Lew Blakey has spent his retirement serving the game of golf. The former mathematics and engineering professor has worked as a Rules official since the mid-1990s, and his assignments have included all four men’s major championships, with nearly 20 U.S. Opens on his resume.
So when asked to recount his favorite memory from his years as an official, many would expect a tale about a pivotal ruling during the final round of a major, or perhaps an interaction with a legendary player that the everyday fan could only dream about. Instead, the story Blakey told provides insight into the man his colleagues, as well as students from his PGA/USGA Rules of Golf Workshops, have come to revere for his knowledge and appreciation of the Rules and their history.
“The best war story I can tell happened in a high school tournament in Fairfax County, Virginia. It was the Northern Virginia High School Championship,” said Blakey, who proceeded to recount a situation in which a competitor played two balls when he was unsure of whether his ball was in ground under repair and was therefore entitled to relief (he was). The player in question would not become a household name; he was simply a teenager competing for his school, but the scenario interested Blakey, and he recalled that the competitor had followed the procedure exactly as called for under the Rules of Golf.
A deep passion and respect for Rules is what led Blakey, 83, to become a fixture as a Rules of Golf Workshop instructor. Blakey, who was recognized for 25 years of volunteer service to the game as an Ike Grainger Award recipient at the USGA’s Annual Meeting in February, taught his final workshop the following week, one of more than 30 he has taught since 2001. The workshop was in Bethesda, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C., where the Annual Meeting took place. So it was a perfect opportunity for his colleagues to honor him for his many years of service in the classroom. The sendoff was fitting for the man who means so much to the Rules community, and to the workshops in particular.
“You talk in baseball about being a five-tool player. In these workshops, you can be a three-tool player – very few instructors have all three of those tools,” said David Staebler, the USGA’s director of Rules education.
“There are really three things that an instructor can bring to a Rules of Golf Workshop. One is a knowledge of the Rules and an ability to relate that. The second is a knowledge of the history of the Rules of Golf, where we’ve been and how we’ve gotten to where we are, and I don’t know if there’s anybody who is better at that. The third thing is the philosophical underpinnings of the Rules: the why. Depending on what the question is and what he’s trying to relate, he can call on any of those things.”
PGA/USGA Rules of Golf Workshops take place across the country each year during the winter months, before the season gets started in earnest nationwide. Attendees are often there to prepare to officiate events, and Blakey’s years as an official – not just at the highest level of the game, but also for the Virginia State Golf Association and Middle Atlantic Golf Association – have instilled in him the importance of being prepared to respond to any scenario. It’s a mindset he brought with him to the classroom.
“I get started in November; I spend six or seven hours a day going through all the workshops that are current for that particular year, but then I’ve got a set of notes that have come up in workshops and I look at a lot of the old exams,” said Blakey, a former USGA Executive Committee member and one of the few people who has scored a perfect 100 on multiple workshop exams. “I have a 500-question exam, and I’ll go back through that and see if I can get them all right.”
His exam, dubbed by his peers the “Blakey 500,” has inspired much of the preparation materials used by workshop attendees and fellow instructors.
In Edinburgh, Scotland, a statue of John Rattray, the first captain of the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith and the signer of golf’s first set of Rules in 1744, is being constructed to celebrate their creation and Rattray’s role. To honor Blakey’s contributions to the Rules of Golf and his years as a workshop instructor and as an official, colleagues and friends affiliated with the USGA and PGA of America donated money to the Rattray statue fund in Blakey’s name. It’s a fitting tribute. Blakey’s years of service have left an indelible mark on the Rules of Golf.
Scott Lipsky is the manager of websites and digital platforms for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.