2005: Hey, R&A, best players deserve better

Luss, Scotland

Greg Owen’s frustration was palpable after the second round of the Barclays Scottish Open. The Englishman was embroiled in a nightmare he couldn’t control, like an 18-handicapper trying to find his sliced tee shot in a sea of rough.

Owen had just found out he was not eligible to take Billy Mayfair’s place in the British Open. Mayfair’s decision to pull out of the championship meant his spot automatically was allocated to the next highest player in the Official World Golf Ranking not already exempt for the championship.

Mayfair’s place at St. Andrews should have gone to Arron Oberholser, the next highest ranked player. If he didn’t want to play, then it should have gone to Owen, and if not Owen, then Jeff Maggert.

So far so good.

Imagine Owen’s anger when he found out Bob Tway, a player four spots lower in the rankings, was taking Mayfair’s place instead.

Owen, Oberholser and Maggert were bypassed because they withdrew from British Open International Final Qualifying June 27 at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J. The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews has ruled that this constitutes withdrawal from the championship. Tway never entered IFQ.

“They want the best players there, and all of a sudden they skip three guys and go further down the rankings,” Owen said. “To miss you out is just ridiculous. You either get the best world ranking players or you don’t. You can’t go picking and choosing.”

But if the rules state Owen is not eligible, then he’s got no case, right?

Well, actually, he makes a pretty good argument. Nowhere on the British Open entry form does it say that if players pull out of qualifying, then they forfeit their place in the championship.

“They’ve taken my money and they’ve accepted the registration form but they’re saying I can’t go because I didn’t try to qualify,” Owen said. “It’s just a typical R&A decision. When we spoke to them, they said it’s not written down that if you pull out of the qualifiers you pull out of the Open. It’s a decision they made earlier this year. Now you explain that to me.

“If it said it on the form, I would have no arguments and I would have accepted it. But it says it nowhere in the form.”

R&A spokesman Stewart McDougall defended the ruling body’s decision, saying: “This has been the position all along. It happened with David Frost last year after he did not play in International Final Qualifying in South Africa and it remains the case.”

Owen says he pulled out of the IFQ so he could play in the European Open at The K Club in Dublin, Ireland. Owen is playing full time on the PGA Tour this season, but is trying hard to fulfill the 11-tournament requirement to retain his PGA European Tour membership.

“I’ve pulled out of the qualifier to come and support my own tour, which I have been asked to do,” Owen said. “If I’d played well in qualifying, then it would have meant not flying out until Tuesday and getting to The K Club on Wednesday and I would have been no good.

“It is just disgraceful. I can’t believe it.”

David Garland, the European Tour’s director of operations, petitioned the R&A on Owen’s behalf. But it didn’t work.

“They have taken a very tough line and are standing by their decision,” Garland said. “We have tried to lobby to get them to reconsider but I was told it had been debated long and hard at committee level.”

The R&A says it is just trying to protect the integrity of the British Open, especially after what happened last year when there was a mass withdrawal from IFQ at Congressional. The R&A has taken umbrage at those treating IFQ with contempt, and Owen is one of the scapegoats.

Nick O’Hern is another who has felt the R&A’s tough hand. O’Hern was injured and withdrew from IFQ in Australia, only to find he wasn’t eligible to try to qualify for the championship again.

Owen’s contempt for the ruling body scarcely could be contained.

“The R&A are the R&A and they always will be,” he said. “They sit around and discuss something over a glass of port and decide to make it law without writing it down anywhere. Where is the sense in that? We are professional players trying to make a living and we are relying on people making decisions they shouldn’t be making.”

Owen has a good point. To make matters worse, had Owen ended the Scottish Open as the top player not otherwise exempt for the British, then he would have played at St. Andrews (even though he withdrew from IFQ). Thinking about that infuriated him further.

Considering the R&A has been in existence for 250 years, seemingly has more committees and subcommittees than the United Nations and spends countless hours making sure the Rules of Golf cover every eventuality, you’d think the gentlemen of

St. Andrews would have written the withdrawl rule on the IFQ entry form, especially because the same situation occurred last year.

The R&A has dropped the ball on this one. We’re not talking about some mini-tour event, but the oldest tournament in the world, run by a group that prides itself on its administrative qualities. Peter Dawson, the R&A secretary, always is hammering on about taking a “measured” approach to all matters. This is a ruling body, after all, that gave us the concept of equity, Rule 1-4, which states:

“If any point in dispute is not covered by the Rules, the decision should be made in accordance with equity.”

There is nothing equitable about the way the R&A has dismissed Greg Owen.












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