spend a weekend and see the campus.’ I stayed with Bobby Clampett and Dick Zokol and I was wowed with Bobby being No. 1 in the country at the time. It was a beautiful spring day and I decided to go there. It was one of the best decisions of my life.”
Besides playing with Clampett and Zokol, he was roommates with Rick Gibson and also played with Keith Clearwater, Rick Fehr, Robert Meyer and Steve Schneiter. He’s also a good friend of BYU coach Bruce Brockbank, who he still keeps in touch with.
“Karl Tucker, he was truly a second father figure to me and he and (his wife) Joanne had us over to the house a lot,” he said. “I had a health issue (cancer), which is tough when you’re 19, and they helped me through it. Karl was very special. When you’re part of that team it’s truly family, something that kept all of us together.”
Bodenhamer was a regular on a couple of those BYU teams that went to the NCAA Tournament before he graduated in 1985. He turned professional and did well enough to win a couple of Alaska state opens and missed qualifying for the U.S. Open by a stroke. Then after going back to work for Sen. Hatch, he went into golf administration, where he has been for nearly three decades.
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Bodenhamer gave the Deseret News some insights on what to expect this week at a recent interview at Pebble Beach. He said the USGA has reached out to get more input from the players, which has been helped by the hiring of former PGA Tour player Jason Gore as the senior director of player relations. But Bodenhamer said it will be a typical U.S. Open in many ways.
“You will see the fairway widths will be exactly the same as they were in 2010,” he said. “You will see a U.S. Open presented like it was in 1972, ‘82, ‘92, 2000 and 2010. There are some nuanced differences, but it’s the same U.S. Open. The fairways are going to be narrow, we believe in driving the golf ball with a premium on accuracy, control your golf ball on these little tiny putting greens with shotmaking. Then you add the elements of weather and the pressure of a major and the mental challenge that creates and that’s a very special set of ingredients for what will be a historic outcome.”
A couple of the biggest complaints in past U.S. Opens have been greens that are too slick, causing good shots to slide off the green and unfair pin placements. Bodenhamer is well aware of that criticism and indicated that while the greens will be fast, they won’t be overly so.
“I don’t know, we’re going to watch the weather forecast and we’ll start six to eight inches slower than we did in 2010,” he said. “In 2010, we were about 13½ on the Stimpmeter (a device for measuring green speeds) and this year we’ll be in the 12½ half range, a little slower. It will allow us to present a tough and true test to what the architect intended and that’s what we endeavor to do.”
Bodenhamer knows issues are likely to come up, but he hopes there will be as few as possible and everyone can focus on crowning a worthy champion by Sunday afternoon.Comment on this story
“We’re not going to please everybody, but our guiding stars are to present the golf course and U.S. Open in a way that creates something special and that we create a test of their shot-making, their mental resolve and their physical resiliency,” he said. “Get out of the way and let the golf course and the players be the story. That’s my goal. We’ve done a pretty good job of listening over the past six to eight months and we’ve gotten some pretty good intel and we’re better informed going into the U.S Open than we’ve been for a long time and I’m excited about that.”