Morrissett ‘instrumental’ in bringing championship to Erin Hills

By Nicholas Dettmann - Conley News Service

June 15, 2017

Erin Hills Competitions Director John Morrissett, left, talks with photographer Paul Hundley Wednesday morning during the third day of practice rounds for the 117th U.S. Open Championship at Erin Hills.
John Ehlke/Conley News Service

TOWN OF ERIN — Jim Reinhart, general chairman for the U.S. Open at Erin Hills Golf Course, called John Morrissett “our MVP for behind the scenes.”

Morrissett is the competitions director for the course. As competitions director, he does just that: oversees the competition planned for Erin Hills, including this week’s U.S. Open.

“It would’ve been overwhelming,” Reinhart said when asked what planning for the U.S. Open would have been like without Morrissett. “It would not have happened the way it has without John being here. It’s pretty simple.

“He’s such a great team player.”

Several people have been labeled as instrumental for bringing the U.S. Open to Erin Hills. Those names include Bob Lang, Andy Ziegler, Dana Fry, Ron Whitten and Michael Hurdzan. And all are deserving of it. But Reinhart would put Morrissett and Zach Reineking, Erin Hills superintendent, in that grouping as well.

“John’s contribution is invaluable,” Reinhart said. “He and Zach Reineking have been behind the scenes. Zach has been in the spotlight lately to some extent. But none of this would’ve happened the way it has without John. We’re very fortunate he joined us.”

“It’s been so much easier for Andy Ziegler and me to know that we’ve got somebody that understands championship golf,” Reinhart added. “It was a wonderful comfort level.”

The journey to Erin Hills

Morrissett came to Erin Hills about six weeks after the announcement was made in 2010 at Pebble Beach that Erin Hills was getting the 2017 U.S. Open. That ended a 17-year run for Morrissett in the rules department with the United States Golf Association, the governing body for several national golf tournaments, including the U.S. Open.

“I remember at the time when the announcement was made. I remember it very well. The USGA had told me a few months earlier. I was living in the Kohler/Sheboygan area, working out of my house,” Morrissett said. “They told me that they wanted me to move to their headquarters in New Jersey. I was going back and forth on what to do.”

That was April 2010, four months removed from his divorce with his wife and his daughter was 8 years old. As he contemplated his decision, he knew his ex-wife and his daughter were staying in Wisconsin. Thus, if he moved to New Jersey, he would do so alone. The USGA wanted him in New Jersey by January 2012.

“I loved my job with the USGA,” Morrissett said. “But I just couldn’t move away from my daughter.”

At about that same time, he got a call from Reinhart, a longtime friend.

“He knew that, especially with the U.S. Amateur coming (to Erin Hills in 2011), that Erin Hills was looking to hire somebody to focus on the U.S. Amateur,” Morrissett said.

In late May 2010, Morrissett had a detached retina. He described that as “pure hell.”

But Reinhart was adamant Morrissett meet Ziegler, the new owner of Erin Hills, for lunch.

Planning for the U.S. Open in 2017 was in its infancy at the time. However, planning for the 2011 Men’s U.S. Amateur wasn’t and that was key.

Reinhart said he and Ziegler wanted to host amateur championships at Erin Hills, such as the U.S. Amateur, the Wisconsin State Amateur — which happened in July 2015 — and collegiate tournaments.

Morrissett said he wasn’t sure if Reinhart was aware of his situation. Reinhart was, which was why, he made the push for Morrissett.

“He bring such an incredible knowledge of championship golf,” Reinhart said. “I really understood who he was as a person and the knowledge he had.”

Morrissett said he couldn’t drive to the lunch meeting because of his eye. So, on a rainy day, Reinhart drove from Mequon, picked up Morrissett in Sheboygan and drove back down to the Milwaukee Country Club and had lunch with Ziegler.

“The whole lunch one of my eyes was closed,” Morrissett said. “I’m trying to have this serious conversation and my eye was tearing up. I’m sure I looked awful.”

The USGA wanted Morrissett to move to its headquarters because they wanted people from the rules committee to be on site, rather than be remote through phone calls, faxes and/or emails.

‘An incredible blessing’

“(Reinhart) called me, probably unaware of my situation, and said, ‘Just so you know, at Erin Hills, we’re going to be looking to hire a tournament director for the U.S. Amateur and if you know anybody that would be a good candidate, let us know.’” He did know someone: himself. About two months later, Morrissett was hired by Erin Hills.

“In hindsight it was incredible timing,” he said. “Glad it happened when it did. The time of that was an incredible blessing.”

Reinhart would agree that Morrissett’s presence at Erin Hills was a blessing every day for the last seven years because no one else on staff had an idea of how to prepare for all the logistics surrounding a championship such as the U.S. Open.

“John is good at what he does,” Reinhart said. “He understands championship golf, maybe better than anyone else. It was really important to have John here.”