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� 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.