It's hard to keep track of changes to golf rules

Most people think golf is purely a game about numbers, but first-year Augusta State head coach Kevin McPherson can tell you it’s about letters as well.



Between all of golf’s various governing bodies, coaches are buried in enough rules and regulations that it takes a college degree just to keep up with all of the ongoing changes.

“It’s crazy,” said McPherson, who took over the reins of the two-time defending national champions this summer after Josh Gregory chased the money to his alma mater, SMU. “That’s another job in itself. It’s confusing me every day and I’ve been doing it for awhile. It puts a little more work on your plate because you’ve just got to pay attention to what’s going on all the time.”

This has been an extraordinary year considering all of the governing bodies have made or are considering changes that can have a major effect on collegiate golfers. The USGA and R&A have made key changes regarding amateur status that could cost a college player his eligibility because the NCAA doesn’t recognize the same rules. The PGA Tour is even considering changes to how it doles out tour status that could trickle down into the top collegiate ranks.

While McPherson appreciates some of the changes, he wishes there was a little more collaboration to avoid so many loopholes that might swallow up an innocent player.

“I think before they start coming out with these new types of legislation and put them in place, they’ve got to see eye to eye and see that these things might clash,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that are kind of contradicting one another. It keeps you on your toes. I’ve got an NCAA manual that’s 600- or 700-hundred pages.”

A new page in that NCAA rulebook has already proven costly to one Jaguar player this season. Jack Heasman, an 18-year-old from London, has already played well enough in qualifying to compete for Augusta State right now, but he’s forbidden because of a silly new rule that the NCAA just enacted the month before Heasman showed up for his first semester this fall.

A player’s eligibility clock used to start when they started college before age 21, allowing them five years to complete four years of eligibility. But in August the NCAA enacted a rule that starts the eligibility clock 12 months after an athlete graduates from high school, regardless of whether they are in college or not.

Heasman graduated from the Forest School in London in 2009 when he was only 16 years old. Instead of going straight to college, he decided to play amateur golf for two years and enroll at Augusta State when he was 18 just like most everybody else in the freshman class.

Reasonable choice, right? Well, not in the eyes of the new NCAA rule. Because Heasman has been out of high school for two years, the NCAA is requiring him to sit out his first season AND is docking him a year of eligibility despite never playing.

“He’s being punished for something he had no idea about,” McPherson said. “When he got here, we all were under the assumption he’d be eligible to play immediately. He did all the right things through the NCAA but there are so many different bylaws and legislation that changes from time to time that he’s not aware of it. If he had been (aware), he’d have been here in 2010.”

Augusta State is appealing the ruling and will have to wait and see if Heasman will be allowed to play in the spring when the Jaguars try to reach another NCAA Tournament.

“There’s so many rules in NCAA that they’re almost looking for the smallest thing that can hinder the outcome and keep a kid out of school or something,” McPherson said.

The complicated and illogical NCAA bureaucracy isn’t the only thing that could affect a small college like Augusta State competing against Division I goliaths. Some of the new changes in amateur status could have an effect on some of the foreign recruits that have long been the lifeblood of the Jags’ success.

The USGA will allow amateurs to receive living expenses from national unions, which could prompt a top foreign player who wants to develop his game without taking classes to skip the collegiate experience altogether. Amateurs would also be allowed to enter agreements with agents and sponsors about their future provided no money changes hands.

Both of those rules are forbidden by the NCAA.

“Some of the ones who actually value an education can kill two birds with one stone and actually play competitive college golf at a high level and graduate and leave out of there with a great education,” said McPherson. “Hopefully they’ll make it as a touring pro, but you’ve got to have a Plan B.”

Even the PGA Tour is considering changes that could have a big impact on collegians. The tour postponed until 2013 enacting new qualification rules that would eliminate Q-school as an option for amateurs. Only Nationwide Tour cards would be given at Q-school, while top Nationwide Tour and lower-tier PGA Tour players would compete in a series for 50 available PGA Tour cards.

That could force top college stars to leave early and commit to being pros to try to gain entry into the qualifying series if there is no Q-school option.

“I think that’s probably a better way,” McPherson said. “You have to do one or the other. You can’t be waffling back and forth trying to figure out whether to turn pro or not.”

Just make sure all the ‘t’s and ‘i’s are crossed and dotted correctly.