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.”

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