Stratham, N.H. – Clyde Luther of Burke, Va., stands next to the practice putting green, takes off his hat and shakes hands all around. Two junior competitors take the hint. They remove their caps.
“Well, here we are,” Luther says. “OK, who we got here?”
He introduces himself. The quick handshake, a nod, and Luther began his spiel. He’s weathered by the sun, like most Junior Amateur Championship Committee members. His eyes crinkle when he smiles and he is slight in stature, but in his love for the Rules of Golf, Clyde Luther is a giant.
He has given crash courses on match-play rules to Junior Amateur contestants for 20 years. With 32-first-round matches, at 64 contestants a year, that’s 1,280 young men who have a better grasp of the Rules of Golf. Add to that a few years at the U.S. Amateur and Luther has educated some 2,000 golfers.
The USGA calls Luther’s five-minute sessions, “The Putting Clock.” One match at a time, the players and their caddies gather for a rapid-fire lesson that could well decide if they survive the first round. Luther’s presentation is brief and direct. In it, he condenses pages of The Rules of Golf into a few easy-to-remember sentences. His ability to edit a complicated subject is not a simple task.
Luther smiles and launches his lecture. “There are 17 one-stroke penalties in the Rules of Golf that apply to match and stroke play alike. I’m not here to teach you all of them. I could teach you every penalty in the Rules of Golf in five minutes, but we’re not going to get into that…”
It’s just before noon. The opponents are Shintaro Ban, 17, of San Jose, Calif., and Indian-born Hartej Gill, 15, who now lives in Monroe Township, N.J. They’ll tee off at 12:06 p.m. EDT at The Golf Club of New England.
This is Gill’s first USGA championship. He’s wide-eyed and intent, perhaps a little nervous. Ban, a tri-medalist this year, is more relaxed. Ban shovels in last-minute calories from a paper plate. He’s an experienced match-play competitor. He listens politely, but seems more interested in his food.
“Rule 19-3,” Luther says. “You hit a shot that deflects off your opponent, caddie, or equipment, here’s what you do.”
Ban’s fork stops in mid-air. Luther has hooked him. Food is forgotten.
“…and the guy loses the hole for giving wrong information,” Luther continues. “Be careful of that one.”
Greg Sanfilippo, the USGA’s director of the U.S. Junior Championship, says Luther’s dedication to his task is “unreal.” Sanfilippo says the Putting Clock is a great way for the USGA to spend time with juniors to explain the differences between match play and stroke play.
“It’s another way for us to see that they’re prepared going out onto the golf course for a match-play format, which some of them may not have experience in,” he said. “This has been Clyde’s sanctuary, if you will. This has been what he has been doing as part of the Junior Amateur committee and we’ll continue to have him as long as he comes back.”
In 2002, the USGA presented the Joe Dey Award to Clyde Luther for meritorious service to the game. Ten years later, he’s still at it.
“It’s one of the fun times I’ve always had in the 30 years I’ve been on the committee,” said Luther, who has worked more than 100 USGA championships. “It’s all fun, but I really enjoy this.
“The differences between match play and stroke play are very specific ones, like claims and concessions, information as to strokes taken, Rule 9. Order of play is very important because it’s so different from stroke play.”
After two decades, Luther doesn’t have to do much preparation to conduct his course but each year he reviews what he is going to say.
“I have had a couple of players from college golf, years later, come to me and say, ‘You’re the guy that taught me such-and-such. That really helped me. I never knew some of that stuff,’” Luther said.
The groups walk up to Luther for last-minute instructions. Today, only half of these players will survive for Thursday’s second round.. Knowing the rules of match play can mean the difference between winning and going home.
When it’s over, the players seem grateful as they shake Luther’s hand. He removes his cap and gives a slight bow. “Have a good day,” he says.
Luther goes to his golf cart to sit down for a minute. It’s a four-hour effort and not without stress: Keep the players moving, tell them what they need to know and get them to the first tee on time. He wipes the perspiration from his brow, then hops out of the cart. He marches over to the next group. Derek Bayley, of Rathdrum, Idaho, and Joo-Young Lee, of Hilliard, Ohio, are waiting.
“Well, here we are,” says Clyde Luther. “OK, who we got,” and he once again launches into his talk, sharing his knowledge and his love of the game.
Rhonda Glenn is a manager of communications for the USGA. Email her at email@example.com.