When a slight, middle-aged man from Tennessee named Robert walked into Room 204 of the Sheraton Myrtle Beach convention center last fall, he was entering a banal hotel room with sage green carpet and bare beige walls. But as he was told to take a seat on a plastic chair flanked by a clunky brown desk — with a grim-faced, Bluetooth-wearing twentysomething towering over him — he must have wondered if he'd stumbled into an episode of NYPD Blue, with its gritty backroom confrontations and confessions.
"Who is Bill Franklin?" the kid asked.
"He's the pro at my club," Robert said without hesitation.
Pause. Silence. Another committee member sat to the kid's left. Both wore all black.
Robert had to sense trouble. To get to this room, this eye in the sky, he'd had to walk past a security guard, up an escalator and past another guard.
"Here's the thing, Robert," said the kid. "When I called your course, they said Bill Franklin is dead."
"He's not dead," Robert insisted.
"They said he hasn't worked there since 1999," the kid pressed on. "And yet he signed your handicap sheet."
Robert would be DQ'd from the event, but not for forging a dead pro's signature. (In fact the pro was alive but had left the profession almost 10 years ealier.) His sin: failing to post all his scores back home, a no-no for a tournament in which the accuracy of the handicap is everything. He nodded, seeming to understand, and left. The only thing missing was a reality show catchphrase like "You're fired!" Robert of Tennessee never had a chance; he'd been voted off the island.
If you're one of the roughly 4,000 contestants in the annual PGA Superstore World Amateur Championship this August, Room 204 is the last place you want to be, pleading your case before the tournament's black-clad, four-man handicap committee. It means you've been red-flagged. Perhaps your "handicap" is a 14 and you've just shot two straight 73s. Or some digging by the committee has revealed that you keep two handicap cards, a 13 and a 22. Or your gross score is lower than the net score of anyone else in your flight. Or the guy who signed your handicap sheet is dead.
Golfers from 48 states and 31 countries entered the 2007 World Am, which since its inception in 1984 has provided nearly 75,000 men and women with competition and an excuse for a Myrtle Beach vacation. Anyone with an official handicap and $500 can enter. Most who enter are honest everyday golfers. They keep a faithful handicap and record every score, even the nine-hole marks, or rounds that get rained out after 13 holes.
It is for those Honest Abes that the handicap committee toils, for Rule 6-2 says that every player is responsible for giving an accurate account of his or her handicap, which sounds simple enough. But at the World Amateur it is anything but simple, because as the handicap committee's Dave Harbaugh says, "Everybody wants to be a winner."