2003: Newsmakers - Costly lesson for Zoeller
Key Biscayne, Fla.
Fuzzy was a little too friendly at the Royal Caribbean Classic.
A good-intentioned effort to help promote the Champions Tour event wound up causing Zoeller to be disqualified Feb. 7. PGA Tour officials DQ’d Zoeller for hitting practice shots on the sixth hole at Crandon Park Golf Course after his first-round 73, which would have placed him in a tie for 36th after the opening round.
“Fuzzy Zoeller committed a rules infraction while trying to help the tournament,” said Champions Tour tournament director Gene Smith. “While the Rules of Golf are clear in this case, there was miscommunication that unfortunately contributed to the rules violation by Fuzzy.”
Zoeller – in accordance with the tour’s new fan- and media-friendly approach – had agreed to a request to give a lesson to weather reporter Jackie Johnson from Miami television station WSVN. The instructional session was originally supposed to be taped on the practice tee, but because the range was full, Zoeller – after getting approval from Champions Tour media officials – agreed to move the lesson to the sixth tee.
For most of the lesson, Zoeller provided only instruction to Johnson, which is allowed under the Rules of Golf. At the request of a cameraman, however, Zoeller hit three shots into a lake, violating Rule 7-1b, which stipulates a competitor cannot practice between rounds on a tournament course.
“I thought everything was square, but that’s all right,” Zoeller said in comments picked up by WSVN’s cameras. “Hey, it’s the rules. I thought they gave the OK on that. It’s no problem.”
Zoeller said he thought the taping was OK and had been approved by rules officials. Tour media official Phil Stambaugh admitted he and the tournament media representative, Gary Ferman, were partially responsible for the miscommunication.
“The media official (Stambaugh) said the driving range was too crowded, so she (Johnson) was waiting for us on the sixth tee,” Zoeller’s caddie Cayce Kerr told Golfweek. “We know the rules – we know you can’t practice on the course. But if a PGA Tour official with a PGA Tour staff badge on tells us to, we thought it was cleared.”
Smith said he regretted the miscommunication, but added that Zoeller knew the rule.
“I wish a light bulb would have gone off in Fuzzy’s head when that cameraman asked him to hit that shot,” Smith said. “Fuzzy might have thought he had approval, but he didn’t have it from us.”
Kerr said he and Zoeller were stunned after Smith told Zoeller he had been DQ’d.
“I mean, they (WSVN) solicited him,” Kerr said. “Here’s a guy who doesn’t even practice. There was no intent for him to practice.”
Reaction varied among Champions Tour players.
“If we’re going to be more friendly to people, they’ve got to give us some leeway on things,” said Hubert Green, a close friend of Zoeller’s.
Said Tom Kite to The Palm Beach Post: “He didn’t do that, did he? Fuzzy knows he can’t practice on the golf course.”