Multi-Talented Vernon Ready To
By Ken Klavon, USGA
Houston - Jim Vernon has always enjoyed using his hands to
craft or build something. His fascination for such exploits
was borne from his aptitude for mechanical engineering, which
relies on analytics and precise execution.
Now he has the opportunity to figuratively call on those
hands again as he helps mold the future of the USGA.
On Saturday, the Pasadena, Calif., resident will become
the fourth Californian to ascend to the USGA's most
prestigious position as he is handed the keys to the gate
from outgoing leader Walter Driver Jr.
He is ready. He is focused.
An old adage once advised that a house built on sand will
ultimately sink, but a home constructed with a concrete
foundation will stand the test of time.
The 58-year-old incoming president has little interest in
sand even if he does live near the shores of southern
California. Vernon's proclamation is to leave the
Association in rock-solid shape by the end of his two-year
"It is certainly the apex of my involvement in the
administration side," said Vernon on Thursday. "I
think it's not only an honor but I'm humbled to have
been given the opportunity to take over this
Those who meet the bespectacled and sinewy diamond broker
for the first time might mistake him for an Ivy League
professor. It's not a criticism by any means. He is
cerebral and exudes a quiet confidence. That evolved from his
days at Stanford University where he earned engineering and
law degrees. His intellect no doubt also helped him achieve a
remarkable 98 out of 100 on the Rules test. Despite his
myriad duties as president, he'll remain active as a
"Being a Rules official has been described as 99
percent boredom, one percent sheer panic, but it's just a
thrill to be involved," he said.
Vernon's presence looms larger than his 6'3 frame.
Conversing with him, he is engaging and affable. He can be
droll too, calling himself "boring" and someone who
"likes crossword puzzles" with a flourishing smile.
Those are the extent of his hobbies, really. Most of his time
is spent on golf matters because that's where his passion
lies. No fib. That confession first bubbled to the surface
two years ago over dinner in Hollywood, Calif., with wife
Gail and himself. Supportive of his endeavors, she laughed a
let me tell you'
chortle when asked how deep his commitment to golf
The man is driven by the pursuit of excellence, in a low
"Generally I don't say a lot unless I think I
have something to contribute," he said. "I need to
change some of that. I need to be directing more."
He needn't worry, according to past USGA president
(2002-2003) Reed Mackenzie. Vernon got his start with the
Executive Committee on Mackenzie's watch.
"He's a great listener," said Mackenzie.
"When you're having a conversation with Jim, he
processes everything so well and addresses the core functions
of what's being said. His people skills are very good.
He's very straight forward; no circular paths are taken
As president, one of Vernon's challenges will be to
lead all of the Association's constituents in the United
States and Mexico. That includes thousands of volunteers,
USGA Members and millions of amateur golfers. In addition, he
plans on continuing the transformation the USGA is
undergoing, begun on Driver's watch, in terms of its
"I think he's going to be forward with
organizational changes and growing the Association in certain
areas," said Mackenzie.
Said Vernon: "Some of [the challenges] are changes in
culture. Anytime there is a culture shift or change, there
are always challenges as far as everyone understanding how
it's happening and why it's happening, and why
it's for the betterment of the Association."
He cited the progression of the USGA's Internet
, as important and exciting. He would also like to see the
Association work more closely with state and regional
Vernon's former presidencies at Lakeside Golf Club in
Burbank, Calif., and at the Southern California Golf
Association prepared him for a higher calling.
Not long after he left the SCGA board, Vernon was asked to
join the USGA's Regional Affairs Committee. He attended
annual meetings, making an impression on the USGA Nominating
Committee. He was asked to join the Executive Committee in
the fall of 2002 (his term began in '03).
|Jim Vernon, 58, has been immersed in
USGA committees since joining the Association. (John
Mackenzie recognized the innumerable talents Vernon
"I knew right from the start when he got
involved," said Mackenzie. "We were in a handicap
meeting and there was a rather contentious issue going on.
But he was calm and level-headed. He allayed some
While on the USGA's Executive Committee, he put his
engineering talents to work and served four years as the
Equipment Standards Committee chairman. He's also been
the USGA's vice president the past two. In all, he has
been heavily involved in 11 committees.
There's little doubt Vernon has his supporters. Tom
Morgan, the former executive director of the SCGA, worked
closely with him during his one-year term as SCGA president
"All of us were hoping that the USGA would recognize
Jim's talent and allow him to ascend the ladder,"
said Morgan. "He'll make a marvelous president.
He's got a wealth of information. And, he brings a very
practical approach to resolving things at the USGA level.
"He had great respect for the staff and worked well
with the staff. He was very active [on the board]. And he
stays active as a past president. He doesn't have a
direct role, but the SCGA still uses past presidents for a
lot of advice."
Peter James succeeded Vernon as the SCGA president and
served as secretary of the USGA from 1999-2002. He's also
a member of the five-person USGA Nominating Committee.
"I've watched Jim work in a whole variety of
settings and he's well respected," said James.
"He's just a very capable leader. He listens and
effectively pushes people in the right direction. He's
not someone who strives for the spotlight. He just likes to
get things done."
While at Stanford, Vernon focused on his studies even
though he had developed a decent golf game by competing in
junior events. He had been introduced to the sport at age 11
by his father, Frank, a Hungarian immigrant. It was from his
father that he learned, respecting the trials he underwent.
When his dad was 17, he left home in Budapest and was taken
under the wing of a local diamond dealer, who taught him the
trade. Frank sold diamonds to bankroll his university
studies. With war on the horizon, he emigrated from Hungary
to the U.S. via boat in the 1930s, and after serving in the
war as an officer in the army, migrated west with
Vernon's mother, Ada "Duffy" Vernon. They
eventually settled in Los Angeles before the Frank Vernon
Diamond Brokers business got running.
It was at Stanford that Vernon met Tom Watson during
fraternity rush. They became fraternity brothers and formed a
bond that remains strong today. The two were in each
When Vernon's father died of lung cancer in 1984,
Watson dropped his preparations for the U.S. Open at Winged
Foot and flew to California to attend the funeral. Watson
returned to New York in time for the start of the
championship, but it's a gesture that Vernon has never
Unfortunately, Vernon was not present when Watson won the
1982 U.S. Open but quipped, had he attended, "I might
have jinxed him."
After graduating Stanford, he spent nine years practicing
law in the Los Angeles firm of McCutchen, Black, Verleger and
Shea. He tired of the profession, even after making partner
in his eighth year. That led him to take over the diamond
business from his father in '84.
With that varied background, Vernon can see things from an
assortment of angles. Plus, his experiences as an attorney
and successful businessman have taught him the skills to
effectively and concisely communicate thoughts.
"It's just recognizing that everyone has a
legitimate view . and trying to learn something from
them," said Vernon. "And then trying to make sure
they see all the other perspectives as well. I'm
fortunate in that it's such a great group of people [on
the Executive Committee]. Fundamentally, when you are dealing
with really talented people without, in my opinion, personal
agendas, it's usually pretty easy to find consensus and a
way to move forward."
Rest assured, the clay that is the USGA is only beginning
to take shape.
Ken Klavon is the USGA's Editor of New Media. David
Shefter, USGA staff writer, contributed.