Save the Zebras!

As I write, the field staff of the PGA Tour is locked in a bitter battle with the Tour Policy Board over wages and conditions. Hey, search my shorts, but I can't figure out why. Maybe the players think tournaments run automatically. But the last time I checked, the 30 or so members of the field staff were out there before the first crow fart, making sure we all get to see the astonishing conjuring trick that is an average Tour event. Field staffers handle temporary construction, security, sponsors, marshals and volunteers. They administer the Rules of Golf, coordinate with TV tyrants, take blame for the weather, monitor pace of play and course set-up and make sure the players-only potties have paper. And they are getting royally hosed in this labor dispute.

OK, I didn't actually check on them. That would force me to get out of bed as early as they do, which with my lifestyle would give me...let's see...about four minutes of sleep.

Professional golf is unique in many ways, but no more so than in the way the Rules are applied. In most sports, the refs are there to penalize, but in golf they operate on both sides of the ball. If a pro official sees a Rule about to be broken, it's his or her duty to run in and stop the proceedings before the infraction takes place. John Brendle did just that at Harbour Town this year, when he noticed Ted Purdy taking a free drop a little below shoulder height. Imagine that in boxing: If a ref saw a low blow coming, he'd be obliged to place his personal wobblies between one fighter's fist and the other's groin. In the immortal words of Sir Patrick Summerall, "Mmm...that's not good."

The Rules of Golf are complicated and occasionally daft, so I always feel for the poor zebra under the glare of the cameras, giving a ruling on a life-or-death penalty drop. I remember a European official by the name of George O'Grady, now a Euro Tour executive, who, whenever he had to give a player bad news, wore a look that suggested he was giving birth to a spiral-bound version of the King James Bible. George, like almost every professional official I've known, understood the game, genuinely liked the players and, most important, gave them the benefit of the doubt if he could. This principle is absolutely necessary for dealing with people who play golf for a living, and it's where Tour officials differ from those of the R&A and USGA. Giving rulings to pro golfers is no hobby to Slugger White, George Boutell, Dillard Pruitt and the rest of our PGA Tour officials.

Think about it: Pretty much every recent bad decision (and I say bad, not incorrect, for there is a difference), whether on course set-up or Rules, has been at the British or U.S. Open, where the R&A and USGA rule. Both events do use some officials from the professional tours, and when a pro asks for a ruling, believe me, he prays that he gets one of them.

You want amateur-hour horror stories? Monty got violated when Ernie Els got a break at Congressional. David Frost got cornholed at Carnoustie, and don't get me started on poor Mark Roe, who got sausaged at Sandwich in the 2003 British Open, when he and Jesper Parnevik neglected to exchange scorecards on the first tee. The scores were right, the names were wrong, and though the R&A had the leeway within its own rules to waive a penalty, it did not. The spirit of the game should never be so mean. And get this: Roe shot 73 in qualifying for this year's British Open, then gave his card to an R&A official, who told him no, no, it was 74. The adamant official, however, had added up the numbers incorrectly! "It's incredible," said Roe. "All the R&A has to do is employ the people who do the scoring every week for the European Tour. But they won't do it." What a debacle!

Baseball, the only game whose rules come close to golf's in silliness, starts its umps at $85,000 per annum, and a 26-year veteran can make $340,000. If Tour officials had a similar deal, Wade Caygill, who is 106 years old and has 85 years' experience, would make something like $4,892,369 a year, which is what he deserves. But a PGA Tour official starts at $63,000, a 26-year-veteran makes $189,000, and now they're being asked to fly on the lowest possible, non-upgradable, non-refundable fare! I'm sorry, but this utterly blows cheese.

To add insult to penury, the Tour won't let the field staff even speak to the players about this dispute, so most of them don't even know it's going on. That's why I'm writing this and leaving copies in all the clubhouse cans.

So enough already, boys! Pull your trousers up from around your ankles and march to your nearest Policy Board member. Tell him to cut your zebras some slack. What they ask is a lot less than they deserve, and it would cost the Tour less than Vijay's range tab.

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