18 Questions With Tom Scherrer

March 20, 2009

It's not often that a touring professional attends a PGA-USGA Rules Workshop - a curious thing, given that a proper knowledge of the Rules of Golf can greatly affect the size of a paycheck (or whether there's one at all). Held at sites around the country early in the year, the workshops are conducted jointly by the PGA of America and the United States Golf Association. A few of the workshops are two-day introductory courses, but most are scheduled as four-day seminars, culminated in a 100-question exam that is … rigorous (even the open-book part). The workshops are attended primarily by rules officials or those interested in becoming one, members of state or regional golf associations who conduct tournaments, rules committee chairs at local golf clubs, and PGA professionals, who often serve as the de facto "rules czar" at their golf facility.

Tom Scherrer said that two of his fondest memories were related to USGA events. (USGA Museum)
TomScherreris the exception. The 1992 U.S. Amateur runner-up and a member of the victorious 1991 USA Walker Cup team, Scherrer has forged a 17-year career on both the PGA and Nationwide tours, with four professional wins along the way. A native of Skaneateles, N.Y. (Syracuse area), now residing in Raleigh, N.C., Scherrer has always had a fascination with the Rules of Golf. Last year he attended a rules workshop in Port St. Lucie, Fla. He enjoyed the experience so much that he signed up again this year for a workshop in Houston.

USGA Digital Media staff writer David Shefter caught up with Scherrer prior to the PGA Tour's AT&T National Pro-Am in Pebble Beach, Calif., to discuss his rules workshop experience.

USGA: Why did you decide to attend a PGA-USGA Rules Workshop?

Scherrer: I always bother the rules officials with questions, and it never occurred to me there was such a thing as a rules school. So they said, "Why don't you go to a class?" So I went [last year] and I had fun. And I realized I didn't know as much as I thought I knew. I really enjoyed it. Then I went again a month ago.

Why go back for a second time?

Scherrer: I plan on going every year. I really enjoyed it. I want to do well on that test. I want to show [USGA Director, Rules Education] Genger [Fahleson] that I'm going to learn these rules.

Did your score improve?

Scherrer: Not really. I pretty much stayed the same. I got about a 70 [out of 100]. I feel like I know the rules better than what the test [score] said. It's hard learning the language of the rules and how they are written. It's a hard test and it's a very tricky. There are so many different things going on in these questions.

What do you think the average PGA Tour pro would score?

Scherrer: I tell you, no one would probably do any better than me. Believe it or not, I put some time in and travel with my Rules book, and read it and study it. I think we all think we know the rules pretty good as I did until you get in there, and the first five minutes you realize you're in a little trouble.

Is there a rule that confuses the pros the most or something you see from amateurs during pro-ams?

Scherrer: Probably the amateurs don't know quite where to drop it [when taking relief]. Most seem to take the drop closer to the fairway, when the nearest point could be under a tree or a bush. Rule 20 is a big one. Lifting, dropping, all that kind of stuff. You read a certain rule and you think, 'OK, I know that one.' Then you look at the Decisions and it's like, 'Oh my …' Fortunately for us [on tour] we have all the officials who score very, very high on the test.

Do you now have a further appreciation for those who work or volunteer as rules officials at events?

Scherrer: Yeah. And I still pester them. I will have questions. Just [recently at Pebble Beach] I was going over some rules with Jim Duncan, who is the head official on the Nationwide Tour. I had some questions and I was right. I always try to trick them, and I never do.

Do you think more touring professionals should attend a Rules Workshop?

Scherrer: Yes. People asked me, 'Why do you do it?' It's fun. I think you really enjoy it. Does it really help me? Probably not. Only because I know I'm only a radio call away from getting a rules official. But it's fun for me when there is a ruling with another player; I always go over and watch, and I do the ruling in my head to see if I'm correct. I see what they go through with the questions and stuff. It's kind of another part of the game that I never really realized. I've always been on the playing side of it.

Sometimes knowing the rules can be to a golfer's benefit. Have you ever been in that situation, where you knew a specific option as it relates to a rule could be to your advantage?

Scherrer: Yeah. Sometimes on a lateral water hazard , people don't think you can go to the other side. There's been a few times where I've seen players not necessarily knowing where to go. I'll tell my caddie he can go over here if he wants. But I try not to get myself in someone else's game. I think Tiger [Woods] showed that with his 'loose' impediment at the Phoenix Open [in 1999].

If you could change or alter a specific rule, which one would it be?

Scherrer: I've been stuck on Rule 20-3. I think it's an interesting rule with the caddie who is authorized to mark the ball and lift it, and puts the ball back into play. Then it gets into the intent. Did he replace the ball intending for you to get the read or did he place the ball for you to replace it? He has to be authorized to mark the ball. If he is unauthorized and picks it up, it's one shot [penalty].

If he puts it back down with no intent to replace it to put it down so I can read the putt and then I putt the ball without adjusting it, then it's a wrong ball. It's a very deep rule. I guess what I'm saying is that the rules have many layers. I don't know if I would want to change any rules. It just amazes me how well [the Rules] are written. It's like the [U.S.] Constitution. For our forefathers to write this piece of paper that still applies, it's almost similar to how well-written and how well thought out the Rules of Golf are.

When your playing days are over, would you consider being a rules official?

Scherrer: Yes and no. It could be a nice second career someday.

I asked you about a rule that you might want to change or delete, but what about a rule that you think needs to be added?

Scherrer: The people who wrote these are way smarter than I am. I'm going to have to hold my judgment on which ones I dislike or would like to change.

In the course of your playing career, have you ever seen rules being violated or that amateur partners might not call on themselves?

Scherrer: Yeah, all the time. I'll play with some friends at home and they'll pick the ball up and toss it away from a cart path. I tell them, 'If you were playing in a tournament, this is what you need to do.' It's a little different when you just pick the ball up and drop it. You have to mark and find your nearest point, and it could be here or over there. Don't just assume it's toward the fairway. I see a lot of the 'where to drop' and 'when to drop.' I will quiz my friends. 'What happens if I did this?'

Are there any other golfers on tour who are into the Rules of Golf like you are?

Scherrer: I don't think so. We've all had our experience and stories with the rules and strange rulings. As far as I know, I'm the only one who has ever taken the class. Most of us are just trying to work on our games. They don't need to know too many rules.

Do you have an interesting rules story?

Scherrer: [Former USGA Senior Director of Rules and Competitions] Tom Meeks gave me a slow-play penalty once, but I won't get too much into that. It was at the U.S. Amateur years ago. I tease him about it when I see him. Fortunately, I have never had anything crazy happen. I did sign a wrong card one time in a Nike [Tour] event. It was rainy and I had an early tee time the next day. I rushed through. I shot 73 and the paper had me at 72. So I went and got the card and sure enough on the first hole there was a 4 instead of a 5. That was a DQ, and down the road I think everybody probably does that once. Now I've always been very, very careful. Sometime you have to learn the hard way.

One interesting rules story happened to Grant Waite and Neal Lancaster when they were playing at Colonial. They both hit into a water hazard. One ball kicked out. They went up there and the marshal said, 'Your ball is up here, and Grant Waite, your ball is in the hazard.' He dropped it and hit it up. Neal gets up to his ball and hits it. It turns out that it was Grant's ball that came out of the hazard. So that was the mess ball. They had a wrong ball and a wrong place and all that. Then Grant Waite forgot to sign his scorecard and was DQ'd.

You enjoyed a fruitful amateur career that included a Walker Cup experience. It's been awhile, but does any moment stand out?

Scherrer: I had a couple of good U.S. Amateurs. In 1992 I was a runner-up [to Justin Leonard] and in 1990 I was a semifinalist. Lost to Manny Zerman. My Walker Cup [in 1991] was probably one of my fondest memories of any tournament that I ever played in. I think we are the only team who has ever won the Cup back on foreign soil. We lost in '89 [at Peachtree]. It's a neat little fact.

I saw on your bio that you were an excellent high school hockey player. Do you still lace them up?

Scherrer: I played in a league this winter [in Raleigh, N.C.]. A lot of guys on my team had played college hockey. A lot of misplaced northerners. Jason Karmanos, whose father owns the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes and is the assistant GM, was playing on my hockey team. We go to a few games. I bring my family.

Did you have offers to play hockey in college?

Scherrer: I could have gone that way.

Golf's a little easier on the body?

Scherrer: I've lost teeth playing hockey and not yet in golf.

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