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The Grateful Golfer discusses the differences between an amateur and professional golfer in the true sense of the words.

Have you won more than $750 playing golf at your local club in a skins game?  Do you use golf as a primary method to make a living?  Are you receiving financial gain from golfing? Are you the local golfing sensation whose likeness is used to promote a local charity golf event? Do you compete at the elite level regularly?  If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may be considered a professional golfer!

Determining whether a player should be a card carrying professional is important.  It is safe to say that it is easy to distinguish between a professional and an amateur. Or is it?

Lyndia Ko is a perfect example of a 16-year old phenom amateur who has won four (2 LPGA and 2 International) professional tournaments.  How does she maintain her amateur status and still compete in at the elite level?  The last amateur to win a PGA event was Phil Mickelson in 1991.  He turned pro 1992 and has won 42 professional tournaments, including five majors.  Did winning this PGA event push “Lefty” towards an amateur career sooner than expected?

By definition, an “amateur golfer”, regardless of whether he plays competitively or recreationally, is one who plays golf for the challenge it presents, not as a profession and not for financial gain. (R&AUSGA)  Is it really that simple?

One major distinction about being a professional golfer is “golf skill or reputation“. Generally, an amateur golfer is only considered to have golf skill if he:

  1. has had competitive success at regional or national level or has been selected to represent his national, regional, state or county golf union or association; or
  2. competes at an elite level.

Golf reputation can only be gained through golf skill and such reputation is deemed to continue for five years after that player’s golf skill has fallen below the standard set by the Governing Body.  This statement is very important to most amateurs.  Basically, local heroes with fantastic reputations would not be considered professional golfers.  It takes much more than having a scratch handicap.

Other aspects of maintaining your amateur status are important. A recent change to the hole-in-one prizes is significant.  Traditionally, if you won more that $750 for a hole-in-one during a fun tournament, you lost your amateur status. Fortunately that has changed because Kurt Kramarenko of Dimondale would be a professional golfer today after winning ten thousand dollars in a charity golf tournament on 13 September 2013.  It may have been a life time dream, but one awesome shot does not make a professional golfer.

Another major change important distinction on a player’s status deals with subsistence expenses. An amateur golfer can receive subsistence expenses to assist with general living costs provided the expenses are approved by and paid through the player’s national golf union or association.  (R&AUSGA)  This new rule allows amateurs to keep their status while in school, compete at the elite level and prepare for a professional career.

What about the local player who travels within a three-hour radius of his house and consistently wins prizes in tournaments?  What if this local player participates directly or indirectly in a “sweepstake” or “calcutta” auction and receives money from the person who purchased their team? Or, he likes to enter tournaments that offer cash prizes because he has enough golf stuff; does this effect their amateur status? The short answer is yes. Every time a player wins money during a tournament, even non-optional skins games, the prize money goes towards the $750 limit regarding their amateur status.  A prize such as golf equipment does not appear to count towards the $750 limit.

In 2012, the USGA and R&A joined forces to make one set of governing rules to clarify the difference between professional and amateur status.  This was a good move for the overall health of golf. suggests that golf is a 69 billion dollar industry. Amateur versus professional status is important.  The following R&A video outlines the new changes and the importance of understanding if a player is considered a professional golfer.

New Amateur Status 2012-2015

So, are you a professional golfer?  Most likely, the answer is no.  However, for some, it is a great dream.  As the golf industry continues to grow, more pressure will grow on the governing bodies to ensure an even and fair playing field. There is so much at stake that making poor decisions early in an amateur career could have detrimental, long-term results.  Being a professional golfer may not be the life-long dream of most players, but for some it typifies the view that Sport is Everything!


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