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Why US Golf Association’s David Fay gambled on Chambers Bay

David Fay was always something of a risk-taker, willing to buck the norm.

As former executive director of the U.S. Golf Association, Fay was the one who signed the contract that awarded the 2015 U.S. Open to Chambers Bay.

“Chambers Bay?’’ many asked. Yes, Chambers Bay, in the Pacific Northwest.

Fay first took the U.S. Open to Bethpage Black in 2002, playing the national championship on a public course in a state park on Long Island. He signed the contract that took the Open back to Merion in 2013, when many said the venerable course in the Philadelphia suburbs was too short and antiquated to host another Open.

Fay took the U.S. Open to Pinehurst in 1999 and 2005, then convinced the decision-makers at Pinehurst to host both the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open in 2014, back to back, on the No. 2 course.

“And I could see it happening again,” Fay said of the unprecedented Open doubleheader. “I hope to see it happen again in my lifetime.”

Pinehurst had a longstanding reputation as a golf mecca, with a rich history. Pinehurst No. 2 was Donald Ross’ grand design. Everybody who was anybody in golf knew of the place, its tradition, No. 2.

As for Chambers Bay …

The public course outside Tacoma, Wash., was built on an old gravel pit, next to a stretch of railroad. It opened in June 2007, yet Fay said the U.S. Open contract was signed seven months later.

Fay, who retired from the USGA in December 2010 after 21 years as executive director, said he has delighted in the conversations, even the consternation, the past three years leading up to the playing of the Open.

“With Merion, it was could the golf course stand up or had time passed it by?” Fay said. “With Pinehurst, it was the changes to the golf course and playing the back-to-back. With Chambers Bay, it was about taking the Open to the Northwest for the first time, and to a public facility.

“I know I have a biased opinion, but for three years in a row the U.S. Open has been the most talked-about of the majors. That’s great.”

Merion was tough enough and produced a memorable Open finish as Justin Rose held off Phil Mickelson and Jason Day to win the championship. A year ago, Martin Kaymer of Germany was too good, an eight-shot winner in the U.S. Open, and Michelle Wie then won the Women’s Open at No. 2.

Not all of the golfers appreciated the changes that had been made to No. 2 during the extensive restoration by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. To some, the course was too shaggy and ragged around the edges.

Now, it’s Chambers Bay’s turn to take the heat with the Open set to begin Thursday. While providing scenic views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, Chambers Bay has been called a quirky course and its already browning greens are drawing criticism from some of the players.

Chambers Bay hosted the 2010 U.S. Amateur – the USGA test run, so to speak. But this is the Open.

Fay, who is serving as a rules analyst for Fox Sports this week, said he’s one who “loves the controversy.” Last year, holding the Women’s Open a week after the U.S. Open, on the same course, caused some howls about potential playability problems and grumbles about why the women weren’t playing first.

“We’ve never had a situation where there was that much talk about the Women’s Open five months in advance,” Fay said.

And this year’s U.S. Women’s Open? There are some, including so-called golf insiders, who could be hard-pressed to say where it is being played next month.

The answer: Lancaster Country Club in Lancaster, Pa.

“Not as well-known as Pinehurst but a top-100 course and one that’s very highly regarded,” Fay said.

Fay should know. He signed the contract.

Alexander: 919-829-8945;

Twitter: @ice_chip

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