As golfers, we are most comfortable on fairways and greens. Add some rough or sand, we know how to handle that too. But our heartbeats quicken when we are deflected: venturing into uncharted territory marked by white stakes and red or yellow lines. In times like these, when our ships are rocking and we don’t know how to navigate rough seas, who do we turn to?
In most cases we fire our flares at the people who set the course – those who arrived days in advance to mark the way, decide where we will start, finish and what we will negotiate between the two. These people are rule keepers. In my opinion, they are the unsung heroes of tournament golf.
Every competitive golfer has had an intervention or two with an official. They are the people we turn to when we enter an unfamiliar place. We seek their knowledge of the game of golf to help us make the best decision to advance our ball. During my career, I have had the good fortune to meet and work with many outstanding officials. However, in my short time as a professional it has become apparent the true value they offer players.
It extends beyond the fairway greens and even those dreaded white OB stakes. I have discovered that most of them are not only there to remind us of the lessons of the USGA rulebook, but also to help us navigate the course of life.
In one of my first tournaments on the Epson Tour, I was finishing a nine-hole practice round alone. With two holes to go, I was joined by one of the tour’s rules makers, Peter McGeoch. As he surveyed the greens and selected potential hole locations, he asked me how I liked life as a professional. I mentioned my favorite and least favorite parts of the whole concert. With years on the circuit behind him, he offered his advice on managing life on the road. A few tips that I relied on as I continued on this journey.
Midway through my rookie season, I circled the course tapping and putting greens. Players who did not participate in the pro-am had to leave the course at 12:00 p.m. I had lost track of time and was at the farthest point of the clubhouse when the clock struck twelve. I started running towards the training facilities when I saw a cart coming towards me. I jumped at the thought that I was in trouble, but it was officially another ruler, Tiffany Priest, coming to help me. She kindly offered to drive me. During our golf cart ride, we got to know each other and mostly talked about topics that had nothing to do with golf. Another experience that suggested to me that our teams of officials are there to guide beyond the sport.
Even though I was removed from the arena of competitive golf, I have always felt the love of the people who guide us on and off the course. While playing junior and varsity golf, I met an official with the rules which I have followed to this day. She helps write the rules for times when we wish we had a book to tell us what to do. I recently received an email from her that honed my understanding of these unsung heroes.
“As you get older and step out of the competitive side, you will finally see the beauty of this game,” she wrote. “I thought I was going to give back to the game that gave me so much, but I was wrong. This game keeps giving me more and more that I can never repay. When it’s your time, pass on the gift and love to someone else.
We are often so fixated on the road ahead of us that we forget to turn around and lend a hand to those behind us. It’s a lesson I’ve learned from the example of others, people who have had a profound impact on my life. It’s their acts of kindness that encourage me to teach the young players behind me – a life lesson we learn through golf.
Another gift the game gave me among many other blessings that I will never be able to repay.