Lawyer Leonard Decof makes a practice of winning golf's legal wars
This is an article from the Oct. 12, 1998 issue
At 10:15 on a recent Friday morning, Leonard Decof swiveled in a
maroon leather chair in his Providence law office. Decof, 74,
picked a phone message off his desk. He turned to his window
with its view of Rhode Island's gleaming white capitol dome.
"Norman called again," he said. Decof was on the phone to his
client Danny Edwards, president of the upstart Tour Players
Association (TPA). "Greg's very interested in joining," Decof
Edwards had news of his own: PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem
had agreed to a meeting with him and TPA secretary Larry Rinker.
"What should we do?" Edwards asked.
"Meet him," Decof said. "Stay patient, stay relaxed and
everything will be fine."
Decof, golf's unbeaten legal heavyweight, led Karsten
Manufacturing against the Tour and the USGA in the
square-grooves case that began in 1989 and lasted until '94. He
advised Casey Martin's legal team and recently became Callaway's
hired gun in its fight with the USGA over high-tech equipment.
He helped draft the LPGA constitution. All this golf action has
come toward the end of a 45-year career that includes a 3-0
record in cases argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. Now Decof
works for the TPA, which he sees as the cure for what ails the
Tour. "There's too much griping between players and the
administration," he says. "Everybody needs an association. If
Steven Spielberg isn't too big to join the Directors' Guild,
who's to say Davis Love doesn't need the TPA?"
Love, for one. "What are they going to do, overthrow the Tour?"
Love asked at last week's Buick Challenge. One of four
player-directors on the Tour's nine-man policy board, Love calls
Edwards and Rinker "divisive players" but goes on to say, "If
Danny wants my spot on the board, he can have it." Of the TPA,
he says, "We want their input. We want them to know that the
Tour works for them, but they can't seem to get that through
Like Love, David Duval wonders why the TPA's leaders are rocking
the boat. "They say they don't want to be confrontational,"
Duval says. "Then they hire a lawyer who has a history of being
confrontational with the Tour."
Golfers including Norman, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer have
challenged the Tourocracy in the past 20 years, but each
insurrection fizzled out. "The difference this time is Leonard
Decof," Edwards says. "Nobody knows more about the inner workings
of the Tour."
The lawyer was always a battler. He was born on the kitchen
table of his parents' tiny apartment in Providence. His mother,
an immigrant from Russia, was a department-store cashier. His
father drove a taxi. Decof attended Yale, served as a first
lieutenant in the Marines during World War II, then graduated
from Harvard Law School. He became a leading medical malpractice
lawyer and in 1984 won a $20 million judgment from Goodyear for
the family of Mark Donohue, the race car driver who was killed
in a 1975 crash.
Decof developed a golfing clientele by accident. As a member at
Frenchman's Creek Country Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., in
the 1970s, he befriended Gardner Dickinson, the head pro and
former Tour player, and Dickinson's pals Nicklaus and Sam Snead.
Soon the pros were turning to him for legal help. In the early
'80s Decof helped get the Senior tour started by negotiating for
the players with Tour commissioner Deane Beman. (Finchem, Decof
says, "isn't as reactionary as Beman, but you have to remember
that Finchem is of the system. He came up under Beman.") Since
then, Decof has advised Snead, Jerry Barber, Chip Beck, Doug
Ford and Bob Gilder on legal matters, and helped Nicklaus and
Jim Flick launch their golf schools.
Last year Decof concluded his latest major lawsuit, landing
Rhode Island taxpayers a $103 million settlement from the
accounting firm of Ernst & Young, which had played a role in the
failure of the state's credit unions. Rather than retire to his
home on Newport's posh Cliffwalk and tool around in his Mercedes
S500 or his Porsche 911, he labors on for his club-swinging
clients. Last week he canceled a trip to Hawaii, where he was to
teach American law to Chinese government officials, judges and
lawyers, to focus on his work for Callaway and the TPA. The
latter has yet to pay him a cent.
"I have finally combined my passions--golf and the law," says
Decof. "The only problem now is that the golf work consumes me,
and it's ruining my game. My handicap has gone from five to
13." --Rick Lipsey
Laura Davies put on three hats and two pairs of sunglasses to
get a $42 head start. "I love to shop," Davies announced as she
joined 59 other LPGA pros for a Sept. 25 shopping spree at the
VF Factory Outlet in Reading, Pa. "I come alive to shop," shot
back Jan Stephenson. Their task: Stuff shopping carts with
pricey goods for 72 seconds. When the last panting golfer
wheeled her cart to the checkout stand, the team captained by
Davies prevailed, led by Becky Iverson's record haul of $3,046
in merchandise. The champs earned $300 gift certificates for
themselves and $15,000 for Kutztown's Good Shepherd
Rehabilitation Center. "I sprinted to the petite section," said
Iverson, explaining her game plan. "You can fit more small stuff
in your cart."
Davies was elated. "This is total redemption for the Solheim
Cup," she said. --Tom Hanson
THE SHAG BAG
Faldo Solo: On the heels of his split with swing guru David
Leadbetter, Nick Faldo announced at last week's Belgacom Open in
Knokke-le-Zoute, Belgium, that he was breaking up with his
23-year-old girlfriend, Brenna Cepelak. The slumping 41-year-old
then fired a first-round 65. "I made eight birdies," he said. "I
don't know when I last did that. It's all a distant blur." Faldo
himself was a distant blur by Sunday. Perhaps distracted by a
pair of security men IMG had dispatched to shield him from
paparazzi--the British tabloids were abuzz with rumors that he
will reconcile with his estranged wife, Gill--he faded to 30th,
10 shots behind winner Lee Westwood.
School of Hard Knox: With the entry fee for the PGA Tour's
annual qualifying tournament jumping from $3,000 to $4,000 this
year, the event will generate $4.6 million from its 1,157
entrants. After expenses of $2.5 million, including $1.2 million
in prize money, the Tour will net $2.1 million from Q school.
Captain America: Judy Rankin is stepping down as captain of the
U.S. Solheim Cup team, and Patty Sheehan is expected to get the
nod for the year 2000. "All they have to do is call," Sheehan
Never on Sunday: Chip Beck leads the Tour in final-round scoring
average, at 68.0. The catch: Beck, who missed 46 consecutive
cuts before finally making one last month, has played only one
Stand-up Guy: Davis Love III on the TPA's membership fee: "The
joke out here this week is, What's the difference between the
new association and the old association? One thousand dollars."
Nobody ever called the Tour a hotbed of comedy.
Putt for Dough: Wilson's new, limited edition Michael Jordan
putter, a carbon steel blade stamped with Jordan's signature,
comes with a $399 price tag.
Breaking 100: Tom Spear has a birthday this month. He'll be 102.
Spear, who took up golf in the 1930s, first shot his age with a
78 in 1974. Two years ago, at 100, he fired an 86 to win a
55-and-over tournament at Turner Valley Golf and Country Club
near Calgary, where he still plays twice a week. "I've got good
health and lots of desire," says Spear. "I think I might take a
lesson next year."
Tennyson: Tour Shouldn't Shed a Tier
Michael Clark had three top 10 finishes on the Nike tour in
1997. He finished 30th on the money list. Still Clark had
trouble getting into this year's events. "I was up a creek
without a paddle," he says. According to Nike tour rules, only
tournament winners and players who rank from 16th to 25th on the
money list have been fully exempt. (The top 15 graduate to the
PGA Tour.) Some Nike golfers thought that was wrong. "The most
competitive players should keep their right to play," says Brian
Tennyson, who believes there have been too many club pros, Q
school qualifiers and slumming PGA Tour players filling Nike
fields. He helped draft a rule that will ensure a year's
eligibility for players ranking 16th to 55th on the Nike money
list. The change will be ratified by the Tour's policy board
next month. "I'm glad we got it passed," Tennyson says. "What
we've done will be fairer than the old system."
KERMIT TURNS PRINCE
Until the1968 Kaiser International, Kermit Zarley was the last
name in golf. Zarley, who preceded Walt Zembriski, Larry Ziegler
and Fuzzy Zoeller in golfing Z-dom, was dubbed the Pro from the
Moon by Bob Hope for his odd moniker. At the inaugural Kaiser,
however, Zarley proved his game was no joke. He birdied five of
the last eight holes at Silverado Country Club in Napa, Calif.,
on Sunday to win the event that 28 years later would become the
Michelob Championship. It was the first of two Tour victories
for Zarley, who was among the first pros to film his swing and
lift weights. He wrote three books on religion and world affairs
and launched a Web site, www.kermitzarley.com, devoted to his
life and writing. This week the Senior tour's Z man tees it up
in the Transamerica at Silverado, a course that seems to bring
out his A game. It was also the scene of his lone Senior
victory, the '94 Transamerica.
Should the PGA Championship be held in the fall, to keep players
and fans interested in the latter part of the season?
--Based on 2,681 responses to our informal survey
Next question: Should the USGA adopt new rules to regulate
high-tech equipment? To answer, go to www.cnnsi.com/golf.
Only the top 30 money winners play in the season-ending Tour
Championship on Oct. 29-Nov. 1 at Atlanta's East Lake Club.
With three weeks left for players to qualify, these are the men
on the bubble.
PLAYER EARNINGS LAST FIVE
25 Jeff Maggert $908,164 $163,490
26 Bob Estes 906,784 97,233
27 Tom Watson 897,385 421,612
28 Tom Lehman 894,214 246,892
29 Andrew Magee 871,502 141,282
30 Bob Tway 850,824 147,866
31 Trevor Dodds 785,250 51,162
32 Stewart Cink 783,941 56,943
33 Skip Kendall 777,087 109,519
34 Steve Flesch 772,372 64,804
35 Ernie Els 763,783 96,145
36 Steve Jones 727,344 129,282
37 Stuart Appleby 717,962 88,625
38 Steve Pate 713,904 55,654
39 Chris Perry 710,806 435,950
40 Steve Elkington 695,775 532,361
Dollars spent on golf per year by an average avid golfer in the
U.S., according to a Harris Poll commissioned by SI.