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I love to compete and certainly love the game of golf, which has done so much for me and my family, but I have to admit that I was shocked and disappointed with the two-shot penalty I received last Wednesday during local U.S. Open qualifying at River Landing Country Club in Wallace, N.C.
My group was the last threesome to go off. I had already chipped and putted, and I was standing about 18 yards from the 1st tee box hitting drives. I saw the players in the group in front of us hit their second shots, and then I heard the starter say, "Now on the tee at 1:42." I said, "Wow," and walked over to my playing partners, shook their hands and watched as they hit their drives. I was the last to hit, but at no time did they have to wait for me to get started.
After hitting, I found out that I had been assessed a two-shot penalty for not being on the tee box when the starter called our group. I tried to appeal during the round but finally agreed to take it up afterward. I went on to shoot a 65, which would have allowed me to advance to the next stage of qualifying. But the next day my appeal was denied by the USGA, turning my 65 into a 67 and putting me in a playoff for the final spot, which I lost.
Should I have been on the tee when the time for my group was called? Absolutely. But what's missing, I think, is an understanding of what the rules officials are there for: to keep people from being penalized. On the PGA Tour the rules officials don't go around looking for people to penalize. They'll say, "That's not a proper drop," or "That might be a penalty," before it happens in order to prevent the infraction.
I talked with Tom Meeks (the USGA's senior director of rules and competitions), and if he had been there or if the qualifier had been the U.S. Open, the ruling never would've happened. Five minutes before a player's Open tee time, officials start looking for him. Two minutes before, they go into panic mode and get on the radio to find the person.
At a local qualifier you have good-hearted volunteers who want to help but don't necessarily have the experience or know-how. What amazes me is that the starter saw me standing by the range and knew where I was. He simply had to say, "Let's go." If he didn't know me, he could have asked if anybody had seen Bobby Clampett.
I believe things happen for a reason, and I have learned a lesson from this, but I'm disappointed because the situation could have been prevented. The starter's not responsible, but the game's ethics ask that we help each other and try to prevent penalties before they happen. So I hope the starter learned a lesson, too.