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Friday, June 13, 2008

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Taking Survey

Survey
Susan Naylor inspects a player's club Friday at Torrey Pines. (Don Liebig/USGA)


By Thomas Hackett

San Diego – Susan Naylor likes to get into other people’s business. It’s her job. She’s been doing it for 34 years, and she’s good at it – efficient, thorough, and ubiquitous. She doesn’t care if you’re a 12-year-old junior amateur or Tiger Woods; she’s going to find out just what you’re packing on the golf course.

At nearly 200 golf tournaments every year, Naylor and her staff at the Darrell Survey rummage through the golf bags of every single player in the event, taking down their equipment particulars – their clubs, their shafts, their grips, their gloves, their hats, even their caddies’ hats. They record all of this by hand, with pen and paper, but a few hours after the end of the first day of play, they’ve entered all the information into a computer database, producing detailed reports for equipment manufacturers.

What the manufacturers do with this information is their business, as far as Naylor is concerned. They can use it to find out what the competition is up to, or to make sure the players that they have under contract are using the equipment they’re supposed to be using, or to track the correlation between what the pros are playing and what the amateurs are buying.

“Let’s say I’m a manufacturer, and I’m paying you to play twelve clubs,” Naylor explained Friday morning at Torrey Pines, taking it easy after a hectic Thursday of going through the bags of all 156 players in the field. “I want to make sure you’re using twelve clubs, that you’re honoring your contract. So, basically, we’re independent auditors.”

Amazingly, the players don’t mind the intrusion. Well, a few of them are notoriously difficult (she wouldn’t say who), perhaps because they’re hoping to sneak a Cleveland wedge into the bag, say, hoping the generous folks at Nike will never know, or, what’s more likely, simply because they’re jittery at the start of play. The Darrell staff still finds ways to check up on those players, either through the surreptitious help of caddies or by taking binoculars out on the course and spying every club they use.

The testy players, though, are rare. The vast majority understand that a quick but thorough inspection from the Darrell people on the first tee is just another one of the odd little rituals of tournament golf – one that, incidentally, has saved more than a few golfers from incurring a penalty for carrying one too many clubs.

Of course, it also helps that Naylor a) has been such a fixture of the tour for so many years and b) is the very opposite of a scold.

She got into the business when she was just a kid, really, a 20-year-old girl, helping a 70-year-old Virginia Darrell, who had taken over the survey after her husband had died. She and Mrs. Darrell did the whole tour together, the two of them, taking to the road from January to Thanksgiving, with three dogs in tow. In 1980, Naylor bought the business that Eddie Darrell had started in the 1930s, and a year later, her brother John Minkley joined her.

“It was amazing,” she recalls of her first few years in the business, when life on the tour didn’t yet seem so far removed from the traveling road show of the Walter Hagens and Gene Sarazens and Ralph Guldahls. “We drove everywhere. Everybody did, and we were like a family. I’d baby-sit the players’ kids. I’d cut their hair. I’d hem their pants. When players missed cuts, they’d come around Virginia’s room for a drink, looking for consolation.”

It’s a different world today. Golf has become very corporate, and in some ways, that’s been good thing for Naylor. The keen financial interest of sponsors, manufacturers and advertisers is the reason for the survey’s success. But she misses the sense of community. Even though she’s not much of a golfer herself, or even much of a golf fan, she has countless friends on the tour, and that’s what keeps her coming to tournaments. “It’s just so much fun catching up with people,” she said. “And it’s wonderful feeling like you’re part of golf history.”

Thomas Hackett is a freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on www.usopen.com.

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