Time For Amateurs To Look Like Amateurs Again

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Stories recommending how to make the U.S. Amateur more relevant have been written for some time now.

Doug Ferguson wrote this one back in 2005 that I blogged about.

I penned a Golfweek story last year suggesting that U.S. Amateur winners retain their U.S. Open exemption whether they turn pro or not.

Once counted as a major by Jack Nicklaus and a vital championship on the golf calendar, the U.S. Amateur has drifted to the back pages and in the ratings division. The amateur game has been weakened by few lifelong amateurs and players turning pro at increasingly younger ages.

But after last week's U.S. Amateur, I'm convinced the event is also undermined by players looking like pros. Maybe it's too subliminal and maybe the trend is irreversible, but I was struck by how many people noted when a player wore a corporate-affiliated hat or looked too much like a professional golfer.

College gear didn't seem to offend even though some of America's finest institutions might as well be corporations. Seeing a player advertising their school reminds us they are still an amateur. But young players looking like PGA Tour pros, down to scripted outfits and an overpolished look envisioned in a corporate meeting room, strips the event of its integrity.

Here is what the USGA's FAQ on Amateur Status says about free equipment and, in particular, clothing:

Yes. Even if you have golf skill or reputation, you may accept a reasonable amount of golf balls, golf clubs, clothing, shoes and other merchandise from a company or source dealing in these types of equipment (e.g., equipment manufacturer or golf shop). However, if you are considered to have golf skill or reputation, you must not advertise or promote the source of the equipment.

The act of wearing a scripted, logoed outfit and hat would seem to fall under the definition of advertising or promoting the source of your free equipment. Particularly the hat. 

The USGA did once try to regulate the logos, according to former Executive Director David Fay, who recalled amateurs at the 1989 event even being asked to cover manufacturer logos with duct tape. The USGA even offered the amateurs who made it to the TV rounds a free host-Club logo hat.  

"But it all started to feel (and look) silly to duct tape “Titleist”, when more and more 15 handicappers started wearing equipment-manufacturer hats and carrying equipment-manufacturer bags and head covers," says Fay.    

Indeed, golf has the equivalent now of cyclists who stumble into Starbucks in the logo-clad tights, as if they'd just finished the Bourg-Saint-Maurice Stage in the Tour De France. Logos are pervasive in our culture and even an attempt to look stylish or to subscribe to some sort of lifestyle brand. 

Nonetheless, amateurs sporting their preferred manufacturer's logos as a thank you for free equipment constitutes advertising as defined by the Rules of Golf. Worse, the look undermines the amateur in United States Amateur.

Bring back the duct tape.