2006: USGA Senior Amateur Misruling

Paradise, Ind.

Talk about bizarre rulings.

In the USGA Senior Amateur at Victoria National Golf Club outside Evansville, Ind., a match-play competitor was ruled to be 2 down after one hole. Furthermore, it took 19 hours for the U.S. Golf Association to make the decision.

In the process, the USGA appeared to orchestrate a clumsy coverup to conceal a mistake made by one of its rules officials.

At the center of this rules typhoon was David Boesel of Orlando, Fla., a seasoned 58-year-old competitor who traveled to the Senior Amateur from the U.S. Mid-Amateur, where he became one of the oldest players in the history of the event. Boesel, a financial adviser, has played in a total of 21 USGA championships.

Boesel shot 147 in Senior Amateur qualifying and was seeded fifth. In the first round of match play Sept. 18, he met Tom McGraw of Montgomery, Texas, the eventual runner-up.

On the opening hole, both players missed the green, McGraw to the front left and Boesel to the front right. That’s when Boesel discovered a 15th club in his bag. It was a 58-degree Titleist Vokey wedge, and it didn’t belong to him.

Immediately he notified the referee assigned to the match, Ray McCraine, a veteran rules official from the Metropolitan Amateur Golf Association of St. Louis and a member of the Senior Amateur Championship Committee.

McCraine informed Boesel he had lost the hole. As it turned out, this was incorrect, but Boesel picked up his ball and conceded the hole.

Here is what should have happened:

Boesel and McGraw should have continued playing the first hole. A one-hole adjustment in the match would have come at the end of the hole – if Boesel actually won the hole, the adjustment would level the match at all-square; if the players halved the hole, Boesel would be 1 down; if McGraw won the hole, Boesel would be 2 down.

Because Boesel conceded the hole, he was 2 down after the adjustment. However, he still did not realize this. Believing the referee to be the final authority, he thought he was 1 down.

If Boesel had known he was 2 down instead of 1 down, he might have asked for a clarification before hitting his tee shot on the second hole. Once he hit that shot, he forfeited his right to dispute the outcome of the first hole or ask for another rules opinion.

It seemed that McCraine panicked. Not only did he give incorrect information to Boesel, but he also failed to follow the customary procedure of announcing the status of the match at the conclusion of the first hole.

Upset, Boesel hit his tee shot on the second hole into a hazard. He lost that hole, too. Both players birdied the third hole, after which play was suspended because of persistent rainfall.

When Boesel reached the clubhouse, he was informed of the correct ruling. “But I did what the referee said,” he protested.

What followed was a textbook example of how to mishandle a rules dispute with a lack of speed, courtesy and sensitivity. Boesel and McGraw teed off at 11:14 a.m. Monday. Play was suspended shortly after noon. Boesel was informed of the final interpretation – he was indeed 2 down after one hole – at 7 a.m. the next morning.

Missy Crisp, a USGA Executive Committee member and chairman of the Senior Amateur, called Boesel at his hotel on Monday night to inform him the issue had not been resolved.

Crisp said “several of the top people at Golf House (USGA headquarters) were contacted,” but the ultimate decision was delayed until additional USGA officials were reached by phone the next morning in Ireland at the Ryder Cup.

“He (McCraine) was fumbling around with his rulebook,” Boesel had told the USGA. “He was confused. But he definitely told me I lost the hole. So I picked up my ball.”

Another person said essentially the same thing. Jeffrey Lee, a rookie USGA committeeman from Houston, was the official “observer” for the match. He heard McCraine tell Boesel that he had lost the hole.

McCraine relayed a slightly different story to the USGA.

“There were slight differences of what words were spoken (on the first green),” Crisp said. “While he (McCraine) did not say the right thing, he was in the process of clarifying the situation.”

Crisp explained the ruling by saying, “The burden of responsibility really fell on David’s shoulders.”

Boesel lost, 5 and 4, to McGraw.

“That was their out,” Boesel said, “but I would like to know what the hell the official was there for.”

When the match resumed Sept. 19, McCraine was not there. Lee took his place.

The wedge, as it turned out, belonged to Don Marsh of Alpharetta, Ga. Marsh had taken his wedge and putter to the practice putting green. He laid the wedge on a towel by the green. When he returned a few minutes later, the wedge and towel were gone.

“I have no idea what happened, and I’ve never heard of anything this crazy,” Marsh said of the 19-hour ruling the USGA would like to forget.

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