Honesty and a 3-stroke penalty cost a future PGA president a championship!

Honesty and a 3-stroke penalty cost a future PGA president a championship!

In September 1972 the Tamiment Resort and Country Club in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains was hosting the Philadelphia PGA Championship.

Playing in the first round of the 54-hole tournament Dick Smith, Sr. was on the par five 16thhole. Smith’s second shot was in the right rough near an embedded rock. Smith walked up toward the green to check the position of the flagstick. He returned only to find his golf ball in a different location, away from the rock. Smith asked his caddy what happened and said that was not how he played golf. His caddy said that the golf bag fell and moved the ball.

At that time the Philadelphia PGA had a bare-bones staff with no paid rules officials. On tournament days members of the Section’s tournament committee were on the golf course helping with rulings, when they were not playing their own rounds.

Smith lifted his ball and placed it back where it had been. At the completion of his round and before turning in his scorecard, he reported what had happened to the person working the scoreboard. He had shot a 73. Someone from the tournament committee said it was a one stroke penalty. A 74 was posted for Smith.

Skee Riegel, winner of the 1947 US Amateur and runner-up in the 1951 Masters, was a member of the Section’s tournament committee. Riegel knew the rules of golf as well as anyone at the USGA, and better than some, it turned out. When Riegel completed his round he was apprised of the Smith situation. Riegel said that the penalty was three strokes.

Chaired by Merion GC head professional Bill Kittleman, the tournament committee met that evening. Three strokes seemed excessive for someone making an honest mistake. Riegel had left for Stroudsburg where he was staying in a motel. Riegel was called and he said it had to be three strokes.

The next morning Riegel called the USGA and someone told him the penalty was two strokes. Riegel maintained that it was three, not two. P.J. Boatwright, executive director of the USGA and the leading expert on the rules of golf in the United States, was not available. Smith teed off for his second round with the two stroke penalty and a 75 on the scoreboard. Smith posted a 70 in his second round.

When Smith arrived at the course on Wednesday for his third and final round of the tournament he was met by Riegel, who told him a decision would be made at the end of the day. With that Smith teed off not sure how he stood in the tournament.

After Riegel completed his round he called the USGA again. This time he was able to speak to Boatwright, who said the penalty was three strokes. Boatwright said it was one stroke for accidentally moving the ball and two strokes for lifting a ball in play. Boatwright said that Smith could be disqualified for having played his shot from the wrong place. But, Boatwright said the tournament committee had the leeway to not disqualify Smith. (A few years later the USGA changed the rule concerning a golf ball moved accidentally. Now the ball was to be returned to its original position with a one stroke penalty.)

Smith played his third round in 70 strokes. When he came to the scoreboard he was informed by Riegel that he had spoken to Boatwright and the penalty was three strokes. With the three stroke penalty applied to day one, Smith’s rounds for the three days were now 76-70-70. Smith was tied for first with Dick Hendrickson at 216.

On Sunday Hendrickson, who was playing the PGA Tour, had flown in from St. Louis where he had made the cut and missed the money. He had rented a car and driven to Tamiment, posting a 68 in the first round. His next two rounds were 75 and 76. Smith had picked up six strokes on Hendrickson in the third round, to finish in a tie.

An 18-hole playoff was delayed due to scheduling conflicts. Having made the cut at St. Louis, Hendrickson was in the next tournament. After completing his third round Hendrickson was on a plane to Illinois. Fourteen days later, during a down week on the PGA Tour, Hendrickson won the playoff with a 73 against a 75 for Smith. Smith had worked for Hendrickson as his assistant in 1965.

Smith would go on to win the Section Championship five times, along with winning many more important Section events and competing in U.S. championships that are considered to be majors. He would go on to be president of the Philadelphia PGA and the PGA of America. Smith was the kind of person you would like to have as the professional at your club. 

4 thoughts on “Honesty and a 3-stroke penalty cost a future PGA president a championship!

Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: