Dillard Pruitt situation no threat to amateur game

Thanks to Brian Quackenbush’s victory at the Northeast Amateur, the purists no longer are restless. Which wasn’t the case earlier this month.

Many were aghast when Dillard Pruitt, an eight-year PGA Tour player and winner of the 1991 Chattanooga Classic, won the Sunnehanna Amateur. Pruitt, now a Tour rules official, regained his amateur status this spring. As the 1982 champion, he was invited back to the Sunnehanna and surprised everyone – including himself – by winning.

“What’s next?” groused one mid-am in the Sunnehanna field. “Is some guy who won the Masters going to be reinstated?”

Career amateur Sean Knapp, who tied for 12th at the Sunnehanna, expressed “mixed feelings” about Pruitt’s participation.

“On one hand, I feel guys who try (professional golf) and don’t make it deserve to have a place to come back and play,” said Knapp. “On the other hand, you have a guy who has played for as long as he did on the PGA Tour, and even won. I have a little bit of a hard time with that. . . . Basically, I think the U.S. Golf Association needs to define the rules (for reinstatement) a little better.”

The decision to return Pruitt’s amateur status wasn’t made without scrutiny and debate. In 2001, the USGA approved 558 reinstatement requests; in 2000 it granted 571. Few applicants are refused reinstatement, although the waiting period varies.

Pruitt’s application caught the USGA’s attention because a player who has competed five years or longer as a professional and has achieved “national prominence” for his or her accomplishments typically is not a candidate for reinstatement.

“In Pruitt’s case, the question was: Did he fit in the category of national prominence,” said John Morrissett, USGA manager for the Rules of Golf and Amateur Status. “He did win a minor event in 1991 that was played opposite the British Open. But we asked ourselves, if you took a poll of people who follow the PGA Tour, how many of them could tell you anything about Dillard Pruitt.”

Not many, they decided. He was not a player of “national prominence.” So the question became, how long must Pruitt remain in competitive limbo. Morrissett said the normal waiting period is two years.

If a player’s resume shows extensive efforts to win prize money, another year is tacked on. In the early 1980s, former PGA Tour player (and one-time winner) Burt Greene was reinstated after a four-year wait. Greene’s original application was declined, but he successfully appealed.

Pruitt applied for amateur reinstatement in the fall of 1998. Following standard procedure, the Greenville, S.C., resident filed his application with the South Carolina Golf Association, which verified his competitive resume and passed his request on to USGA headquarters in Far Hills, N.J. At least two people on the USGA staff review applications and make recommendations. In Pruitt’s case, his application was further reviewed by Fred Ridley, then-chairman of the Amateur Status and Conduct Committee.

Even though he hadn’t played competitively since 1996, Pruitt still held PGA Tour membership because of his Chattanooga win.

Until he gave up his PGA Tour and PGA of America memberships, Pruitt was told, he wouldn’t be considered for reinstatement.

“That was an easy decision,” Pruitt said. “To tell you the truth, I thought I’d get my status back sooner than three years.”

Morrissett acknowledged that players who have spent extended periods on professional tours probably would enjoy a competitive advantage if they were allowed to regain amateur status immediately after declaring their intent. “The philosophy behind the waiting period is that by sitting out for three years, those advantages will erode,” Morrissett said.

Indeed, Pruitt’s victory at the Sunnehanna was more a result of his opponents’ poor play than his exceptional shotmaking. Pruitt’s Tour-hardened composure at crunch time, however, certainly was a factor.

Tripp Davis, a less-accomplished reinstated amateur (he played the Ben Hogan Tour for one season after college) and the man Pruitt beat in a playoff at the Sunnehanna, had no problem competing against someone with Pruitt’s pro credentials. “I’m sure it didn’t hurt,” Davis said of Pruitt’s experience. “But he’s still got to hit the shots.”

In any case, neither Pruitt nor the USGA’s decision to grant him amateur status is likely to pose a threat to amateur golf. Pruitt’s passion for the game is evident, but because of his work, he won’t be able to play in more than four tournaments each season.

As for the prospect of a former Masters champ seeking to rejoin the amateur ranks, it won’t happen. There is a point of no return, not to mention a little factor called pride.

“I think it’s safe to say that a player who is nationally prominent wouldn’t ask to be reinstated,” said Morrissett. “It’s a non-issue.”

Unless, perhaps, you played in the 2002 Sunnehanna Amateur.


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