U.S. Open: 16-year-old says he was disqualified at sectional after getting medicine, using bathroom

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U.S. Open: 16-year-old says he was disqualified at sectional after getting medicine, using bathroom

Golf

U.S. Open: 16-year-old says he was disqualified at sectional after getting medicine, using bathroom

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Right after Skyler Fox finished his opening round at Woodmont Country Club at the U.S. Open sectional Monday, the 16-year-old from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, ran to his car.

After posting a 6-over 42 on the front nine on the North course in Rockville, Maryland, Fox began suffering from a headache around the 12th hole. The pain persisted, and after he shot even par on the back nine of his first U.S. Open sectional, he said he bolted off the green, grabbed his medicine and used the bathroom.

By the time Fox — a junior who has won three Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League championships at Riverside High School — made his way to the scoreboard area to see where he stacked up, he saw an ‘NC’ next to his name, meaning he hadn’t delivered his scorecard. At the scorer’s table, he saw his swing coach, Sean Swidzinski, and father, Joe, arguing with a tournament official.

Fox was disqualified for breaching Rule 3.3b(2), according to a USGA spokesperson, which states a player must “promptly return” a scorecard to the scorer’s table upon the completion of a round. But the wording of the rule prompted questions from Fox and his dad over the decision to end the teen’s day prematurely over a delay they say stemmed from a headache and a bathroom break following his round.

“The kid had to go to the bathroom,” said Joe Fox, Skyler’s father. “He said he couldn’t wait. What do you do? You gotta go, you gotta go, unfortunately. … It wasn’t like he was winning the thing. So, would it have really killed you to let him finish?”

U.S. OPEN: Sectional qualifying results

Brian DePasquale, manager of championship communications for the USGA, confirmed Skyler Fox’s disqualification, writing in an email to Golfweek that Fox “went to lunch and did not enter the scoring area until the following group had returned their cards.”

DePasquale said Fox didn’t enter the scoring areas until approximately 15 minutes after his round ended. The committee has discretion over what “promptly” means.

Craig Winter, USGA Senior Director of Rules of Golf and Amateur Status, said Thursday the Woodmont sectional is run by the Middle Atlantic Golf Association, and the rule breach has never happened at that qualifier before.

Winter described how the disqualification came about based on what he learned from talking to officials who were on the ground Monday.

When the other two players in Fox’s group arrived at the scorer’s table, they didn’t know where Fox was, Winter said. The amateur had been marking one of his partner’s scorecards, so the other two pieced together his round on a blank scorecard while a short search began — “although nobody knew what he looked like,” Winter said. “He’s obviously a young player who hasn’t played a lot in that area.”

Once Fox arrived at the scorer’s table, the committee sought an explanation for what happened. Winter said there was no mention of a headache, and his ‘no card’ turned into a disqualification.

“That would have changed the calculus of what this whole situation looked like significantly,” Winter said, referring to Fox’s statement that he went to retrieve medicine for a headache. “It’s well established in the rule that players, should they become suddenly ill, have time to figure out, recuperate, see if they can continue. And that’s no different if you just started your round or you’re returning to scoring.”

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Fox and his dad disputed that he took much time before turning in his card. When he reached the scorer’s table, Fox said the other two players in his group were just leaving and the following group hadn’t even reached the 18th green yet. His father estimated it had taken his son only about 10 minutes to get to the car for medicine — which he said was roughly 100 feet from the course — and to use the bathroom.

“They told me I was disqualified because I didn’t get to the scoring table in time, which made no sense,” Fox said. “I was pretty upset. I mean, there was a good chance I wasn’t going to make it [to the U.S. Open]. I was going to have to shoot really low. But I wanted to go out there and put a respectable score up.”

Mark Lawrence was the leader after Round 1, shooting a 67 on a windy morning at Woodmont. Fox, who shot 78, was a long shot to advance after his morning round.

Four players qualified for Pebble at Woodmont with Billy Hurley III and Connor Arendell tying for co-medalist honors at 3-under. Joseph Bramlett and Ryan Sullivan rounded out the qualifiers at 2-under.

Skyler Fox has won three Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League championships at Riverside High School. He qualified for his first U.S. Open sectional in 2019. Photo: Joe Fox, Special to Golfweek

Winter defended the USGA’s ruling while praising Skyler’s efforts to reach the sectional.

“The idea that someone like Skyler can show up at a sectional qualifier and have the opportunity to play at the very highest level and qualify for a national championship,” Winter said, “it’s not something we take lightly.”

Fox made it to Woodmont by posting a 70 at Beechmont Country Club near Cleveland on May 8, finishing in the top seven of a field of 116 golfers in the local qualifier.

While a professional may have avoided the ticky-tack call, the Foxes say, it’s a mistake Skyler Fox is not likely to repeat in the future.

“With no disrespect to my son, I didn’t really figure he was going to qualify,” Joe Fox said. “But I knew he would be kind of in the mix, he probably would’ve been mid-pack, and for a 16-year-old, that’s a lot to be said. So, it was interesting. But you’ve got to take life’s bumps as they come, I guess.”

“This is basically just a lesson,” Skyler Fox said. “And, obviously, I’ll probably never do it again.”

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