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  • Alistair Tait

Amateur In Name Only

Future journeymen/women tour professionals may look on in envy at amateur playing companions, especially those destined for greatness in the mould of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Charley Hull and Lexi Thomson. These pimply faced teenagers will probably have more lucrative endorsements than the professionals their teeing it up with. The so-called “amateur” will more than likely be festooned in sponsors’ logos following the news the rules of amateur status are to be watered down yet again.

As of 1 January next year, amateur golfers can cash in on lucrative contracts they were previously denied. It’s all part of modernising the game to bring it into line with reality. You have to feel sorry for all those parents of future golf superstars who are going to lose large “consultancy fees.”

The rules of amateur status are turning into a thin gruel, when it will be pretty much do as you please for the world’s best amateurs. Okay, maybe that’s a bit over the top. There are still restrictions, but the difference between an amateur and professional golfer is getting harder to define.

As announced yesterday, here the new rules governing amateur status. These are the restrictions:

  • Accepting a prize with a value exceeding the prize limit (£700/$1000) or accepting prize money in a handicap competition.

  • Playing as a professional.

  • Accepting payment for giving instruction (although all current exceptions still apply, such as coaching at educational institutions and assisting with approved programmes).

  • Accepting employment as a golf club professional or membership of an association of professional golfers.

The following stipulations are being put in place to further simplify the amateur status rule.

  • Distinguishing between scratch and handicap competitions in terms of the prizes that may be accepted.

  • The prize rule applies only to tee-to-hole competitions played on a golf course or a simulator but no longer apply to long-drive, putting and skills competitions that are not played as part of a tee-to-hole competition.

  • Eliminating all advertising, expense-related and sponsorship restrictions.

The last point is key. It means amateurs can cash in to help fund their golf by signing profitable deals. As R&A Director of Rules Grant Moir said in announcing the new code:

“These Rules play an important role in protecting the integrity of our self-regulating sport but the code must evolve to meet the needs of the modern game. This is particularly important for modern elite amateur golf, where many of the players need financial support to compete and develop to their full potential. The new Rules give them this opportunity and will help to make the game even more inclusive.”

As I wrote in March when these changes were initially proposed, policing the game for breaches of amateur status has been a nightmare for golf’s entire history. Some future stars were running around in new, expensive cars despite not having a part-time job, with parents who had previously worked several jobs to fund their offspring’s hobby. Parents of said future stars were sometimes employed as “consultants” with management groups to encourage budding superstar to sign terms with the management group upon turning professional.

To be fair, action has been taken on occasion. The Royal Canadian Golf Association banned Moe Norman for breaching the rules of amateur status. Norman used to find buyers for the prizes amateurs received – TVs, radios, toasters, suitcases, etc. – before he won tournaments so he could fund his golf. Fellow golf journalist Derek Lawrenson was forced to turn professional in 1998 when he won a £190,000 Lamborghini for making a hole in one.

Two years ago, American teenager Lucy Li was rapped over the knuckles for featuring in an Apple Watch commercial.

The new changes make sense because there are very few players at elite amateur level who are true amateurs. Most are semi-professionals, funded by golf unions and given free equipment to play around the world in preparation for the professional tours. The days of the Charlie Greens, Peter McEvoys, John Kemps, Garth McGimpseys and Craig Watsons playing amateur golf while holding down full-time jobs are long gone.

The new changes won’t affect you and me. Just those dreaming of professional success. The age of true, elite amateurs is long gone.

Some might argue it never really existed in the first place.

#JustSaying: “I have never played golf with anyone, man or woman, amateur or professional, who made me feel so utterly outclassed.” Bobby Jones on Joyce Wethered

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