As golfers, we are most comfortable on fairways and greens. Throw in some rough or sand, we know how to handle that, too. But our heartbeats increase when we are thrown off course: venturing into uncharted territory marked by white stakes and red or yellow lines. In those moments, when our boats get rocked and we aren’t sure how to traverse the turbulent seas, to whom do we turn?
In most instances we fire our flares in the direction of the people who set up the course - those who arrived days in advance to mark the path, deciding where we will start, end, and what we’ll negotiate in between. These people are rules officials. In my opinion, they are the unsung heroes of tournament golf.
Any competitive golfer has had an intervention or two with an official. They are the people we turn to when we enter a place unknown. We seek their knowledge of the game of golf to help us make the best decision to advance our ball forward. Over the course of my career, I’ve been fortunate to meet and work with many great officials. However, in my short time as a professional, it’s become apparent the true value they offer to players.
It extends beyond fairway greens and even those daunting white OB stakes. I’ve found most of them aren’t just there to remind us of the lessons within the USGA rules book, but also to help us navigate through the courses of life.
In one of my first tournaments on the Epson Tour, I was finishing up a nine-hole practice round by myself. With two holes to go, I was joined by one of the tour's rules officials, Peter McGeoch. As he examined the greens and picked potential hole locations, he asked me how I was liking life as a professional. I mentioned my favorite and least favorite parts of the whole gig. With years on the tour behind him, he offered his advice on handling life on the road. A few tips I’ve leaned on as I’ve continued on this journey.
Midway through my rookie season, I made my way around the course just chipping and putting on the greens. Players not in the pro-am had to be off the course by 12:00. I’d lost track of time and was at the farthest point from the clubhouse when the clock struck noon. I started jogging towards the practice facilities when I saw a cart coming toward me. I jumped at the thought that I was in trouble, but it was another rules officially, Tiffany Priest, coming out to help. She kindly offered to drive me in. During our golf cart ride, we got to know each other and talked mostly about topics having nothing to do with golf. Another experience that suggested to me that our officiating crews are there for guidance beyond the sport.
While I’ve been removed from the arena of competitive golf, I’ve still felt the love from the people who guide us on and off the course. During my time playing junior and college golf, I met a rules official that I’ve kept up with to this day. She helps write the rules in moments when we wish we could have a book to tell us what to do. I recently received an email from her that brought my understanding of these unsung heroes into focus.
“As you age and grow out of the competitive side, you will finally see the beauty of this game,” she wrote. “I thought I was going to be giving back to the game that has given me such much, but I was wrong. This game keeps giving me more and more that I can never repay. When it is your time, pass on the gift and the love to someone else.”
We often are so fixed on the road ahead that we forget to turn around and lend a hand to those on the journey behind us. It’s a lesson I’ve learned from the example set by others, people who have had a profound impact on my life. It’s their acts of kindness that encourage me to pay it forward to the younger players behind me - a life lesson that we learn through golf.
Another gift the game has given me amongst many other blessings that I’ll never be able to repay.