SAN DIEGO --- There are certain sentences a sports journalist can remain fairly confident he will never have to write during a career.
Michael Vick is honored as PETA Animal Lover of the Year.
Soccer overtakes NFL as America's favorite kind of football.
O.J. Simpson finds wife's killer ... and it's not him.
Cubs win World Series.
So it comes as a great surprise to, in all seriousness, make the following statement -- the folks at Augusta National Golf Club could learn a thing or two from USGA setup man Mike Davis.
Having been to every Masters Tournament and U.S. Open since 1997, it's very hard for me to believe I just wrote that.
The Masters is the most sublime major championship in golf. It gets in your blood and makes you fall in love with it.
The U.S. Open is a championship that commands respect but offers very little else to love. As venerable golf scribe Dan Jenkins once wrote, "It's a grumpy event."
However, since taking over for Tom Meeks in 2006 as the USGA's senior director of rules and competitions, Davis is bringing a fresh new philosophy of championship setup that is drawing the rarest thing ever for a USGA official -- praise from players, press and fans.
"It's as fair as I've seen it," said two-time U.S. Open winner Ernie Els. "You have an opportunity to hit driver on every hole if you want to. There's enough room out there. And if you're going to just miss it, you still have a 50/50 chance of getting it to the green, which I think is a great setup."
Great enough that you can actually hear the fans at Torrey Pines this week. You can hear them roaring over exciting shots and frequent birdies. You can hear them groan over the usual assortment of hazard-induced catastrophes. Ultimately, you can hear them having fun watching a golf tournament.
These are things that have become largely extinct at Augusta National in recent years, as tree-lined claustrophobia and inflexibility have turned what used to be the most fun and entertaining major of the year into another brutal challenge.
The normally stodgy old blue coats have changed their tune. David Fay, the USGA's executive director for 20 years, could only be described as giddy about everything transpiring this week when we crossed paths near the entrance to the course on Saturday morning.
"Mike's creativity has been commendable," said Fay.
"He's not afraid to try new things. But he's not doing this knee-jerk, either. It's all been well thought out."
Davis -- a 43-year-old graduate of Georgia Southern University -- had a lot of bright ideas that had a hard time bearing fruit under the autocratic rule of former president Walter Driver. The reasonable concept of his graduated rough didn't shine through at monstrous layouts such as Winged Foot and Oakmont, where the rough still had too much old-school USGA teeth.
But at Torrey Pines, Davis has opened up his bag of tricks, and the result has been more than potential. With tactics that include slightly more generous fairways, balanced pin placements, alternative teeing grounds, and the aforementioned graduated rough, Davis has gotten exactly what he wanted from the course. He's created a U.S. Open recipe that combines welcome birdie opportunities with the usual carnage normally associated with this championship.
"It's awesome," said 2006 U.S. Open winner Geoff Ogilvy of the Torrey Pines setup. "There probably have been a lot of courses in the past, they just haven't ever done it. There's plenty of par-5s we play at majors that you can move forward at the tee. At Augusta, they don't do it, because they got rid of the old tees. But you could do it most places. Here, they're actually doing it."
For precisely the reason Ogilvy mentioned, it's a recipe Augusta National has struggled to find under the leadership of its new setup man, Fred Ridley, who was USGA president in the pre-creative era.
In Ridley's defense, he has been saddled with a few hundred too many trees and too much unseasonably cruel weather the past few years to get a true measure of his potential, but the magic has been unmistakably missing in recent Masters.
But the club could learn a thing or two from Davis. The key to creative golf is a creative setup that provides options. Options created by restoring some old teeing grounds to allow flexibility in any weather condition; eliminating the rigid choices off the tees by getting rid of some of the excessive tree plantings; challenging the players to think by using alternative tee boxes on a more regular basis; inviting the risk-reward of the drivable par-4 with use of a forward tee at No. 3.
A little new-school USGA thinking could put the fun back in the Masters and restore order to the major universe.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.