LAKE ORION, Mich. — My phone rings. It’s Rick Vershure, someone I have admired for a long time.
Vershure, head pro at Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale, N.Y., is one of America’s top club professionals. He reminds me of one of those old-time club pros from the New York metropolitan area — they lived and breathed golf, they were gregarious and friendly and could tell a thousand golf stories, they enjoyed teaching, they were superb players.
They could do it all, and that’s the way Vershure patterns his life as a golf professional. He is a consummate golf guy. In his outstanding career as a club pro, he has qualified for two PGA Championships and two U.S. Opens.
Now he has gone to a lot of trouble to track me down in the Detroit suburbs. What does he want?
Basically he wants to put the U.S. Senior Open in perspective. The Senior Open starts here Thursday at Indianwood Golf & Country Club, and Vershure should be here. But he isn’t.
In a qualifier at Arcola Country Club in Paramus, N.J., Vershure was co-medalist with a 3-under 69. Later he was disqualified for using nonconforming clubs. Some but not all of his Callaway X Prototype irons had nonconforming grooves.
Vershure accepts responsibility for this mistake. He had been playing these irons for about four years, but the old grooves had never been officially measured. He had a set of the same irons, with new grooves certified by Callaway, home in his basement.
In most professional and amateur tournaments — with the noteworthy exception in this country of PGA Tour events and open championships conducted by the U.S. Golf Association — the old grooves still are permissible. However, the ban on old grooves extends to qualifier rounds for the U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open or U.S. Senior Open.
A few minutes before the start of his qualifier, Vershure was reading the section of the rules sheet that discussed conforming golf balls. Although there was nothing about grooves, the word conforming ignited a spark in his mind.
Early Callaway X Prototype irons contained grooves that adhered to the old groove standards, not the new ones adopted by the PGA Tour and USGA in 2010. Callaway later changed the grooves to meet the new regulations.
“I meant to take the irons in my basement and play with them,” Vershure says, “but I just forgot. This is the one tournament a year in which I need the new grooves.”
Vershure approached the starter, revealing that his irons might be nonconforming. Because there was no way to measure them at the golf course, he was told to play with the irons. If he qualified, the clubs would have to be evaluated at USGA headquarters in Far Hills, N.J.
The verdict was delivered the next day. In the set he was using, the long irons and wedges had conforming grooves. Unfortunately the 6-iron through pitching wedge did not.
Sometimes life doesn’t seem fair. Neither does golf. Vershure wanted more than anything to play at Indianwood in his first U.S. Senior Open.
His roots are deep here at Indianwood. He grew up on this course. He won the club championship. His late mother, Evelyn, was a multiple club champion.
He is reminiscing now. I feel as if I am intruding on a private moment. He speaks slowly and quietly: “Her ashes are on that course.”
Above all, golf is a game of honesty and integrity. Vershure made a mistake, and he admitted it. Even if the violation had not been discovered that day, Vershure is convinced he would have thought of it sometime before the championship.
And he would have called the USGA.
“Whatever you do, you’ve got to wake up and live with yourself,” he says philosophically.