Summer 2018

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T hey are the few, the proud, the rules officials of the NCGA, and without them we'd be more lost than a golf ball on the wrong side of the OB stakes. But to hear these men and women tell it, serving the game as a rules official is a labor of love. "First time I took the test, I didn't pass," said Karl Rodefer. "That really ticked me off." Rodefer is no slacker, either. He became an expert. The retired military man went on to become NCGA Tournament Official of the Year in 2016. "First time I took the test, I missed half of the ques- tions," said Mike Sheragy. "I looked at it like I parred nine, and bogeyed nine." Sheragy isn't no flunkie, sports fans. He discovered a new passion in life. The retiree went on to become NCGA Tournament Official of the Year in 2017. So, please. A little respect for these gentlemen and ladies out there grinding it as rules officials. To hear them tell it, it's not about how hard the job is, but rather how rewarding it can be. They follow a simple mantra: the Rules of Golf demand an honoring, and Rodefer and Sheragy are just the kind of guys to get that. It's not like a moving strike zone in a baseball game, umpire to umpire. The Rules are the Rules. These rules officials get that. "It's not about your authority," Rodefer said. "You have no authority. The Rules of Golf are the authority. If you remember that, it keeps you cool, calm, collected." Funny Rodefer should mention human emotion. Both men say the most interesting—and unpre- dictable—part of their job is their social interaction with a competitive golfer in tournament play whose engine may be running a little hot. You know the deal: Tight competition, golfer in a pickle, rules official called . . . watch out! "The most important thing for a rules official to remember is, when you're dealing with a player, a lot of times, that's the worst moment in their round," Rodefer said. "And they're not really happy to see you." That's why Sheragy has a strategy. Call it the "Mary Poppins As Rules Official" theory: A spoonful of sugar from the guy or gal with the walkie-talkie helps the medicine go down. "The way you first approach a player is real impor- tant," Sheragy said. "My motto is: A kind word and a warm smile will get you anywhere. I'm the 'good cop.'" Said Rodefer: "If you can keep your own personality out and present the situation in terms of the Rules of Golf, it changes the atmosphere. Then it's not 'you vs. the player.'" Of course, each man has war stories. There was the junior amateur who was medalist at the tournament and failed to get two signatures on his scorecard, and was disqualified. And while the rules committee bears some responsibility, Rodefer said, "Those are tough. . . but the nice thing about the Rules of Golf is that the player has responsibility." The key, they say, is to avoid confrontation. Rodefer remembers a situation where a senior player in a tour- nament was adamant he'd gotten a bad ruling. He continued hectoring the rules officials after the round, until one of Rodefer's colleagues told him calmly: "There's nothing in the Rules of Golf that allows me to rule in your favor." The Rules abide. "See, it's not you and the player," Rodefer said. "It's the player and the Rules of Golf." Ultimately, the gig comes down to the admiration these officials have for the Rules. When, after a ruling you don't like, you sometimes may think they're just misplaced hall monitors from your junior high, they want you to see them as caretakers of a great game, who care enough to pour over the Good Book. Sheragy keeps his copy in his golf bag. Every year, as the year winds down, he readies himself to take the test again. He hauls out the book. He opens it up. "The start of a new year," he said. "Time to study again." Brian Murphy hosts the KNBR morning show "Murph and Mac" and was the San Francisco Chronicle's golf writer from 2001–04. 76 SUMMER 2018 | NCGA.ORG M U R P H Y ' S L A W Rulers of the Game BY BRIAN MURPHY Ultimately, the gig comes down to the admiration these officials have for the Rules.

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