The most important component of the World Amateur Handicap Championship are its players, who come from all over the globe to enjoy the event, but the people who labor behind the scenes to help make America’s largest single-site tournament run smoothly make vital contributions as well.
Folks like Lew Gach, the World Am’s Rules Official. Nearly every golfer who has made a trip to the “rules room” has come into contact with Gach, a big man, with a big voice and a command of the Rules of Golf few could hope to match.
Now entering his 25th year with World Am, Gach has worked more than 600 professional or amateur events, including 100+ PGA Tour tournaments, as a rules official or tournament administrator.
“I like the structure of the rules,” Gach said. “I think the biggest misconception is that the rules are there to penalize people. They aren’t … I truly believe knowing the rules can help people score better and prevent them from getting penalties.”
While Gach’s knowledge of the rulebook is encyclopedic, he doesn’t just tell players what rule they may (or some cases may not) have violated. He turns to the page in the rules book and answers any reasonable questions they may have.
“It’s important to be able to find it in the book because every ruling upsets somebody,” he said. “I have to be able to show them (the rule they violated).”
While Gach is quick to point that he doesn’t penalize anyone – he only lets them know of violations and the penalty for the transgression – there are some rules he hates to see broken more than others.
“The ones that bother me the most are the scorecard ones, because it’s the only document we have of what a player did,” Gach said. “I’ve seen people post a 9-hole score under hole nine (on the scorecard) and not the four they made. They turn in a scorecard and all the sudden they have a 39 on the ninth hole.”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter that the player didn’t really make a 39. When the scorecard is signed and turned in, there is nothing that can be done.
A much more common but no less painful mistake involves players leaving the course without turning in their card. Gach and his team don’t believe you are cheating, but the rules of competition couldn’t be clearer. The penalty for leaving the golf course property with your scorecard is disqualification.
But those instances occur infrequently and sometimes Gach, happily I may add, gets to tell players they didn’t incur a penalty.
The one piece of advice he would provide to every player is simple:
“If you aren’t 1,000 percent sure of a ruling, ask before you return your scorecard,” he says. “Play two balls if you need to under Rule 20 and get clarification before you leave the golf course.”
Once a card is turned in, a player’s options are more limited.
While players cringe at the thought of being involved in an issue revolving around the rules, Gach has a passion for the Rules of Golf and the World Am.
“I love it,” Gach said of the tournament. “It’s a blast. It’s my favorite event of the year. Ninety-nine percent of people respect each other … They are here to have a good time and it’s hard not to have a good time with them.”