Joe Dye, executive director of the U.S. Golf Association from 1934 to ’69, once was asked whether professional golfers should be barred from reinstatement as amateurs.
“No,” Dye replied. “I don’t believe in the death penalty.”
Whether Dye, who also served as the first commissioner of the PGA Tour, would have given the same answer today is anyone’s guess. The brass ring that aspiring pros chase has become infinitely more valuable.
Of course, the vast majority of reinstatement applicants never came close to snagging the riches. They are former club professionals, or good players who soon realize they aren’t that good after testing the mini-tour waters for three or four seasons. Players in these categories should be welcomed back into the amateur fold after an appropriate probationary period.
But what is appropriate for those who’ve reached higher levels of pro competition? As the talent gulf between PGA Tour-caliber players and the typical amateur player continues to widen, should there be a “point of return?” Has the term “professional golfer” been redefined by the inflated purse structure and the lucrative retirement plan offered by the PGA Tour?
When Dillard Pruitt, a nine-year PGA Tour veteran and tournament winner, won two prestigious amateur events in 2002 – three years after he applied for reinstatement – it became clear that the USGA needs to better define its guidelines. The long-standing criteria of “national prominence” is too nebulous. In an era of increased media coverage via the Internet, The Golf Channel and other outlets, it doesn’t take much to become nationally prominent among those who follow the game.
The probationary period for reinstatement should directly reflect each individual applicant’s level of accomplishment as a professional. For players who have made it to the PGA Tour, it would be logical to implement a formula that dovetails on his status in the Tour’s retirement plan, which rewards
members for longevity and consistency.
The formula could work like this: For each year a player is vested in the plan, he would have to wait one year after his “last act contrary to the Rules of Amateur Status.” (Full vesting occurs after five years on Tour, with a year defined as playing 15 or more official events within a season.) Further, former Tour players would have to sit out an additional two years for each victory recorded (corresponding with the two-year exemption that accompanies a victory).
Thus a player with a record similar to Pruitt’s (eight seasons with 15-plus events and one victory) would have to wait 10 years for reinstatement.
For players who made it to the PGA Tour but didn’t become vested, or who participated on other circuits recognized by the Official World Golf Ranking (European, Japan, Sunshine, Asian, Australasia, Canadian, Nationwide and Challenge tours), a formula could be devised that takes into account the number of seasons played and position on money lists.
Pruitt’s situation is rare. But it could become more common as more players go for the PGA Tour gold and chase those dreams longer. The USGA needs to be ready.