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SERVING THE GAME
Mexican Golf Association Strengthens Ties With USGA
July 3, 2020 | Liberty Corner, N.J.
By Ron Driscoll, USGA
For more than 30 years, the USGA has worked with the Federación Mexicana de Golf (FMG) to administer the Rules of the game in Mexico. But especially in recent years, the relationship is less about governance and jurisdiction than about cooperation and growth.
Federico Valdez Adame became the executive director of the Mexican federation in 2008, and before long, he sought to petition the USGA for the champion of the Mexican Amateur Championship to earn an exemption into the U.S. Amateur, the USGA’s oldest championship. But first, there were hurdles to clear.
“There’s a certain language, a dialogue, you might say, that you need to learn in the golf industry,” said Valdez. “We had been isolated for many years in the FMG, and we needed to reach a higher standard. Through years of collaborating with the USGA, we have learned how championships are run. That experience has been indispensable for me and many of our staff members.”
Valdez credited the early influence of Alli Jarrett, who was a Regional Affairs director for the USGA when he came on board with the FMG.
“It’s not only doing the work, because you can find people to do that,” said Valdez. “It’s understanding why things are done a certain way, the hierarchy in the importance of them. From what I first experienced, we ran our championships in a fairly good way – but not good enough to be eligible for these types of collaborations.”
In February 2011, the FMG earned its stripes, so to speak, when the USGA announced that the winner of the Mexican Amateur and the Mexican Women’s Amateur championships would receive entry into the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Women’s Amateur, respectively. The Mexican Amateur champion also earns an exemption into final qualifying for the U.S. Open. This year would have marked the 10th year for the exemptions if qualifying for those championships had not been canceled due to the worldwide pandemic.
Mexico’s golf leadership has enhanced its stewardship of the game in several ways over the past decade. It started with the effort to translate the Rules of Golf into a Spanish version for the Mexican dialect in 2011, led by people such as José Manuel Gómez and former USGA Women’s Committee member Delia Nava. It has continued with Mexico hosting the World Amateur Team Championships in 2016 (its first time hosting in 50 years) and the sixth Latin America Amateur Championship in 2020, both at Mayakoba in Riviera Maya.
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve been looking for ways to strengthen the relationship between the USGA and the FMG,” said Rand Jerris, the USGA’s senior managing director of Public Services. “We want to actively support what they’re doing to grow the game, particularly the public game.”
The FMG has also hosted USGA qualifiers for three championships (U.S. Amateur, U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball) for the past several years, with hopes to expand that roster of events. Partnership, not governance, is the guiding principle.
“Legally and technically, the FMG can’t be an Allied Golf Association,” said Jerris of the group of 59 domestic partners of the USGA, state and regional golf associations that support USGA programs and initiatives and run hundreds of championship qualifiers. “But in nearly every respect, the FMG acts like an AGA. They run qualifiers, they administer the Rules of Golf and conduct Rules education, and support handicapping and course rating for Mexico’s golfers and golf courses. Every core program that the USGA conducts with AGAs, they’re doing, too.”
Valdez began his hands-on training in championship management when Jarrett invited him to the 2011 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Shadow Hawk Golf Club in Richmond, Texas, the same year that the FMG would first offer U.S. Amateur and Women’s Amateur exemptions at its marquee amateur events.
“I worked on course preparation and setup for the championship,” said Valdez. “The idea was not for us to watch someone else, but to learn and apply the knowledge.”
Since then, Valdez and several other FMG staff members have worked at USGA championships, reinforcing the bonds and elevating their knowledge.
“Many people in Mexico travel to the U.S. to compete in USGA events, and for many years they could only try to qualify in the U.S.,” said Valdez. “It’s very important for people to associate our events with the quality of USGA events. We want to meet those expectations.”
The first collaborative efforts were mostly technical, related to the Rules. Shortly before Valdez joined the FMG, Mexico gained its first representative on the Rules of Golf and the Rules of Amateur Status committees of the USGA, and Valdez himself was a member of the Rules Committee for the 2010 U.S. Open and several subsequent Opens. In another important step, Claudia Camargo of the FMG was appointed the chairman of the women’s committee for the International Golf Federation in 2018.
“I’ve also been very fortunate the past few years to be part of the golf industry leaders meeting at the U.S. Open,” said Valdez, a native of Monterrey in the state of Nuevo León. “So many new collaborations have begun during U.S. Open week.”
Mexico has also been a regular participant in the USGA’s P.J. Boatwright Jr. Internship Program, and recently, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, the USGA donated $100,000 to the FMG to help it through the inherent difficulties, similar to a program it launched in April for partner AGAs.
“Like all of us, the disruption caught the FMG off-guard, and we were able to support them so they can continue to run critical operations,” said Jerris. “They have experienced event cancellations, loss or partial loss of sponsorships, and delays in revenue support. It’s the right thing for the USGA to do to support our partners and friends in Mexico.”
“It’s important to stress that the USGA is very close to us, not only in offering us information and training,” said Valdez. “When money has been needed to take on certain projects or challenges, the USGA has been there for us. For that, we are extremely grateful.”
Just as the USGA is helping Mexico raise its game, so is Mexico passing on its own learnings, with the annual Latin America Amateur serving as a touch point for golf entities in the region.
“We don’t want to limit this to Mexico, but to all of Central America,” said Valdez. “In Guatemala, for example, they look up to us just as we look up to the USGA. We have a junior program with 3,500 players, while they have maybe a couple of hundred. There is relatability in our problems and our challenges, both here and in the U.S.”
One of the first important exchanges between the USGA and the FMG involved not information, but a trophy. In 2005, when Jerris was the director of the USGA Golf Museum, he happened upon a 1977 donation by the daughter of Percy Clifford. An accomplished player and course architect in Mexico, Clifford had won the Mexican Amateur six times, and as was customary in the 1930s, the championship trophy was permanently awarded to him.
“It was a stunning work of art, and I thought, why is it sitting in storage?” said Jerris. “I reached out to them and asked, would you like your trophy back? We were thrilled to be able to return it to them.”
You might consider that gesture – to paraphrase Humphrey Bogart at the end of “Casablanca” – the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.