I’m sure my eyes were as wide as saucers as I read yesterday’s Amateur Status press release from the USGA. Saying something for 30 years then suddenly seeing those same statements echoed in action, it takes awhile for reality to sink in.

Since 1991 and The Championship Association (remember that event series, westside Clevelanders?), I’ve complained to anyone who would listen that amateur status shouldn’t be defined by gift certificates vs. cash. Instead, it should be set by a maximum dollar amount. If the first place prize is small, you are only playing for fun and thus you are an amateur. Obviously.

Back in the 90s, the amount for an amateur victory was $500 in merch. It was raised to $750 in 2004.

You can win a summer’s worth of events at $750 a pop and you won’t make the mortgage and car payments. That reality makes you an amateur, even if you are paid in cash for every one of those victories.

Finally, the officials at the USGA see it the same way as I have for 30 years. The cash vs. merchandise dance is finally done.

Starting in 2021, the USGA will allow taking $750 in cash for a win wholly acceptable. Starting next year, amateurs won’t have to accept gift certificates for golf stuff they don’t really need or want (while opening up their gear shopping choices). And players who have always preferred getting a few bucks won back in cash won’t have to sweat it — no more “busts”.

Personally, I also agree 100% with the USGA’s ideas of nixing the loss of amateur status on long drive contests, putting contests, or hole-in-one prizes. That’s not “golf”.

Same with sponsorship money, as sponsorship dollars are paid to players (of all skill levels) for personality and marketing upside far more than for golf skill.

Conversely, if you join the PGA of America or you get paid to give golf lessons, you have decided to become a professional. End of amateur status for you.

But as to the last of the USGA’s proposed am status rules, I think they misjudged one particular “pro vs. am” situation.

Their current plan is to use the prize limit as the only way an amateur can lose status through their play: don’t accept a payment larger than $750 and you’re still an amateur. So entering a pro tournament as a professional does not result in the loss of amateur status if that player misses the cut or only makes a tiny check.

I think this concept has unintended consequences that will make life difficult on local amateur tournament directors everywhere.

If a player wants to be a professional, he or she should fully commit to being a professional. If a player wishes to earn a sizable check for playing golf as a pro, then no waffling: you are a pro. End of story. Intent matters.

Allowing this “how much money did you win?” gray area makes it difficult for a tournament director to know for sure if a player is a pro or an amateur. And human nature says there will always be some players in that gray area who will take advantage.

If a guy plays as a pro in a pro event, it’s easy enough for a tournament director to find that information through an online search. But if that local tournament director now has to go through multiple seasons worth of results and analyze how much money that “pro” won to judge if he might be an amateur, you’ve just made the tournament director’s job that much harder.

And you’ve made it easier for sketchy guys in that situation to fudge their status by saying, “Yeah, I played as a pro for a few years but never made a big check.”

The USGA is hosting a comments period that runs through March 26th for these new 2021 Am Status rules. I plan on officially making a recommendation to bring up this point. We’ll see how that goes.

Other than that, it’s great to see 30 years of saying the same thing finally become reality. Bye-bye, gift certificates. Kudos to the USGA.

Previous USGA to Simplify Amateur Status Rules in 2022
Next Grafton's Jay Overy Honored at PGA TOUR Champions Event