There is no question that, without the dedication of volunteers like Keith Hansen and Harry McCracken, championships such as the U.S. Open, the USGA’s flagship event, would not be possible.
Hansen and McCracken each received an Ike Grainger Award in 2013 for 25 years of volunteer service to the USGA, and both have been the official in charge (OIC) for local and sectional USGA qualifiers in their respective regions for decades; in McCracken’s case it’s been 40 years.
“I usually don’t think much of awards for longevity,” said Hansen, a Logan, Utah, resident who has worked as a Rules official at more than 100 USGA championships. “But this [award] is different. Through this process [of being a USGA volunteer] I’ve had the opportunity to go to a lot of places I would have never gotten to. I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of great people and make a lot of great friends.
“Do I have to run another [qualifier] or do I have to attend another [U.S.] Open or [U.S.] Amateur? Not really… The fact that my ego is stroked and I’m good at what I do means something. But those other things are really more important.”
McCracken, a retired loan correspondent, has been the executive director of the New England Golf Association, an unpaid position, for 40 years. In 2007, the USGA honored him as the 12th winner of the Joe Dey Award, which annually recognizes an individual’s meritorious service to the game.
But the Westwood, Mass., native’s true love is securing and setting up courses for the 25-30 qualifiers that he conducts annually for the USGA and New England Golf Association. On May 9, he ran a U.S. Open local qualifier at Pinehills Golf Club in Plymouth, Mass.
McCracken also runs USGA qualifiers for the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Amateur Public Links, U.S. Senior Open, U.S. Junior Amateur and USGA Senior Amateur, marking the courses in preparation for the competitions, then putting in long hours on the day of the qualifier to ensure the event runs smoothly.
“My wife says I’m a nut,” joked McCracken in his heavy New England accent.
Part of his responsibility is securing enough volunteers. At his U.S. Open qualifier, he brought in 12 experienced Rules officials, drawing from both the Massachusetts and New England golf associations.
“I can’t play anymore because I have bad arthritis,” said McCracken, a longtime member at Charles River Country Club, which will serve as the companion stroke-play qualifying course for this summer’s U.S. Amateur at The Country Club. “I can’t hold a club anymore. But I love getting out there and watching these people.
“You meet nothing but nice people in golf, whether they are the officials or the players. It’s very rewarding.”
Hansen’s USGA season begins each spring with a U.S. Open qualifier, which this year is May 13 at Hidden Valley C.C. in Sandy, Utah. His goal is to simulate the U.S. Open experience as much as possible. That includes using the same tee markers used at USGA championships and USGA-branded flagsticks. Even the scoring tents have USGA logos.
“We want to give every player there a quality experience,” said Hansen, a self-employed investor. “My [volunteers] do a great job.”
Occasionally, those volunteers go beyond reasonable expectations. Three years ago at Alpine Country Club in suburban Salt Lake City, a playoff was taking place at a local U.S. Open qualifier for the final spot to advance to sectionals. Darkness was approaching fast, but the competitors wanted to avoid returning the next morning.
Hansen was back in the clubhouse doing paperwork when a volunteer standing near the green was struck just above the eye by an approach shot. He was bleeding profusely and probably should have left for emergency treatment.
By the time Hansen received word via radio and arrived on the scene, the playoff was headed to the next hole. The players still wanted to finish, and the injured volunteer stayed with the group.
“He would not leave,” said Hansen. “That’s the dedication of the volunteers who run USGA qualifying.”
Based on population, Utah hosts just one Open qualifier, so players come from as far as Colorado, Idaho and Wyoming to participate.
“The qualifier has grown to as big as 88 [players],” said Hansen, who has seen the likes of PGA Tour players Mike Reid and Dan Forsman go on to qualify for the U.S. Open from his local site. “We’re very fortunate that [the U.S. Open local qualifiers] have always been at a private club. That helps our entries. These [clubs] are very generous.”
McCracken seeks courses that offer a U.S. Open-type challenge, which is why he has conducted qualifiers at the Pinehills and TPC Boston in recent years.
“Most people just don’t realize how tough it is to qualify for the U.S. Open,” said McCracken. “The odds are very, very short.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.