LPGA Tour rules official Lis joins former CGA co-workers Mate, Pagel on powerful USGA Rules of Golf Committee
by Gary Baines
Off the top of his head, Pete Lis rattles off the countries around the world in which he’s served as a rules official since joining the LPGA Tour staff nearly four years ago:
The U.S., Canada, The Bahamas, Brazil, Scotland, England, France, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, China, Thailand and Australia.
And if he’s forgotten a nation or two, that’s understandable. Things can become a bit of a blur when racking up frequent-flyer miles at roughly a six-figure-per-year pace.
But now, his command of the Rules of Golf will bring him back home in a sense — to a place where he laid his foundation in the golf business. You see, for a decade before being hired by the LPGA, Lis worked for the CGA, spending the last seven years of that stint as the association’s director of rules and competitions.
And now, after being named by the LPGA late last year to serve as its liaison on the powerful USGA Rules of Golf Committee, Lis will attend his first committee meeting in about three weeks as part of the USGA Annual Meeting in Washington D.C. And though the business at hand will be very important — with the Rules modernization and simplification project going full throttle — it will be a “family” reunion of sorts. After all, three of the roughly dozen committee members worked at the CGA together a decade ago — Ed Mate (who remains the CGA’s executive director), Thomas Pagel (currently the USGA’s senior director of Rules of Golf and Amateur Status) and Lis (a manager of rules and competition for the LPGA Tour).
“On a personal level, I take great pride in that,” Mate said last month. “For a long time, Colorado has had strong representation with the USGA. And it’s nice because you can be candid with friends.”
Indeed, among the other Coloradans in recent decades who have served on the USGA Rules of Golf Committee are Will Nicholson Jr., M.J. Mastalir, Jim Bunch, Robin Jervey and Christie Austin. Nicholson, Mastalir, Bunch and Austin have all chaired the committee, with Austin being the first woman to have done so.
Both Mate and Lis serve as “advisory members” of the committee, with Mate representing state and regional golf associations and Lis the LPGA.
“It’s a unique and unbeliebable opportunity,” Lis said in a phone interview last month. “I remember when Ed, Thomas and I would talk Rules at a mediocre level (while with the CGA). Now, I’ll be sitting there with those guys and some of the best Rules minds in the world. Hopefully I’ll have an opportunity to provide a little insight and help out.
“I’m excited to do it. I’m sure there will be a little nerves about when to speak up. But I’m there as an LPGA liaison. Hopefully I can help them from the tour’s perspective.”
Lis and Mate, both relative newcomers to the Rules of Golf Committee (Mate joined in the fall of 2015), have come on board at a key time as the USGA and R&A are in the midst of a special project designed to simplify and clarify the Rules of Golf. The new Local Rule that eliminates the penalty when a ball is accidentally moved on the putting green is a working example of the simplification.
For Lis, filling a role on the USGA Rules Committee is a good fit, given his current role with the LPGA, his former role with the CGA, and his long association with the USGA.
What does it say about the CGA to have three current or former staffers now serving on one of the golf world’s top rule-making bodies?
“It goes back to Ed Mate and what a great leader he’s been,” Lis said. “You look at the entire staff and where people have gone. He did a great job challenging us. It was the same with Thomas (Pagel).
“It’s an honor. All of Colorado in general has had good representation on the committee with M.J., Christie, Will and Jim Bunch.”
These days, Lis said he works about 25 LPGA Tour-related events each year, putting him on the road about 29 weeks with the preparation involved. (He’s pictured above, in green, alongside Stacy Lewis at the 2013 Solheim Cup at Colorado Golf Club in Parker.) Last year, one of the events he worked was in Brazil for the women’s Olympic tournament, which (along with the men’s competition) marked the return of Olympic golf after a 112-year hiatus.
“It was much better than it was billed,” Lis said of the Summer Games. “I didn’t see one mosquito. It was cool to be a small part of history. I was fortunate to walk with Shanshan Feng (of China), the bronze medal winner. And I had the distinction of (giving out) the first pace of play penalty in the Olympics — to a Brazilian player, unfortunately. But I managed to get out of there alive.”
All told, Lis doesn’t mind all the travel he does for work.
“I really enjoy going to all the places,” said Lis, who is based in the Milwaukee area along with his girlfriend, Kelley Mawhinney, a former CWGA tournament and junior golf operations manager. “Fifteen hours (traveling overseas) is a long trip, but it’s a pretty special opportunity.
“I love what I do. I love the interaction with players, volunteers and staff. I feel the exact same at the LPGA as I did with the CGA. We’re all brothers and sisters. It doesn’t feel like a job, but kind of a traveling circus.”