It is a clear-cut violation of amateur status rules, assuming such things matter any more. Maybe they should not in a world that increasingly wants to market to and cash in on the kids. I digress.
To review: Lucy Li, 16, broke onto the national stage at age 10 by qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, qualified for the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst at age 12, played on the 2018 Curtis Cup team and is the ninth-ranked female amateur golfer in the world.
Li, still an amateur golfer, is the centerpiece of this AppleWatch ad posted on Twitter January 2nd:
There is no grey here. This was a heavily produced piece in which she is wearing scripted Nike outfits, is filmed in a faux social setting, and is shown in golf action wearing her watch while appearing in an ad to promote a product. She is blatantly allowing a third party to use her likeness.
Nothing in the language on amateur status comes remotely close to spinning Li’s behavior as anything other than an obvious violation.
Contacted by Ryan Herrington of GolfDigest.com, Li cited an NDA for not commenting while Amy Li, her mother, is claiming there was no payment for Lucy’s time or image.
Contacted by Golf Digest, Li said she had signed a non-disclosure agreement with Apple that prohibited her from discussing the video. Li’s mother, Amy, said via text message that Lucy and the family did not receive any compensation for being in the video.
We’re looking at either a blatant amateur status violation or a case of poor parenting by letting a child star in an ad without compensation.
But in a sport increasingly desperate for the attention of anyone under 30 with most organizations making decisions with an eye on how younger generations will view decisions, there is little chance the USGA will revoke her amateur status. Besides consistently abdicating responsibility on multiple fronts, they’ve refused to undermined their rules on amateurism by allowing teenagers to receive free clubs and scripted attire. The R&A sadly concurs.
Children are now billboards in golf on a first name basis with company representatives and agents. If the governing bodies of golf are not bothered and society is increasingly fine with pushing people to peak in life by 20, then why do we bother with amateur status.
Look at the follow-up answers to Global Golf Post’s tweet on this news. Starting with GGP’s own follow up post.
The implication of both Tweets seems to be that a company that large and that successful excuses Li’s violation because it could benefit the sport having such wealth and influence like golf?
As an Apple fanboy it’s wonderful to see them taking notice, but to suggest ignoring the rules in place for corporate and youth-obsessed marketing agendas means it may just be time to throw out all of the rules.
The image and reputation of the amateur game was already in decline. Looking the other way on Li, as the governing bodies will surely do after checking with their image consultants, won’t stem the bleeding nor will it change behavior of “amateurs”. Players with exemptions to major championships regularly pass them up and turn pro instead of taking once-in-a-lifetime playing opportunities. The mid-amateur world is played in almost complete anonymity while the best amateur tournaments in the United States barely register a blip.
At the U.S. Amateur, a vast majority of spectators are either family, friends, agents or representatives of manufacturers who swarm players and even cheer on those who use their equipment.
The lure of professional golf is the only thing keeping amateur golf relevant. It’s a feeder world for men and women and Li will not be punished for acting like a pro when she’s likely turning pro soon, anyway. The modern USGA will not take on a player in such high profile fashion, particularly a young woman who has been a big part of their events. As Frank Hannigan always lamented, the organization’s decision-making is driven by a desire to be loved and a fear of being seen as having interfered with someone’s ability to make a living. The rules of amateur status are nothing more now than a linked page on a website.
So if we’ve reached this point, why not just accept that by allowing players to be paid for their time promoting products? Let them pay a few bills and live the American dream? The ones who want to be pro golfers look like they are already operating that way because they don’t care what the governing bodies think. A society where every opportunity to profit must be protected will probably side with Li and other players who are just playing golf ultimately just to make a buck.