Inside The Life And Mind Of The Game’s Longest-Serving Rules Official
By John Hopkins • February 19, 2019
On that grey January morning John Paramor stood at the door of his house buried in England’s Berkshire countryside, a welcoming smile on his face and a pile driver of a cold pounding in his head. As he turned and led the way towards the warmth of the kitchen you wondered what books you would see en route and what said books would reveal about one of golf’s most eminent rules officials.
The answers are none and nothing. Later he would take pleasure in demonstrating a wall that was covered from top to bottom by credentials, badges from some of the tournaments he has attended and worked. In another room was a coffee table with the money clips embedded in the top, one no doubt from the men’s Olympics in Brazil where he was chief referee. But on the way to the kitchen, towards the sound of a dog barking disgruntledly, and the smell of recently brewed coffee, books were absent.
Then he gesticulated towards a table that contained a pile of magazines and a mug of coffee. Guided by the sight of his spectacles resting against it, there was an A5 book, The Official Guide to the Rules of Golf and its companion volume The Rules of Golf. Later Paramor would pick up one and heft it lovingly, holding it with the sort of reverence a clergyman might have for a rare edition of the King James Bible, which was begun in 1604 and completed in 1611. For Paramor, these weren’t books as dry as dust but ones that reverberated with information, rewarded examination, revealed answers. Others may go for the work of JK Rowling or Ian McEwan. Paramor’s paramours are works by those sexy authors and their bodice-ripping tales, the R&A and USGA.
You can spend days, weeks or months with a person before you feel as though you have got the essence of them but there and then, rules books close to hand, John Paramor was revealed for what he is and has been for more than 40 years: not just a golf geek but a rules geek.
Born on 4 April 1955, the son of Norrie Paramor, a jazz pianist and bandleader, he is the man who started work for the European Tournament Players’ Division as it then was, one day after his 21st birthday. Hired by Ken Schofield, then its secretary, Paramor was, he recalls, the seventh person to join that organisation which, in its modern name of the European Tour, currently employs several hundred.
Schofield’s hunch that such a young and inexperienced man would become the man that Paramor is today remains a remarkable piece of managerial assessment or a wonderful piece of luck – or a bit of both. “He was well-turned out, bright-eyed and and bushy-tailed, immaculate in his appearance,” Schofield said. “All the things I would look for today in my grandson. I thought to myself this is a well-coordinated young boy who clearly understands golf. Of course, he was still 6-foot or 6-1 but he was 12 stone (168 pounds) instead of 22 stone (a shade north of 300 pounds). He is a great guy, one of the world’s great people.”
From that day to this, Paramor has attended 1,000 tournaments in 40 countries and officiated at more than 100 major championships. He is among the most experienced officials in the history of the game. His knowledge, gravitas and standing put him alongside such rules potentates as the USGA’s PJ Boatwright and Sir Michael Bonallack of the R&A.
“I have spent many happy hours with him in a buggy at Augusta, where practically the entire gallery seem to know him,” Bonallack said. “As a member of the R&A he is a regular attendee at the autumn meeting of the club and always volunteers to do a spell as a marshal on the course to help players get round on time. The look of surprise on some members’ faces is something to behold, when they realise who it is encouraging them to speed up.”
Paramor, who is known universally by his initials, JP, is a man in love with his job, “a living legend” according to Mike Davis, the CEO of the USGA and himself a rules geek. “If you look at the history of the game, its history of 500 years or so and think to yourself, ‘OK, in 100 years from now is anybody going to remember any of us?’ ” Davis said. “Listen, there are certainly some players who played the game at the highest level that history is going to remember and people do tend to remember great writers or reporters. But in terms of administration people, it is unusual that people remember golf administrators. Oh, they might remember a Joe Dey. People are going to remember Michael Bonallack. But I really do believe that John Paramor will be remembered and that people will be talking about him for many years because he was such an important part of the game. And gave back to it and did it in such a classy way.
“Tour officials are some of the best officials and they know the rules really well. But by and large they don’t know the rules as well as somebody who works for the USGA or the R&A and is involved with the Rules of Golf committee, who write the rules and interpret them,” Davis continued. “But where the tour officials are outstanding is actually applying the rules and knowing how to deal with players in situations and having that experience. John is both.
“When I started, P.J. Boatwright was the rules guru. Lee Trevino needed a ruling and after a referee had given his ruling, which Trevino didn’t like, then a rover had given his ruling, which Trevino didn’t like, up came Boatwright. He looked at the situation and said: ‘Lee, play the ball.’ I think that Paramor is very much like Boatwright. He is so respected in the game. He has that authority to be able to say this is what we are doing and no one would question it. He has such a great track record that frankly, he shouldn’t be challenged.”
David Rickman, the R&A’s executive director of governance, explains this characteristic of Paramor’s in a different way. “I am always very interested to know whether the rules are working in the real world under the harsh spotlight of professional sport because they need to work in that environment. It’s a challenge trying to write rules not only for the very best but for millions of people who are facing different challenges when they play that sport so to have somebody who is able to understand that, and then convey how things are working on the pro tours, is extremely important to the R&A. Both John and Andy (McFee, Paramor’s colleague at the European Tour) are good at transitioning regulations from paper to the golf course. That is vital. If we can’t make the rules work in a practical sense on a golf course then we are wasting our time. They have been extremely helpful in that regard.”
Many people in golf cannot forget that it was Paramor who imposed a one-stroke penalty for slow play on Guan Tianlang at the 2013 Masters, a ruling that created great sympathy for the 14-year-old Chinese boy and added a layer to the reputation of Paramor as an unfeeling jobsworth.
Paramor, making a stout defence of what others call a heartless decision, spoke to one or other or all of Ben Crenshaw, Matteo Manassero and Guan on the 10th green, the 12th tee, the 13th fairway, the 14th tee and the 17th tee before stepping in with a one-stroke penalty for Guan.
“At the time I felt not great,” Paramor said. “But I had given him enough opportunities to speed up.”
Others remember Paramor for the 10 minutes he spent patiently countering the plaintive appeals of Seve Ballesteros on the 72nd hole of the 1994 Volvo Masters at Valderrama, in southern Spain, the last tournament of that season and one that, therefore, would identify the winner of that year’s Order of Merit. Imagine the scene: The King of Spain was in his pomp and his kingdom, going for his first victory for some years in the country of his birth and in front of a partisan crowd. The first rules official to be summoned ducked it as soon as he saw that Ballesteros’s ball lay in a hole at the base of one of the thousands of cork trees that line that course. Help and experience were needed and out came Paramor, one of the very few men in the world today who has the latter quality and many others in abundance. Paramor ruled that he saw no signs of a burrowing animal and therefore ruled that Ballesteros was unable to drop away from the tree without penalty.
“The incident with Seve was a high-pressure moment,” McFee said. “John stood his ground. He said ‘No, I don’t have any evidence that this is the hole of a burrowing animal. It’s a hole but what has caused it I don’t know.’ Many refs would have taken the out there and then but John was not able to get past the fact that he could see no evidence of a burrowing animal so he thought: ‘I can’t do this. To give in to Seve now means I can’t look the other competitors in the eye’ and he didn’t.”
At times like this Paramor resembles the sheriff in a Western for the way, when summoned to end a dispute, he rolls into town and resolves the situation that confronts him. He is the John Wayne of the fairways, the lawmaker, the enforcer. His rule book is his Colt .45
Paramor’s peers talk of his people skills, of confronting a player who may be quite exercised and slowly talking him through the ruling until he understands the process even if he does not agree with the outcome. “The one characteristic of John’s that I would put above all others is that he is intensely fair,” McFee said. “That works both ways. It works for the guy that is in front of him with a problem and it works for the other 155 that player is competing against. John is very analytical. He is pretty stubborn. He is very strong-willed. You have to be strong-willed because you’re dealing with strong-willed people.”
Or, as Davis said of Paramor: “When you’re officiating you have to apply the rules as written. You have to know them well. And do not deviate from them even if you feel like doing so and even if you feel it is not equitable. Without naming names, I have seen that happen. John is really good at following the rules. I always feel from an integrity standpoint John is as buttoned up as anybody in that respect. He has marvellous integrity.”
There is a conundrum in Paramor’s professional life that has been there from the first day he started working as a rules official, and, if anything, it has increased down the years as his importance and standing in the game have increased. It is that while he and many other fair-minded and knowledgeable rules officials have spent hours writing, rewriting and interpreting the rules to make them better for the good of the game and easier to understand, there are always going to be moments when the shrill voices in golf, those who never suffer a lack of confidence, say that this rule or that interpretation is wrong.
A good example is the rumpus created by one or two of the rules that came into effect on January 1. Rule 14.3 about dropping the ball from knee height being one example, the rule about a caddie lining up a player – Rule 10.2b (4) – being another. Patently a decent man, Paramor’s conundrum is how to deal with his not being an old man who is out of touch, but rather one of a group of experts who have spent hours drafting, discussing and redrafting rules to improve them.
“I say (to these people), ‘Do you fully understand exactly what happened? Because when you find out why it is there, you might understand it a little bit better and then realise it is not quite that stupid,’ ” Paramor said, talking of the controversial Rule 10.2b. “It is harsh, admittedly. But stupid? No. It is there to try to prevent another problem we have had: The problem being caddies providing alignment assistance to a player. It is felt that that is a skill of the golfer and should remain such. Caddies have been getting in behind the player and so in order to try and get rid of that or prevent it from happening, the rules bodies decided we have to make sure that the caddie – or the person could be a playing partner – is not standing directly behind the player when he is about to take his stance. That is something that is measurable. You know when the player puts his foot in, he is in the process of taking his stance. If the caddie or partner is standing there at that time the Rules of Golf say it is a penalty. It is done precisely that firmly because if you don’t have that then you don’t really get rid of alignment.”
And Paramor’s reaction when he read the statement by Keith Pelley, the European Tour boss, criticising the decision to penalise Li Haotong two strokes at the end of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic because it was ruled that his caddie had helped him align a putt? “I was disappointed because we didn’t want that to happen,” Paramor said. “It is a poor reflection on the rules that it has come to that. Keith has had his reaction and I understand it. It is just unfortunate. There is a chance that he will ask me at the next Rules of Golf meeting, in the strongest possible terms, to make a case for changing this at the earliest opportunity and so I will do that. I am still employed by the ET after all. If that is the way the CEO of the ET believes we should go of course I will accept that.
“If Keith Pelley makes a spirited attack on the rules via me then I will respond the way I always do,” Paramor continued. “I know why the rule is there and it is just an unfortunate set of circumstances. There will be other times when a player will get a penalty and it will look horrendous. We don’t want it to happen. It is not great for the general health of the game when you have these penalties being issued but if it stops what we were trying to stop, which is people standing behind and orchestrating a player’s aiming point, yes, I am quite keen on that.
“I will have taken it (the criticism) on the chin. Nobody likes handing out a penalty and particularly not in the circumstances as his final hole of a championship.”
It is worth noting that the R&A and USGA issued a clarification on 10.2(b) a little more than a week following the Li incident after another unfortunate penalty on the PGA Tour, this one involving Denny McCarthy.
As well as hiring Paramor, Schofield gave him a nickname. It was “Jack” as in “Jack the lad” and like most nicknames it is a combination that highlights an aspect of that person’s character, while at the same time revealing the affection in which that person is held.
“In the early ’80s he was a big smoker, a big drinker,” McFee said of Paramor. “He’d be the card-playing guy up until 3 in the morning. He liked to live the hard life. I sent him a saying that I found on a postcard. It said: “better to arrive at the grave totally knackered and skidding sideways, saying ‘s***, what a ride’ than totally preserved.”
Schofield said: “The only person who could make Jack look like the ultimate pre-qualifier was another esteemed staff member. Marina Bray was able to fly in to committee meetings on the continent during the day, take the minutes, have dinner, stay at the bar and go to the airport the next morning. On occasion even Jack Paramor found that hard going.”
Davis recalls how, many years ago, just before he went out to dinner with Paramor, he was counselled by a colleague: “Somebody came up to me and said: ‘Hey Davis, do not try to keep with Paramor with the wine.’ They were absolutely right. He can handle his wine.”
Paramor long ago abandoned the excesses of his youth. But he still loves his wine so long as it is red and mainly from Bordeaux. “There are so many different types of taste within a glass of red wine,” he said. “It’s altogether the experience of one finding the bottle, then acquiring it, getting it home and caring for it, sometimes laying it down for a while. Eventually the day comes when you remove it from the rack, get it to room temperature, and decant it, pour it slowly into a glass, and then take that first sip. It’s normally fantastic. If it is not, it is such a big letdown that I immediately have to go and find another bottle. It’s the whole gambit from beginning to end.”
Like the Queen, he buys wine from Berry Bros & Rudd in London. Unlike the Queen, he is a member of the Wine Society. He has more than 600 bottles in his cellar of which 540 are red. The oldest are from 1966, a St Emilion. “I have spent many years trying to educate John into thinking that there are other types of wine that are every bit as satisfying as red Bordeaux,” David Bonsall, chairman of the R&A rules committee as well as chairman of the committee that oversaw the recent rules modernisation, said. “I must say that I have failed signally.” Adds Schofield: “JP is Mr Merlot with a capital M.”
There are times when the sight of Paramor on a golf course is not a welcome one. Seeing his buggy following a trio of players generally means that one or all of them are either suspected of having committed an offence or have no doubt done so.
On the other hand, the sight of Paramor as a golfing partner is a delight. His pencil bag will probably be slung over shoulder. He does intimidate with the distance he hits the ball, which is a long way. He was county champion of Surrey 1987 and briefly thought of turning professional. He walks side by side with his playing companions, chimes in to their conversations when appropriate, watches their balls, keeps play moving.
He does not overawe one with his knowledge of the rules. Some years ago, after a round with Paramor, this writer concluded that he had been one of the most congenial with whom to play golf.
“Like a number of people working in golf, he discovered that if he couldn’t be a player he wanted to find something he could do,” Rickman said. “He excels at that and has got about as close to playing the sport as you could get. He has done it in a way that is not about him. He is happiest to go quietly about his business. He doesn’t like becoming part of the narrative but accepts that sometimes happens. It comes with being the sheriff. Our roles, those of referees, should be all about demonstrating what the players do well. Our roles should be to help them as quickly as we can, to get in and out, offstage left.”
It is clear that Paramor has not had a normal life. That is of a piece with the fact that he didn’t have a normal childhood either. Because of the success and standing of his father in the music business, he grew up in big houses on The Bishops Avenue, Finchley, London, or in a large flat in Harley House in the Marylebone Road, London. In both places pop stars such as Cliff Richard, Helen Shapiro, Frank Ifield, and The Shadows were around or young John was at a recording studio with Norrie.
He remembers his father recording in the main studio at EMI’s Abbey Road building and next door, in the lesser studio, George Martin was doing the same for some little-known group called The Beatles. Whatever became of them?
After being chief referee of the European Tour since 1991, Paramor intends to retire in late 2021 when he will be 66, or early the year after. He has a task in mind. Opposite his front door is a path that leads into the woods that form part of the three acres that surround his house. He wants to build a pathway through the woods for his grandchildren to play in. It was the idea of his wife, a former teacher, and it is one that he has warmed to. “A pixie pathway,” he said, smiling. “The grandchildren will love it.”
So The Enforcer, who once said that his jacket was full of dart holes thrown by players who disagreed with him, is not so fierce nor so stonyhearted as he sometimes can seem. He can resist an imploring Seve Ballesteros when thousands of Spanish eyes are on him. He can penalise a 14-year-old boy playing in the Masters, by far the biggest event of his young life. But he crumbles immediately before the entreaties of his grandchildren. A pixie path indeed. It is clear that inside that big frame of the sheriff’s, one that gave him the strength to swim the butterfly, put the shot and throw the hammer for Middlesex as a schoolboy, beats a heart as soft as a meringue.
TRANSITION PHOTOS Paramor, Sergio García, Greg Norman at the 2001 Greg Norman International, Photo Sport Golf Australia, Reuters; Lee Westwood with Paramor at the 2006 Volvo Masters, Photo Brandon Malone, Livepic/Action Images; Paramor, Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson at the 2014 Ryder Cup Photo Ross Kinnaird, Getty Images; Jordan Spieth and Paramor at 2017 The Open Championship Photo Ross Kinnard, Getty Images; Paramor and Phil Mickelson at the 2012 U.S. Open Photo Jed Jacobsohn, USGA
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