Carebear Stares Down Golf’s Amateur Status

August 31, 2009
This is what you get, Royal and Ancient!

This is what you get, Royal and Ancient!

Byeong-Hun An took down the Havemeyer Trophy yesterday with a slightly less than brilliant but workmanlike performance at Southern Hills in Oklahoma.  The 17-yr old becomes the youngest US Amateur winner in history, and the second in a row of South Korean descent.

A few recent events got me to thinking about golf’s definition of amateur golfers.  The first was Shane Lowry’s victory at the Irish Open, the second was Ryan Moore’s victory at the Wyndham, and most recently An’s taking of the most prized possession is Amateur golf.

In no sport is amateurism more important or more distinguished than golf.  Amateurism is becoming more and more absent at the Olympics and now golf seems to be the only sport to hold the status dearly.

My issue with Amateur golf now is that it does not make sense, and it pushes the stereotype of golf being a sport for rich kids in polo shirts (the popped collars all over the course at Southern Hills didn’t help the stereotype, either).  Obviously the majority of the players in the tournament were college athletes hoping to someday go pro, and that is fine, but not really the romantic idea intended when Amateur golf was distinguished in 1885.

Jones and Ouimet Chilling at the Course: For Free

Jones and Ouimet Chilling at the Course: For Free

The days of Francis Ouimet and Bobby Jones are long gone, and its hard to imagine a modern golfer trying to recreate their accomplishments.  Amateur golf (way back in the day) was really looked at as the only golf.  Professional golfers were second class citizens.  They were not even allowed in clubhouses until Walter Hagen made a mockery of the R & A at the 1922 Open, and were only allowed around most private clubs to fix people’s clubs and to teach members how to play.

The Amateur was the real golfer, but when golf became profitable this all changed.

The derivation of the word amateur tells us the word really means a “lover of” something.  But, the word has developed into meaning someone who performs a task as a pastime and not as a profession.  Now that golf is extremely profitable, it seems to me that very few people on tour actually “play the game” professionally.  There is so much money in which ball you hit, which clubs you use, and which failing financial institution you put on your hat, that winning tournaments almost takes a back seat to signing deals.

This is what led me to Ryan Moore.  This is a golfer that has no sponsorships.  I do not know all the details.  I am not sure whether he goes to Hollister to buy his silly hats or if he buys his Puma shoes from like the rest of us, but he does not receive money for wearing them.  To me, this is a modern amateur.

Ryan Moore. Not exactly a throwback, but nearly logo-free...(Robert Beck/SI)

Ryan Moore. Not exactly a throwback, but nearly logo-free...(Robert Beck/SI)

I have always seen that the purpose of amateur sport is to play golf for the love of the game, and to really want to win for the sake of winning, but when you are dealing with guys who get paychecks whether they finish first or 25th because they got enough TV time to show off their new PING bucket hat do they really need to win?

I am not questioning the average tour pro’s desire for victory, but I am asking who would strive for victory more?  Who needs it more?  The guy with no sponsors whose check for fifth buys him another year on tour, or the guy who finishes 30th every week, but makes a couple million a year from Rolex and Ralph Lauren.

Shane Lowry won the 3Irish Open earlier this year after a battle with Robert Rock, and proceeded to go pro the next day.  Its a shame, but you cannot blame him.  Cash in while you can.  Get your sponsorship money while you have some fame.

An will most likely follow suit as Danny Lee did, and we just have to know that amateur golf is pretty much a  game for college kids and a few aging ringers.  Maybe these are the true amateur golfers now, the old guys like Tim Jackson playing just to play.

There is so much money in sports these days that it is nice to see someone like Moore, who is capable of making more, but, for now, playing just to win.  I know that playing solely for winnings is pretty much the opposite of amateur, but in this day and age, its pretty admirable, as well.