John Bodenhamer shoulders his first U.S. Open as the man in charge

by Bart Potter

You can take a boy out of Washington, and sometimes he moves to New Jersey.

He takes a job with a national sporting organization. He succeeds hugely: His latest promotion puts him in charge of a national championship event at an American treasure of a venue.

It sounds a lot like John Bodenhamer.

John Bodenhamer
USGA Senior Managing Director John Bodenhamer on the 18th hole during a practice round at the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, Calif. on Monday, June 10, 2019. (Copyright USGA/Chris Keane)

Bodenhamer, a Washington native, in 2011 left his job as executive director of the Pacific Northwest Golf Association and Washington State Golf Association, where he had been since 1990, and headed for New Jersey.

He accepted a job with the United States Golf Association, in Liberty Corner, N.J. His title then was senior managing director of rules, competitions and amateur status.

This week, in his new position as the senior managing director of championships, Bodenhamer assumes responsibility for every facet, inside and outside the ropes, of the 119th U.S. Open Championship at Pebble Beach Golf Links. This means he oversees the player and spectator experience as well as the competition for every professional and amateur national championships the USGA puts on. Everything that happens inside and outside the ropes of the biggest golf championship in the world is now on John’s shoulders.

“It’s a joy,” Bodenhamer said in an interview the day before the championship’s first round, at the USGA media center at Pebble Beach. His statement encompasses it all: the work, the mission and the fact that it’s all in service, this week, to the U.S. Open.

You can take a boy out of Washington …

Bodenhamer’s Evergreen State roots run deep. He grew up in what is now the city of Lakewood, learned the game of golf at Fort Steilacoom GC and later at Whispering Firs at McChord AFB and Oakbrook Country Club. He went to Lakes High School.

When he played as a youth and dreamed of golf on its biggest stage, it was the U.S. Open.

“Always the U.S. Open,” he said.

Bodenhamer had built an impressive record as a young player in Washington state. In 1978, he won both the PNGA Junior Amateur Championship and Washington State Junior Championship. In 1981, he won the Washington State Amateur.

He left home first to attend Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Before he graduated with a degree in political science, he played on the Cougars’ golf team that won the NCAA Division I national championship in 1981.

He later worked for two years as a Senate Judiciary Committee staffer for U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch.

John Bodenhamer
John Bodenhamer surveys the course at Pebble Beach prior to the start of the U.S. Open (Copyright USGA/Chris Keane)

Then, in 1990, he came home to work for the PNGA. Through the years, his responsibilities grew to include stewardship of the Washington State Golf Association and the Pacific Coast Golf Association. He was CEO of the PNGA/WSGA-owned Home Course in DuPont, Wash., which he says remains his favorite course.

When the USGA hired him, he was in place to play a big role in the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash.

The “agronomic problem” – Poa annua grasses encroaching on Chambers Bay’s then-predominantly fescue greens – should not define the 2015 Open, Bodenhamer said. There are more important things to remember about that Open. For example, the golf. Jordan Spieth’s victory wasn’t decided until the final hole of the final round, in his duel with Dustin Johnson, and the roster of top players in contention on Sunday was rich: Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy, among others.

“That leaderboard was second to none,” Bodenhamer said.

The lasting legacy of the ’15 Open for Washington and the Northwest can’t be measured, Bodenhamer said.

“It changed the golf landscape in the region,” he said. “There’s still a buzz.”

And the greens at Chambers Bay now? All Poa. All good.

In a press conference for the national media the day before the first round of this year’s U.S. Open, Bodenhamer was asked if the Open would ever return to Chambers. He said: “Chambers Bay is certainly on our radar screen.”

You can take a boy out of Washington …

He lives in Berkeley Heights, N.J., 20 minutes from Golf House (USGA headquarters) in Liberty Corner and 45 minutes from New York City. It’s great, he said. But he misses Washington.

“It’s where I spent the best years of my life – where I grew up, where I learned to play the game, met my wife, had kids, and being with the PNGA and the WSGA, it will always be the greatest years of my life.

“It will always be home.”