When the Players wraps up, commissioner Tim Finchem will hand out that great big trophy to the winner. Before Finchem, Deane Beman was the commissioner. And before Beman the boss was Joseph C. Dey Jr., the first commissioner of the PGA Tour. We Tour players always called him Joe Dey. Not Joe. Not Dey. Joe Dey.
Joe Dey rhymes with rye was like a father figure to Jack Nicklaus, and Jack had a lot to do with Dey's becoming commissioner in 1969, after the touring pros broke away from the PGA of America. I was pretty active in all of that, as were Gardner Dickinson, Doug Ford, Tommy Jacobs and Dan Sykes. But Jack, more than any other player, was responsible for getting Dey to leave the USGA for the PGA Tour at age 61.
We couldn't have hired a better first commissioner, and I say that even though maybe half the players didn't really like him in the beginning. I'm not so sure he liked the players, either. A lot of guys got "turned pro" by the USGA under Joe Dey for taking golf clubs and travel expenses and that sort of thing as amateurs. He was strictly by the book.
As a USGA rules official, Joe would carry the Rules of Golf in one blazer pocket and the Bible in the other. He always wore a coat and tie, even during the hottest of U.S. Opens. (Later, under Dey, Tour officials started wearing blazers. He classed up the joint.) At the USGA he was immersed in the amateur game, and the hard-drinking, skirt-chasing, money-grabbing touring pro was a foreign animal to him. But during his five years as PGA Tour commissioner he came to like the players and the players came to respect him.
The most important thing he did as commissioner was give us instant credibility. The PGA of America was really angry with us when we broke away, but Dey, as commissioner, made the rounds to sectional and national PGA of America meetings and helped smooth things over. Everybody knew he loved the game and would never do anything to hurt it.
I first met Joe in 1957 at the U.S. Open at Inverness. I grounded my club in a hazard by hitting the grass behind a trap I was in, and the rules official with my group informed me that the penalty was two shots. I questioned that, and Joe Dey was called in. He called me Bob. That impressed me, how he used my name. He said, "Well you know, Bob, the ruling is correct." It was said with real authority.
Eleven years later, at the '68 Masters, Joe Dey gave me good advice. Roberto DeVicenzo and I finished the 72 holes in a tie. In the last round I was playing with Raymond Floyd and Roberto was playing with Tommy Aaron. Tommy, marking Roberto's card, put down a 4 instead of a 3 for Roberto's score on number 17. Roberto didn't notice the error and signed for a score one stroke higher than he had actually shot.
There was a lot of confusion as to what to do until Bob Jones said that the score Roberto had signed for had to stand, in accordance with the rules. That made me the winner. Had there been no scorecard problem, there would have been a playoff. I don't know that Jones and Joe Dey had talked that evening about what to do, but I'm almost certain they did. Dey knew Jones well, and nobody knew more about the rules or how to run a golf tournament than Joe Dey.
On that Sunday night, after I was declared the winner, I was making my way to the press tent. I passed Joe Dey. He said, "Can I give you some advice, Bob? You're going to have a hard time in there. They don't understand what happened. They think you kept Roberto's card. If you fight, you're going to lose. Just keep your cool."
I used Joe's advice that night and ever since. Many years later Joe said to me, "Bob, you handled it well." That meant a lot to me then, and it still does today.
Purses went up a little under Joe and course conditions improved, and he helped get Tour events on better courses. It was Joe who first had the idea for a minor league golf tour, what the Nationwide tour is today. He also had the idea for the Players Championship, which was started in 1974 as the Tournament Players Championship. In the early years of the TPC the winner got a plaque called the Joseph C. Dey Trophy. In '82 the tournament moved to TPC Sawgrass, and they started giving out the new trophy.
The second most important thing Dey did as commissioner was to urge us to hire Deane Beman as his successor. Beman was only 35, a little guy with a big ego. At first none of us could see the wisdom of this move. But the Tour exploded under Beman. He got the Senior tour off the ground too. My timing was lucky there. I turned 50 in '79, just when the Senior tour was getting started. I'm 80 now and still play when I can.
Joe died in 1991. The Stadium course wouldn't be his idea of a classic layout, but he would have liked how all the mounding gives spectators easy viewing. He also would have enjoyed how everybody talks about the 17th hole. All that's good for the game, and that's what Joe Dey cared about most.