PGA Tour rules officials do more than watch, wait
Before play begins, job involves determining tee and hole locations
Robby Ware’s day began early, as most do when he’s working a PGA Tour event. He woke up at 6 a.m. He took a shower. He went to Starbucks and ordered a venti green tea because he doesn’t like coffee. He arrived to TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm at 7 a.m. sharp before the start of the third round of the Quicken Loans National. After breakfast, he got into his golf cart, the one with five water bottles, two golf balls, a putter, an umbrella, a yellow backpack and, most importantly, bug spray. Then, at 8 a.m., he drove from the PGA Tour officials’ office to the 10th tee.
“It’s a nice day,” said Ware, 58. He arrived to the 10th tee and prepared to mark the tees and the holes on the back nine for Sunday.
Ware is a rules official, one of 22 employed by the PGA Tour, and has been for 18 years. He selects hole locations and places tee box pins. He monitors the pace of play. He consults with players and makes judgment calls on rulings. He is there from the moment the first ball is teed off until the last ball drops in the hole.
The relationship between rules officials and players is only rarely marked by tension. But the past year has brought some highly publicized incidents. There was the “DJ rule” instituted at the U.S. Open last month in response to the previous year’s U.S. Open, where Dustin Johnson was penalized after his ball moved on its own at the No. 5 green. There was the widely criticized ruling against Lexi Thompson at the LPGA Tour’s Inspiration tournament this year, when Thompson was given a pair of two-stroke penalties after hitting the ball from the wrong spot and signing an incorrect scorecard — but a day later, after a viewer called noting the infractions.
“I think the tour’s got really good rules officials,” said Rickie Fowler, the highest-ranked player at the Quicken Loans National. “They handle all the situations as best they can. They’re not biased. They do a good job with course setup. They know we’re not perfect. We know they’re not perfect.”
Other than when there are controversies, rules officials are usually unnoticed. On Saturday at the Quicken Loans National, Ware oversaw play on the 10th, 11th and 12th holes after completing his prep work for Sunday on the back nine. He stayed in the shade under the trees because temperatures over the past three days have hit the low 90s, with the heat index in the upper 90s.
Rules officials typically work 28 to 30 weeks out of the year. At beginning of the year, Ware will mark down which tournaments he would like to work. Then his bosses organize his schedule based on his preferences. Ware is in the middle of a four-week stretch as an official. This means he will be away from his home in Houston, and his wife, Janet, for 31 straight days. But this isn’t the longest stretch he has done. Last year he did a six-week stretch.
“I don’t know how you did six weeks in a row,” fellow rules official Peter Dachisen, in the middle of consecutive weeks away, said to Ware.
The two were tucked away in the shade on the 10th hole late Saturday morning, sitting, watching and waiting. “This is basically what I do,” Ware said.
Yet about three hours earlier it was the opposite. Ware carted two golf balls, a putter and a can of white spray paint from the 10th hole to the 18th, measuring where to place the tees and holes for Sunday’s round. He marked each hole location with a spot of paint for the grounds crew to carve out the next morning. The placement of each was up to him alone.
“Difficult but fair” is how Ware described the way he chooses where to place the hole on the green. He walks around each green, looking for the flattest surface. He places the spray paint can where he thought the hole should be, then studies it from different angles. He considers the slope, the grass, the breaks. Sometimes he places his two-way radio a few feet from the can because he wants to see whether one location might be better. Then he putts golf balls to the paint can or the radio to see how the ball rolls. He’s pretty accurate, even when he putts with one hand.
“You should be playing,” a spectator tells Ware, who returns a polite smile.
Ware played for four years at Mississippi State, as well as in the 1996 PGA Championship and for the 1996 PGA Cup Team. After playing, he was the club pro at Deerwood Golf Club in Kingwood, Tex., for 10 years.
He received a call in 1999 telling him a PGA Tour rules official, the father of one of his college teammates, was retiring. Ware was asked whether he wanted the job.
Eighteen years later he’s still going, and it’s why at about 10:30 a.m., after he was done placing the holes and the tees for Sunday, Ware headed out to the 10th hole to watch and wait for a call on his radio. “Robby, we need you.” And that’s where he will go.
PGA Tour rules official Robby Ware, left, said his goal is “difficult but fair” when he is deciding where to put the hole on the green.