For Carol Robertson, the hardest part of returning to amateur golf wasn’t the application process. All that took was a few clicks on the mouse and about 20 minutes answering key questions.
It was the next 365 days that were excruciating.
Once the 27-year-old Robertson started the process for amateur reinstatement, she was in golf’s version of purgatory. She couldn’t play for prize money and was barred from top amateur competitions.
“I’ve played golf since I was 15 years old and I can’t think of a year where I didn’t play in at least 15 to 20 tournaments,” said the Virginia Beach, Va., resident. “I couldn’t do anything. It was very strange.”
By the time Robertson decided to end playing for pay in 2009, she had competed in nearly 30 Duramed Futures Tour events over a two-year period. In Robertson’s case, the USGA had specific guidelines when it came to determining how quickly she could be reinstated as an amateur.
“In Carol’s case, it was strictly based on time,” said Bernie Loehr, the USGA’s director of amateur status and Rules of Golf. “If a player was in breach of the rules for five or more years, then they have to wait two years. If they were in breach for less than five years, then they have to wait one year. It’s always after the date of their last breach.
“The only exception is if someone has what’s called extensive tour play. That’s considered to be playing in more than two events per month during their playing career. If that’s the case, then they get another year [added].”
Robertson had been a pro fewer than five years and hadn’t competed in enough competitions to merit the additional one-year penalty.
What might interest most people about the reinstatement process is that – in almost all cases – the USGA doesn’t look at prize money accumulated in determining the waiting period. Of course, megastars Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods wouldn’t get their status back anytime soon, but whether a pro makes $10,000 or $100,000 doesn’t figure into the reinstatement equation.
Time is the overriding factor. So it’s feasible that a professional who hasn’t played a tournament in 10 years could be reinstated immediately.
Thanks to technology, the USGA in the last three years has made the process easier. What once took weeks – and sometimes months – can now be done in a single day.
When the electronic application was first introduced in 2008, more than half of the 852 applications for reinstatement were filed online. In 2010, only 31 of the 723 total applications were done the old-fashioned paper way.
“Theoretically, if they started [the process] at 8 o’clock in the morning, they could be reinstated by 8 o’clock that night,” said Loehr, adding that the average turnaround time is less than one business day after the USGA receives the application.
The process commences at the state or regional level. Once the applicant downloads the application, it first goes to the local state/regional golf association for approval, which Loehr said is generally “rubber-stamped.”
From there, it goes to the USGA, where Loehr and the rest of the amateur status staff review the facts. If it’s a high-profile player such as former PGA Tour players Dillard Pruitt, Steve Melnyk or Robert Wrenn (eligible in 2012) or LPGA Tour golfer Caroline McMillan, the USGA’s Amateur Status Committee likely will review before approving.
In all but a handful of cases, it’s Loehr who reviews and renders the decision.
“Then we issue what’s called a PAR (Period Awaiting Reinstatement) letter if they have to wait, or we issue an immediate reinstatement letter,” said Loehr, who splits his time between reviewing Rules of Amateur Status material and administering the reinstatement process. A revised Amateur Status code, which was discussed at the Quadrennial Rules Meeting in January at St. Andrews, Scotland, will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2012, following full approval sometime this summer.
In all of the time Loehr has been involved with the reinstatement process, he can recall only one instance where a player didn’t get reinstated, “and that was based on information about the player that came to light during the review process.”
Since 2000, the USGA has reinstated 7,730 golfers, many of whom have since had success in USGA and other high-level amateur competitions. Robertson, in fact, became reinstated last September, a day before her U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur sectional qualifier in Atlanta. Worried that she might be rusty from the lack of competition, Robertson not only made the Women’s Mid-Amateur field, she advanced all the way to the championship match before falling to Meghan Stasi, 2 down, at Wichita (Kan.) Country Club.
The 2007 USGA Senior Amateur final featured a pair of reinstated amateurs, with Stan Lee defeating Sam Farlow. Tim Hogarth, the 2010 U.S. Mid-Amateur runner-up and the 1996 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion, is also reinstated amateur, as are recent Mid-Amateur champions Kevin Marsh (2005), Dave Womack (2006) and Steve Wilson (2008).
Loehr said that the overwhelming majority of applications come from men. “I would say it’s 95 percent guys,” he said. “We get very few women who apply for reinstatement.”
As for a possible reason, Loehr added that based on information on their applications, “usually women who come off the pro tours move toward having a family as opposed to wanting to get back into amateur golf immediately.”
So players such as Robertson and 2010 USA Curtis Cup captain Noreen Mohler are the exception more than the rule, at least when it comes to amateur reinstatement.
Robertson, who worked at a junior camp run by the Virginia State Golf Association, used her contacts with the state golf association to start the process.
“[The USGA] is really organized and up front about what you have to do,” said Robertson, now the assistant women’s golf coach at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. “The worst is the sitting-out part. Any golfer who has played a bunch of competitions knows that it stinks to sit out.”
David Shefter is a senior writer/content manager for the USGA. E-mail questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.