The Official Fools of Golf

July 16, 2000

There is small. There is petty. Then there is the Arizona Golf
Association.

On Father's Day, Mark Johnson, a 43-year-old lieutenant colonel
in the Army, came to the last nine holes of the Arizona
Mid-Amateur at Ocotillo Golf Club in Chandler with an 11-shot
lead. His caddie, son Seth, was celebrating his 14th birthday.
Mark had carried his own bag for the first two days, but Seth
wanted to be there for the win, and Mark wanted Seth to be a part
of it, even if Seth does walk a little slowly and has a lazy eye
that doesn't do much for his depth perception. It was kind of a
gift to each other.

Right about then the AGA kicked them both out of the tournament.

Back at the par-3 3rd hole, Seth's 12-year-old best buddy, Derek,
whom Seth had invited to walk with him, had taken Mark's putter
out of the bag as the group walked off the tee box and carried it
down the fairway, both boys trailing behind the unsuspecting
Mark. At the green Mark turned and saw young Derek holding his
putter and knew he was in trouble. A rules official, 69-year-old
Doc Graves, was seated in his cart nearby. "We got a technicality
here," Graves said, after Mark had putted out. "You can't have
two caddies."

Mark turned to the boys and said, "Derek, Seth's the caddie, not
you. You can't touch this bag, O.K.?" Derek said O.K. Seth said
O.K. Not certain of the penalty, Graves radioed back to the
clubhouse to confer with other tournament officials. Mark played
on.

Six holes later, the lieutenant colonel and the boys were in
Mark's truck, driving the 2 1/2 hours back home to Sierra Vista,
Ariz. Seth was crying; Derek was crying; Mark wanted to kick a
cactus.

Officially, it's rule 6-4 in the USGA's Rules of Golf: A player
may have only one caddie at any one time. You can change caddies
anytime you want. You can change caddies every hole if you want.
But you can't have two caddies helping you at once. Penalty: DQ.

Of course, Rule 6-4 was never meant to cover a boy walking one
hole with a putter and without the player's knowledge. That's
known as a casual act of someone assisting a player, such as a
caddie absentmindedly asking a fan to run a glove 100 yards back
to his player, or another caddie bringing somebody his eight-iron
from across the green (Rule 6-4/4.5). No penalty.

So why did the AGA give Mark Johnson the electric chair for
spitting on the sidewalk? "We had to respect the integrity of the
event," says the AGA's director of rules and competitions, James
Waitt.

"There's no gray area in the Rules of Golf," says the AGA's
executive director, Ed Gowan.

"We had to protect the field," says Graves.

Oh, stick it in your ball washer. The "integrity of the event"?
When they DQ'd a man for something a boy did innocently, the
event immediately had all the integrity of Cheez Whiz.

"No gray area"? There's more gray area in golf than in a year's
worth of Wall Street Journals. Did you mean to hit that ball, or
was it just a practice swing (18-2a/20)? Is the snake still alive
(outside agency) or is it dead (loose impediment, 18/4)?

"Protect the field"? Name me one possible competitive advantage
that Johnson gained. Did the jelly stains on Derek's face inspire
him?

Golf takes itself so damn seriously it makes me want to ralph on
a burrowing animal. The rules say you can't fix a spike mark, but
if you can find enough people to help, you can roll a 1,000-pound
boulder out of the way (23-1/3). John Daly can slap at his ball
24 times on one hole and nobody says boo, but Padraig Harrington
forgets to sign his card after Thursday's round at the Benson &
Hedges and he's DQ'd on Sunday with a five-shot lead.

But the AGA bottoms everything. I've covered golf for 22 years,
and this is the most nitpicky, mean-spirited ruling I've ever
heard of. Graves should've simply mentioned it to Johnson.
Instead, he shot a mosquito with an elephant gun.

To his credit, the lieutenant colonel took the AGA's decision
with more honor than it deserved. Johnson took full blame. "I
guess I'm going home," he said, before gathering the sobbing
boys. Not a word was said the whole way back to Sierra Vista.
Father and son opened their presents, but, as Seth says, "It
didn't feel very good." His mom's crying probably didn't help the
mood any. Derek still feels bad.

A man named Jack Burke was handed the Graves Cup. That's what the
winner of the Mid-Amateur gets--the Graves Cup, named after the
very same rules official, Robert (Doc) Graves.

Hope the guy uses it for a spittoon.

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA

Rule 6-4 was never meant to cover a boy walking one hole with a
putter and without the player's knowledge.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)