Vernon: Watson Always Beats
When Jim Vernon takes over the presidential reins of
the USGA, he'll become just the fourth Californian to
ever hold the esteemed position. The 58-year-old golf
aficionado boasts a friendship with Tom Watson that dates
back to their Stanford days. He shared this and several
other intriguing nuggets about himself recently with
Association staff writer David Shefter.
As a Rules official, have you ever had any bizarre
situations come up on the course?
Vernon: Actually, I have been pretty lucky. Most of my
rulings have been pretty much bread and butter. To me,
being a Rules official at that level you spend 99 percent
of your time somewhat bored and one percent in a sheer
I had one [situation] at Oakmont last year [at the U.S.
Open] with [Angel] Cabrera on Saturday. He was next to a
bunker on one of the par-3s and I got a call on the radio
shortly after that whether his ball had moved when he was
addressing it. I was right there and was looking at it. I
could have sworn it did not move. But I had to go ask him
later whether it had and he said no. TV replays showed that
it did not. That was one. .You always have to be alert.
Do you have a favorite golf moment?
Vernon: Not really. It's funny, I have thought about
that. I have some great memories in a lot of different
contexts. I cherish some of my memories playing golf with
my dad and my brother. Certainly I've seen some great
golf from Tiger Woods when he was in high school to the
best at the U.S. Open the last few years.
Considering your tremendous friendship with Tom Watson
that dates back to your Stanford days, can you relate any
special story about him?
Vernon: I remember Tom's first professional golf
tournament. It happened to be the Kaiser Open at Silverado
in Napa. He made the cut. I was there for the last couple
of rounds. I remember him coming off the 18th green and I
forget what he shot. It was a good round. There was a kid
who was probably 10 years old. He and my girlfriend and I
were probably the entire gallery for Tom. The kid went up
to Tom and said, 'Can I have your autograph?' I was
so struck by, 'Here is my good friend and there's a
kid asking him for his autograph.'
I did not go up for [the 1982 U.S. Open]. I am sorry I
wasn't there for that. But whenever he would come to
Los Angeles for the L.A. Open, he would stay with me. I had
plenty of opportunities to come see him play in
tournaments. I do wish I had been [at Pebble Beach] for
I'm sure you've had the chance to play golf
with Tom over the years?
Vernon: Well, he always beats me. Most of my golf with
Tom is always played in Kansas City (his hometown) or at
Lakeside [Golf Club]. It's always a kick to play with
him. It makes me appreciate just how good [PGA] Tour
players really are. When I was a little younger and playing
better than I do now, I could hit some shots like Tom could
hit some shots, but he could hit some shots that I just
couldn't hit. Plus, he just hit the good ones a lot
more than I did.
Lakeside Golf Club is right in the heart of two major
movie studios, Universal and Warner Brothers, so I am
sure there are some celebrity members at the club. Do you
have any stories or unusual encounters with any
celebrities at the club that you can share?
Vernon: You see them, but I don't play golf with
them. We are very protective of what goes on at Lakeside
just because of the nature of the people who are there. I
have played golf with Joe Pesci. He's a good golfer,
probably low double-digits. He's fun to play with.
He's just a character. He's just a nice guy.
Being that you are in the diamond business, what are
some key things people should look for when purchasing a
Vernon: The ultimate criterion is, how does it look to
you? I can give you chapter and verse on what you should do
to a diamond to make it look good to you, but as a
consumer, you need to trust your eyes. The higher the color
in the diamond and the cut on the diamond are the two most
My guess is that your wife, Gail, didn't have to
worry about getting a quality diamond as an engagement
Vernon: Gail has done OK (laughing). She has a nice
diamond or two. In our business, we have been known for
dealing in better quality stones anyways, so Gail has been
the beneficiary of that for sure.