My nightmarish experiences as a bad golfer have left me with two impressions: Golf is full of bizarre rules, and it’s the most unforgiving game on the planet.
Guess I was wrong about the second half of that equation, at least.
It was with incredulous interest this week that I learned 1998 Maine Amateur champion Eric Crouse was returning to the event that made him a local star. Crouse is playing in the amateur state tournament this week at Waterville Country Club in Oakland.
There’s one Big Bertha-sized problem here. Crouse was anything but an amateur from 1999 to 2002, when he accepted ample money to play the sport he loves and even spent a year on the Canadian Tour.
This spring, the South Portland native had his amateur status “reinstated” and is allowed to tee off alongside Mark Plummer, Ricky Jones, Toby Spector and 100-plus other hometown heroes for the state’s top sub-professional prize.
Look, I know turning pro is a regrettable decision for most athletes. How many baseball players throw away a full college scholarship for the promise of a $20,000 signing bonus, hit .182 over two season in Class A and wind up delivering pizzas? How many McDonald’s All-America basketball players chose an agent named Dirk over a coach named Tubby and dribbled their way into scouting combine oblivion?
Life is full of fateful, and yes, final choices. Cashing satellite tour checks for a summer or two and then falling back on your amateur roots is a little bit like a repentant teenager signing a secondary virginity pledge. Sorry, but either you are or you aren’t, and Crouse isn’t.
According to the official rules of amateur status, a golfer may not play golf for prize money or exchange any prize voucher for cash, among 16 other black-and-white prohibitions.
Crouse has a sympathetic story, no question. He missed the cut in all 12 Canadian Tour events he attempted, seven times by a single shot. Due to a broken wrist in April, he has hardly played all season.
But the guy took dead presidents instead of the Lexus that he won in a hole-in-one contest and used the green as a foundation for his professional career. He ran the gauntlet of state and regional opens that trips up most PGA wannabes. He finished in the top 10 at Canadian qualifying school.
His entering the Maine Amateur is like Hilary Duff taking a stab at “American Idol.”
Maybe Crouse wasn’t that good, but he got paid. And now he’s taking a spot from somebody who followed all the rules.
Of course, the rules apparently allow Crouse the right of a petition, a waiting period and a second chance to be an amateur. Which means the rules are stupid.