The Duramed Futures Tour will make “significant changes’’ after rookie pro Sarah Brown was wrongly disqualified in a ruling about her Ping Tour-W wedge grooves, Zayra Calderon, the tour’s chief executive officer, told Golfweek on Tuesday.
“I have called Sarah, and I have called her father,” Calderon said. “Not only have I apologized to Sarah and Keith, but I have told them how much we appreciate the way they have handled the situation. They have been gracious and honorable about it.”
Calderon outlined general changes in the area of equipment rules: “We have to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again. We went back to talk to the USGA, and we went back to Ping to make sure we are doing everything we can to provide the rules officials with the latest, most up-to-date information. This is an opportunity for improvement, and we are on it.’’
Brown, 18, of Lopatcong, N.J., was three strokes off the lead Sunday as she headed into the final round of The International at Concord, a Duramed Futures Tour event in Concord, N.H.
Two over par at the turn, she was disqualified and removed from the course when rules officials Jim Linyard and Kelly Wergin deemed one of Brown’s wedges to be nonconforming. After consulting the U.S. Golf Association’s Web site, they ruled that Brown’s 54-degree Ping Tour-W wedge did not conform to the 2010 condition of competition requiring new smaller grooves.
However, the wedge was stamped with an “XG” on the hosel (“X’’ indicating the Roman numeral 10 to signify 2010 and “G’’ for grooves), and the Web site indeed showed the wedge to be conforming. The wedge in question is the fifth of five Tour-W 54/10 (54 degrees of loft, 10 degrees of bounce) wedges listed on the Web site.
Golfweek was unable to reach Linyard or Wergin for comment.
Had Brown been allowed to finish her round, officials would have had more than two hours while she played to make a definitive ruling.
Brown has made four cuts in eight events this season and earned $2,921 to rank 106th.
“From a procedural perspective, we have to make sure our rules officials do not make a hasty decision,’’ Calderon said. “We need to stay in contact with LPGA rules officials or the USGA. This is something I would have liked to have happened, but it didn’t. We regret the mistake. The rules official in this case did not pursue other options available to him. It is too bad he didn’t step back and determine whether he had all the information to make that decision.
“Most of the time, rulings are black and white. These lists of conforming and nonconforming clubs are more complex. This is truly new territory.”
Asked about contact with Calderon, Keith Brown said, “Yes, she actually called Sarah twice and me once. She indicated that (LPGA commissioner) Mike Whan might be calling us. (As of Tuesday night, he hadn’t. Many LPGA officials are in England for the Ricoh Women’s British Open.) She has expressed a lot of concern over what happened.”
On June 3, Erynne Lee was disqualified after having won a sectional qualifier for the U.S. Women’s Open. Lee, 17, was not officially DQ’d until days after having completed her round, after the wedge (coincidentally, another Ping Tour-W) was sent to USGA headquarters in Far Hills, N.J., for inspection.
Dick Rugge, the USGA’s senior technical director, said then in explaining the action: “You always have to get all the facts.”
In Brown’s case, a groove testing apparatus was on site but was never used.
“I asked him (Linyard) what he would do if he was wrong,” said Keith Brown, who was caddying for his daughter. “What if he disqualified Sarah and later found out he was wrong? How would he rectify that? He refused to answer. He said: ‘The club is illegal. Sarah is disqualified.’ That was it. It was like giving someone the death penalty on hearsay.”
Linyard and Wergin are fulltime rules officials for the Duramed Futures Tour, which has been the developmental tour for the LPGA since 1999. Wergin carries the title of head rules official.
“Our rules officials are dedicated to their jobs,” Calderon said. “Because the equipment rules are so complex, we had the USGA come to the tour and spend several days with our rules officials. We also have an LPGA rules official who oversees the Duramed Futures Tour rules officials.”
Calderon expressed great concern for Brown.
“When a player is affected in a negative way, we take it very, very much to heart,” she said. “That is so contrary to what we are dedicating ourselves to. It is important for Sarah to continue to play, to continue to get better and better.”
The reaction among the golf community was swift. Ping CEO John Solheim made several phone calls to help clarify the situation and establish a protocol for future disputes.
“This incident surprises me,” said Jim Gibbons, former executive director of the Oregon Golf Association and a rules official at the U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Senior Open in 2010. “At any tournament, you need to have a procedure of invoking the rules, for ensuring that all rules are being followed.”
Most major professional tours implemented the condition of competition on Jan. 1. However, the Futures Tour, with a nod to the difficulty that some of its players had in obtaining clubs with the new grooves, delayed the rule until July.
At this point, there has been no discussion about a financial payment to Brown.
“She had averaged 4 under on the back nine,” her father said. “I pleaded with them to let her finish the round. She had a real shot at a top 5 or even a top 3. Instead, they held up play for probably 20 minutes. They were sitting in a golf cart with a laptop. A crowd was gathering. Sarah was sobbing the whole time. It was a circus.”
Linyard reportedly decided to examine Brown’s clubs midway into the round after being notified by another player that Brown might be using at least one nonforming wedge.
“The rules official came up when Sarah was on the ninth green,” said her father. “He started pulling clubs from her bag. She had a 10-foot birdie putt on 9, and she could see him pulling the clubs because he was directly on her line. She burned the edge of the cup on 8, and she did it again on 9. She was ready to play the back.”
Keith Brown, a former mortgage banker who has not had a job for the last year and a half, said his daughter was “devastated and sobbing uncontrollably on the course, but she impressed the heck out of me. By the time we got to the clubhouse, she was dignified and she was courteous. We knew they were wrong, but she kept herself under control.”
Sarah Brown is the second of nine children. She was home-schooled and blossomed as a golfer in 2008, when she went unbeaten in a 22-2 victory by the U.S. Junior Ryder Cup team over Europe.
“She’s the same old Sarah,” her father mused. “It’s been two days now (since the disqualification), and she actually laughed about a couple of things that happened.”