Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Are You a Dishonest Golfer?

Why are people dishonest on the golf course? Because they’re that way in life, I suppose.

Hermann Park Golf Course near downtown Houston.
It stinks.

My friend and I recently teed it up at Hermann Park Golf Course near downtown Houston. For a municipal track next to a zoo, it’s a nifty layout with tight fairways and decent conditions for the price ($16.50 weekdays, $26.50 weekends). The greens are smallish and in better shape than you’d expect. They rolled just fine when we were there.

Hermann Park is basically what you make it. If you want to bang driver and play bomb & gouge all day, you can do that. But you don’t have to. You can also work on course management with 3-woods, hybrids and long irons off the tees. It’s not a championship course by any means, but it is plenty fun.

It’s a perfect setting for casual golf and casual golfers.

Land is especially precious in urban settings, and Hermann Park does suffer a bit from adjacent fairways and the occasional golf ball whizzing by from other holes. We’ve all played on these kinds of courses. You keep your head on a swivel, but otherwise have a great time playing a game you love in a unique setting for a good price.

One thing inevitably happens in these situations, however. The idiot golfer who picks up someone else’s ball.

Why do people do that?   

This happened to my friend at Hermann Park. We were humming along, playing our match with the two other fellows we were paired up with on the first tee. They were plenty nice. Not the greatest golfers, but that was never an issue. They were encouraging to us, as we were to them. We played the first seven holes at a good pace, everyone having a great time.

Then, on the eighth hole, my friend’s approach shot came in hot and bounced over the green. I saw it hit the back fringe and carom to the rough behind the green. When we got up the green and looked behind it, her golf ball was nowhere to be found. Along with one of the other guys in our group, we spent a full five minutes looking for it.

Meanwhile, the fourth member of our group was on the green, lining up his putt. I hadn’t noticed him behind the green before we got there.

Finally, my friend takes a drop (and two-stroke penalty) and we finish the hole. On the way to the next hole, she says to me, “That guy picked up my golf ball.”

“What? You saw him?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

On the next tee, I ask him: “Hey, did you happen to pick up a Precept back there behind the green?”

He looks at us sheepishly, points at his buddy and says, “Yeah, I did. He told me not to say anything.”

While blushing, he reaches in his pocket, pulls out her golf ball and tosses it to us.

We said, “Thanks.”

What the heck? I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now. First, why would anyone pick up someone else’s ball at a claustrophobic course where so many stray shots are being hit? If it wasn’t our ball, it surely belonged to someone else on a nearby hole.

Second, he “wasn’t going to say anything” because his buddy said not to? Were they embarrassed? Why, then, did he admit it when I asked him directly?

We finished the rest of the round in relative silence. Not a lot of chatter between carts. My friend and I weren’t exactly mad at them; we were mostly confused. Why did he pick up the ball? Then for five minutes, he hung out on the green while watching us search for it. And then he cops to the theft on the next tee box.


What’s equally mystifying is why anyone would pick up someone else’s ball near a green at a public course. I understand finding the Pro V1 in a hazard or deep in the trees. When it’s fairly obvious that you’ve found a ball that someone else lost – and isn’t currently searching for – there’s no harm in claiming a diamond in the rough.

But when you see others looking for a ball, and you find one … the proper thing to do is say, “Here’s one! What kind of ball are you playing?”

Our playing partners that day needed a lesson on honesty. They could benefit from reading a copy of my book, “Finding Ti Ming & Tem Po, Legend of the golf gods.” In the story, the golf gods Ti Ming and Tem Po not only come alive  in the dreams of children to teach them how to play golf, they also teach them how to live with the values we learn from the game, such as honesty, respect and sound decision-making.

The kids in the story learn to play golf at the highest levels, and along the way they learn how to live honest, honorable lives. Our playing partners from Hermann Park could use the lessons found in my book. So could all junior golfers.

Golf is a game of a lifetime. Its lessons and values are equally enduring. Next time you see a ball in the rough that isn’t yours, please ask everyone within sight if it’s their ball.

Monday, February 6, 2012

USGA Denies McCaffery's Appeal for Amateur Status

NOTE: This is exclusive breaking news from Texas Links Magazines.

The United States Golf Association today upheld its ruling that Mike McCaffery professionalized his amateur status on Aug. 21 by accepting a check for $8,500 in a skins game at Beeville Country Club.
League City's Mike McCaffery last year had one of the best
summers in Texas amateur golf history. Much of it was
 voided after he accepted $8,500 in an August skins game. 

McCaffery, 41, met with the USGA Executive Committee for 30 minutes on Feb. 3 to appeal on the decision that stripped him of his amateur status last October. The ruling negated the bulk of one of the most impressive competitive seasons in recent Texas amateur golf history.

“The hearing was respectful and the dialogue was constructive,” Managing Director of USGA Communication Joe Goode told Texas Links in an exclusive interview. “The decision is final and we consider the matter concluded.”

Speaking through his attorney Guy Fisher at the closed-door meeting, McCaffery again admitted his wrongdoing and asked for leniency in his punishment. McCaffery noted that he returned the $8,500 check once he realized it violated The Rules of Golf’s Amateur Status.

Rule 3-2 states: An amateur golfer must not accept a prize (other than a symbolic prize) or prize voucher of retail value in excess of $750 or the equivalent, or such a lesser figure as may be decided by the USGA.

“We told them I used poor judgment and that I understand and acknowledge that,” McCaffery told Texas Links. “So what is the punishment? A month, a year, a lifetime ban? They can shorten or lengthen the punishment as they see fit. I was basically asking for mercy. I asked for ‘time already served,’ I’d give up medals and titles and asked for my status back.”

A former professional mini-tour player from League City, Tex., McCaffery in February 2011 was reinstated by the USGA as an amateur. Routinely blasting drives beyond 300 yards and showcasing a deft short game, McCaffery went on to have a phenomenal run on the state and national levels.

The highlight came in September when he won medalist honors during the 36 holes of stroke play in the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Shadow Hawk Golf Club. During match play of the USGA national championship, McCaffery advanced to the quarterfinals.

Prior to that, he won the medal for the nation’s best U.S. Mid-Am qualifying score, an 8-under 64 at Pine Forest Country Club.

McCaffery also won the 2011 Texas State Mid-Amateur at Carlton Woods, the Texas Golf Association’s South Region Mid-Am at Riverbend Country Club and the Harvey Penick Invitational at Austin Country Club. He finished third in the Texas Amateur, played at scenic ACC.

TGA president Rob Addington said he couldn’t remember a player having so much success at the amateur level in one year.

After McCaffery accepted the skins game money in August, however, he professionalized his status. The October USGA ruling voided all his results past Aug. 21, which included the U.S. Mid-Am, the Texas Mid-Am and the Harvey Penick.

Part of McCaffery’s confusion, he said, was delineating the difference between “prize money” and “gambling.” At the Aug. 21 tournament in Beeville, McCaffery, who indicated on the entry form that he was playing as an amateur, won a $2,000 check for second place in addition to the $8,500 he won for skins.

Knowing that accepting the prize money was in violation of the Rules of Golf’s Amateur Status, McCaffery did not take the second place winnings. He believed that skins games fell under the Rules of Golf’s “Acceptable Forms of Gambling” provision, however, and accepted the $8,500. He returned the money a couple of weeks later once he realized that, too, was a violation.

In the Rules of Golf’s Appendix, the “Policy on Gambling” includes the following: There is no objection to informal gambling or wagering among individual golfers or teams of golfers when it is incidental to the game. It is not practicable to define informal gambling or wagering precisely, but features that would be consistent with such gambling or wagering include: the players in general know each other; participation in the gambling or wagering is optional and is limited to the players; the sole source of all money won by the players is advanced by the players; and the amount of money involved is not generally considered to be excessive.”

What made this an unacceptable form of gambling, according the Rules of Golf, is the fact that the skins money came from the tournament organizers and was not solely put up by the players. This wasn’t a friendly bet between buddies; the skins money came from tournament dollars.

After the October ruling, Goode also said that McCaffery’s repayment of the money was a non-factor.

“After-the-fact repayment of prize money isn’t a valid defense of a violation of the rules of amateur status,” Goode said on Oct. 22.

For his part, McCaffery said he understood the USGA’s position. He was content with the time he was given to state his appeal, he said. At the same time, he believes he did the right thing by giving the money back and wants the chance to play amateur golf again.

The USGA didn’t have to give me the opportunity to floor my appeal, so I’m satisfied from that standpoint,” he said. “But I don’t think (the ruling) is right. I’m not looking for anything other than to be able to play golf at the amateur level. I’ve had my time to play at the professional level. I would love to play as an amateur on the local, state and, God willing, national level. That’s what I want to do.”

Unfortunately for McCaffery, he remains ineligible to play in sanctioned amateur events.

“I don’t have anyone to blame except myself,” McCaffery said. “It’s not about all the other guys who have done this exact thing. It’s not about the all the folks who are so jealous that they turned me in. I don’t think it’s about the USGA making an example of me, either. At the same time, if others can learn from this, maybe that’s the bigger picture for me.”

Goode said that there is indeed a lesson here from which all amateurs can benefit. 

“The USGA takes no pleasure in its ruling, but it’s our responsibility to enforce the rules of amateur status,” he said. “This case provides a cautionary tale of conduct that undermines the spirit of the amateur game and the importance of playing by the rules.”

Where McCaffery goes from here is yet to be determined. He said he’ll digest this ruling and investigate what playing opportunities he’ll have.

“It really leaves me in limbo,” he said. “My actions ‘professionalized’ me, but I haven’t declared myself a pro yet. I’ll see what events I can play in around the area. If there’s no chance I’ll ever get to play as an amateur again, I’ll probably look at playing at some mini-tour events and pro-ams. It’s all a big ‘What if?’ right now.”

For more updates on Mike McCaffery, the USGA and all the events surrounding golf in Texas, visit www.myTXgolf.com.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Spieth to Play in PGA Tour's Northern Trust Open

Jordan Spieth is headed back to the PGA Tour.

Spieth ranks second in the nation in scoring
average for the No. 1-ranked Texas Longhorns.
The Dallas native and University of Texas freshman received a sponsor’s exemption to the Feb. 16-19 Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club outside of Los Angeles. Spieth, a two-time U.S. Junior Amateur champion and 2011 Walker Cup member, has played in three PGA Tour events as an amateur. He finished tied for 16th place as a 16-year-old high school junior at the 2010 HP Byron Nelson Championship. He tied for 32nd there last year.

Spieth wasted little time establishing himself as one of the best players on the No. 1-ranked Longhorns team. He claimed his first collegiate title last October at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational in Windermere, Fla., with a score of 11-under-par 205. Spieth is ranked second in the nation in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings with a 67.64 scoring average.

The former Texas Links junior golf columnist also is second in the Royal & Ancient’s World Amateur Rankings. UCLA sophomore Patrick Cantlay, the top-ranked amateur in the world, also received a sponsor’s invite to the Northern Trust, as did six others including two-time Riviera champ Fred Couples.

For Spieth and Cantlay, the experience in the Northern Trust Open is more than just another chance to play with the best of the world. It’s also an opportunity to scout Riviera Country Club, which plays host to the NCAA Championship May 29-June 3.

Via text message, Spieth told me he is excited for the chance to play in another PGA Tour event. As for his freshman campaign in Austin, he said, Im loving every minute of it.

Texas is currently playing in Hawaii at the Amer Ari Invtational. Through two rounds, the Longhorns lead the 20-team field, which includes No. 2 Oregon and fourth-ranked UCLA. Spieth shot a pair of 69s in the opening rounds and is tied for sixth place at 6-under with teammate Dylan Fritelli and six others. UT sophomore Toni Hakula is tied for second place at 8-under with Cantlay and USC’s Jeffery Kang. UCLA’s Pontus Widegrin leads at 9-under 135.  UPDATE: Spieth led Texas to its fourth consecutive win on Saturday. He shot a final round 67 to tie USC’s Jeffery Kang for the individual title. The Longhorns went wire-to-wire for the win and shot 30-under to win by five shots. UT’s Dylan Fritellu and Toni Hakula tied for ninth at 6-under.

For more updates on Spieth and everything thats happening in Texas golf, check out the new Texas Links Magazines website by clicking here.