From The Inbox

Volunteers fall for ‘biggest sucker deal in golf’

After paying for the ‘privilege’ of spending long hours in the sun, PGA Tour volunteers have to deal with ‘unruly fans and officious tournament organizers,’ reader notes. Hey, what’s not to love?

John Hawkins makes an interesting case that volunteering at a PGA Tour tournament is a good deal (“This might be the best deal in golf,” May 13). He’s dead wrong.

After working six PGA Tour events in the Washington, D.C., area, including the Tiger Woods tournaments at Congressional and Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, I believe that volunteering at a PGA Tour event is the biggest sucker deal in golf.

First, you have the “privilege” of paying to volunteer: $75 or more for a hat, a shirt, a water bottle, a hot dog and a soft drink while working, and four tickets to the tournament that you can’t give away. Sweet deal, right? You earn the privilege of spending long hours in the sun or rain, dealing with unruly fans and officious tournament organizers.

Then, there are the players themselves. As one volunteer told Hawkins, PGA Tour players “can be standoffish and rude.” That’s an understatement.

The majority of players, especially the younger ones, do not speak to you or acknowledge your presence, even on practice or pro-am days. They simply look right through you, perhaps offering a nod. Some veterans, such as Davis Love III, Fred Funk, Justin Rose and Erik Compton, were the exceptions.

I love watching PGA Tour golf, and I love attending tournaments, but I finally got fed up with the idea of volunteering my time to enable ungrateful young millionaires who showed no appreciation for the hours of dedication by myself and the hundreds of other volunteers who are required to run a tournament for their benefit. Tournament organizers bemoan the increasing lack of volunteers. Unless players demonstrate a radical change in behavior, that trend will continue.

Mark Nelson
Vienna, Va.

Volunteers get a good deal
I enjoyed John Hawkins’ article about people who volunteer at golf tournaments, as I have been doing it at USGA and PGA Tour events since 2004, but I believe some of the points that Hawkins made require some clarification (“This might be the best deal in golf,” May 13).

As a member of the ShotLink committee at the Barclays/Northern Trust since 2012 and the 2016 PGA Championship, I am concerned that Hawkins’ article indicates that a volunteer has much more control over a situation than he or she actually has.

First of all, there is extensive training, probably too much, considering what our responsibilities are. Not only is there virtual and live training on the use of the equipment, in addition to general volunteering responsibilities, but we also are provided with the ability to train onsite during a practice round to use the equipment to simulate the competitive environment.

If I am at one of the fairway locations, then my job is to identify a player's ball, and then point a laser device to it. The yardage is calculated by ShotLink. The system records not only distance from the tee and distance to the green but also records the location. A walking scorer keeps track of each golf ball's location. If there is a dispute, then ShotLink personnel in a truck communicate with us in an attempt to resolve the issue.

Can mistakes happen? Absolutely, but those situations are easily correctable, and are done so in a timely manner.

If I am at a greenside location, then my job would be to tap on a tablet to identify the location of the ball relative to the hole. ShotLink has triangulated laser devices to help us confirm the location of a golf ball, and the distance is measured by them.

Do some volunteers take their job more seriously than others? Absolutely. Are some volunteers there just to get a badge and sit inside the ropes to watch golf? Certainly. Is the amount we pay reasonable? I think it most definitely is.

Perhaps during a time when there will be no spectators, tournament organizers might want to consider a different model. Under normal circumstances the money we pay to work a few hours during the week in order to get access that most people cannot have is incredibly reasonable. In fact, the cost of volunteering is usually about half what a non-volunteer would have to pay to be onsite for the same amount of time, and that spectator doesn't get a nice polo shirt, a hat, a dedicated parking area and a meal voucher (usually $12) for every shift worked. Also, breakfast and unlimited cold drinks are provided every day free of charge, so the value is there.

Steve Goldman
Bay Shore, N.Y.

PGA Tour’s ‘cool rules’ would work at Ridgemont High, too
Vijay Singh is a complex man, known for being very churlish, and also involved in a cheating scandal years ago in Asia, but at the same time also known for being generous with his time and helpful to those around him.

I don’t agree with Alex Miceli very often, but this time he nailed it (“Brady Schnell can’t change PGA Tour’s version of truth,” May 12).

Put another way, by not playing, Singh, out of the goodness of his heart, would be allowing someone else to have his spot. It’s his decision point, to cede his spot to another player, or not. He has earned that status over decades of play; Brady Schnell hasn’t earned anything yet.

The PGA Tour, to quote Sean Penn’s character Jeff Spicoli from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High, made some “cool rules.” Through thought and deliberation, the Tour set up the sport to allow players of certain status access to its various tours. Singh certainly knows the rules, as do the other players. They know when and where they are allowed to play, and exactly where they stand.

That settles that, but there is more.

Singh would be well within his rights to play a Korn Ferry Tour event anywhere, but this will be a home game. He can roll out of bed and tee it up at TPC Sawgrass, having spent thousands of hours playing and hitting range balls at the site. It makes perfect sense to me that he claim his spot for this event and play, after not playing in a long time. David Duval once played a minor-league tour event in Colorado, near his home.

As to the claim that it might be within the rules but not ethical, I would say to treat Singh’s situation as the anomaly that it is. If a PGA Tour player were to play routinely in the lower levels, it might be different. If it happened all the time, then the Tour might want to tweak its rules to address what was happening in the field.
We are in exceptional times right now.

But if still in doubt, read the rules.

Jon Lucas
Little Rock, Ark.

Miceli’s argument for Singh makes more sense
I have read both Morning Read articles regarding Vijay Singh playing on the Korn Ferry Tour at TPC Sawgrass’ Dye’s Valley Course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (“Vijay Singh has no business playing on Korn Ferry Tour,” May 11; “Brady Schnell can’t change PGA Tour’s version of truth,” May 12).

At first, I did not think that Singh should do it because I agreed with Mike Van Sickle’s point of view, that Singh was taking a chance from somebody who is trying to start his career.

Well, if you think about it, the Korn Ferry Tour is filled with ex-PGA Tour players who are near the end of their careers and are just waiting to turn 50 to get on the Champions Tour. Under this train of thought, why shouldn’t they be castigated, too?

Alex Miceli’s article makes the better argument. Singh earned his position, and nobody should be able to take that away from him. If you don’t like your status, the solution, as Miceli wrote, is simple: Play better.

Stephen Joost
Jacksonville, Fla.

Vijay Singh on Korn Ferry Tour would be ‘huge gift’
I'm hoping that PGA Tour superstar Vijay Singh plays the upcoming Korn Ferry Tour event (“Vijay Singh has no business playing on Korn Ferry Tour,” May 11; “Brady Schnell can’t change PGA Tour’s version of truth,” May 12).

It would be a huge gift to the tournament sponsors and to TV coverage.

All eyes would be on this World Golf Hall of Fame member. Many of the other players would have stories about his appearance that they could carry with them for a lifetime. Some just might play better, but Singh would try his best.

Singh would be in a field with some of our future top players. Maybe someday they will give back, too. Plus, it would be fun to sit back and watch that beautiful swing.

Glenn Monday
Tucson, Ariz.
(Monday is the head professional at Dorado Golf Course in Tucson and author of “Know Your Swing.”)

Singh wouldn’t be holding anybody back
I caddied many campaigns over the years. The Vijay Singh debate is nonsense (“Vijay Singh has no business playing on Korn Ferry Tour,” May 11; “Brady Schnell can’t change PGA Tour’s version of truth,” May 12).

Singh is going to play to get his reps in a real tournament situation. He knows what he's doing.

This is perfectly legal within the rules of the privately run PGA Tour.

The Korn Ferry Tour newbies are being harmed by the audacity of a veteran who has earned his status from participating and supplanting one player. Golf is a career, not a one-weeker. If one were to rise from that closed-shop tour to the PGA Tour, this would not hold back such talent, only that of crybabies who wouldn't make it there anyway.

Bob Whitbread
Reno, Nev.
(Whitbread is a former caddie on the PGA Tour.)

Reader has had his fill of Phil
I have not forgotten the shenanigans that Phil Mickelson pulled at the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock.

It was the most egregious, arrogant, self-centered act I have witnessed in golf in 60 years of watching and playing. Therefore, I will not spend a penny watching Mickelson play golf anywhere, anytime (“Woods-Mickelson proves to be big hit with one group,” May 11). What a farce.

Were Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka busy? Now, there is a match I would watch. Mickelson? Not in a million years.

Kenny Drake
Albany, Ore.

‘The kid from Latrobe,’ always
I had a similar experience with Arnold Palmer as did Dan O’Neill, at Palmer’s final U.S. Senior Open, in 1995 at Congressional Country Club (“ ‘Arnie and me’: A story worth sharing,” May 12).

He was actually in the running at the start of the final day, and “Arnie’s Army” was out in full force. I was covering the event for ABC Radio. It was a sultry summer day, with a strong chance of thunderstorms. Arnie was on the 14th hole when the horn sounded. Play was halted, and nearly all of the golfers headed to the clubhouse.

Arnie didn't.

He headed to the SUV, parked in a swale between the 14th and 15th holes. He stayed there, as hundreds of fans gathered around the vehicle. He invited me to join him as we waited out the lightning warning.

We did a brief interview, and he opened the window and started signing autographs. His signature was neat, careful and crisp. Totally legible.

A woman came by with a yinzer accent, and told him that her family was from near his hometown of Latrobe, Pa. They chatted about mutual acquaintances and places they knew.

One by one, fans walked up to the window and got his autograph on their hats or visors. The love that his fans felt for him was palpable that afternoon.

Fun fact: Arnie and Fred Rogers, aka Mister Rogers of TV fame, were classmates, one year apart, at Latrobe High School and often kept in touch. When Rogers died in 2003, Palmer and his family attended the memorial service.

Rogers’ family and Palmer’s family are buried in Unity Cemetery, which was established nearly 250 years ago. I visited Rogers’ gravesite in August, and also the gravesites of members of Palmer’s family. Arnie's final wish was that his ashes be scattered on the fourth hole of the Latrobe Country Club course next to his home, and so they were after his death in 2016.

At his 50th high school reunion, Palmer told his former classmates, "Your hometown isn’t just where you're from. It's who you are."

Palmer worshipped his dad, "Deacon," who was the greenkeeper at Latrobe Country Club. And he never lost the common touch. He remained the kid from Latrobe High School, and never, ever did he forget his hometown friends.

In fact, parking is free at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe. Arnie let them use his name, so long as they offered free parking for everyone.

He was one of us.

Mike Silverstein

One of a kind
Dan O’Neill wrote, “After trudging through 18 holes of major-championship golf on a suffocating summer day, after suffering through another hour and 20 minutes of signing autographs and conducting interviews, Arnold Palmer – the biggest name in golf – sat and talked to this anonymous neophyte for nearly 40 minutes” (“ ‘Arnie and me’: A story worth sharing,” May 12).

The experience is one that never could happen in the present sports environment. The level of accessibility and authenticity simply doesn't exist today.

O’Neill added, “The story explains why Arnold Palmer, who died in 2016 at age 87, was the best thing that ever happened to golf.”

Great article, and I agree that Arnold Palmer was the best thing that ever happened to golf.

Jerry McDowell
Pilot Mountain, N.C.

Another side of Palmer
Everyone has warts. Even Arnold Palmer (“ ‘Arnie and me’: A story worth sharing,” May 12).

I wonder whether he would have taken the same stance against Casey Martin, who eventually won a Supreme Court decision in 2001 to use a cart on the PGA Tour, in today’s social environment?

Charlie Jurgonis
Fairfax, Va.

‘The King’ and ‘The Man’ hit it out of the park
Dan O’Neill’s fabulous story epitomizes the essence of Arnold Palmer (“ ‘Arnie and me’: A story worth sharing,” May 12).

I’m 76 now and had just two sports heroes: Palmer, when I was older, and Stan Musial, growing up as a Little Leaguer and Pony Leaguer (I’m a die-hard Redbirds fan).

Thanks for brightening up my morning.

Denny Davenport
Geneva, Ill.

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