The Talent

February 1, 2012 2:56 PM

Clubhouse Lawyer: Jones Day Partner to Lead U.S. Golf Association

Posted by Scott Graham

Nager.colorIn law and in golf, Glen Nager has had an exceptional mentor. The Jones Day litigation partner clerked for U.S. Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor in 1983. And when Nager started hitting the links some years later, the pair played several rounds together and O'Connor sponsored his membership to Chevy Chase Club.

"He hits a long ball," O'Connor said last week, "and if he keeps it straight he’s in good shape."

Over the years Nager has honed his golf game while stalking the leaders of the appellate bar, launching Jones Day's issues and appeals practice and scoring wins at the U.S. Supreme Court in such cases as 2010's American Needle Inc. v. National Football League[pdf], and 2007's Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. [pdf]. 

Now, Nager is taking on a leadership role with the United States Golf Association too. On Saturday in Houston he will be installed as the sixty-second president of the organization that, along with the The R&A,  governs professional and amateur golf worldwide. 

Nager, 53, is set to take the helm of the 300-employee, $180 million-a-year USGA at a time when golf is booming internationally, something that is likely to continue given that the sport is scheduled to return to the Olympics in 2016.

"There's a sense that we need to have an international perspective, not just a national perspective," Nager says. Practicing at Jones Day, with its 22 international offices, has helped prepare him for golf's increasingly global, multicultural issues, he says.

In fact, golf is declining in popularity in the United States, with rounds played shrinking by 5 percent since 2003. As someone who didn't play scholastically or professionally, Nager believes he brings a valuable perspective to his new job.

"We think attention needs to be paid to how the game is perceived by recreational golfers," he says, listing cost, environmental issues, and the perception of exclusivity as some of the issues to be addressed.

Nager joined USGA as the organization's general counsel in 2006. He has served as chair of the Rules of Golf committee, which last fall issued revisions described by The New York Times as having "a whiff of the revolutionary." If, for example, a gust of wind moves your ball as you're preparing to putt, Nager is one of those you can thank for no longer having to take a penalty stroke. 

"Obviously, my lawyering background was a natural fit with the rules committee," he says.

For her part, Nager's occasional playing partner O'Connor, who works with the USGA's President's Council, sees him as a perfect fit for the organization's top leadership post. "I think it's great there’s going to be a president who knows the rules so well," she says. "He’s a great choice."

Nager follows in the cleat steps of at least two other big-firm lawyers who've headed the USGA: Frank "Sandy" Tatum of Cooley and Walter Driver of King & Spalding. Nager says he expects to continue practicing full-time, acknowledging that doing so given his new duties will require "a bit of a juggling act."

Asked about O'Connor's assessment of his golf game, Nager bursts out laughing. "She's just giving me a hard time because she hits the ball straighter than me," he says. "She's not just the center of the court, she's the center of fairway, always."


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