Many amateurs thought it had already been decided. In fact, moments after the USGA and R&A announced Tuesday that the rules regarding amateur status would be updated in 2022 to lift the restrictions on name, image and likeness, I broke the news to 10 members of the Rollins College women’s golf team who were hosting an event at Country Club of Orlando in Florida. To a player, they all gave me a quizzical look. Then one of them said, “They did it again?”
That seemed to be the prevailing view. A lot of amateurs thought the opening of this proposal for feedback back in February made the NIL rules a fait accompli. After all, the NCAA lifted all NIL restrictions on July 1, allowing college athletes to market and sell themselves without jeopardizing their college eligibility. But the USGA and R&A have been working on this for longer and for entirely different reasons than the NCAA.
According to a joint press release that went out on Tuesday morning, “The work is the latest step by the governing bodies to make the rules easier to understand and apply and follows the modernization process of the Rules of Golf in 2019. The new rules were informed by golfer and golf-industry feedback as a part of a comprehensive review, to ensure they continue to reflect how the modern game is played by millions of golfers around the world.
“This review, along with the global feedback received when the proposals were publicly shared earlier this year, reaffirmed amateur golf’s important position in the game and the value in maintaining amateur status rules.”
In addition to the NIL rule, the governing bodies made other changes. Effective January 1, 2022, amateur events may offer prize funds of up to £700 or $1,000. And the waiting period has been shortened for some players to be reinstated, particularly those who were club pros for 20 years but didn’t play competitively at any meaningful level during their days outside the bounds of amateurism.
“Where we do see the potential for epic change is with respect to the elite amateur and the highly competitive player. The removal of the restrictions about name, image and likeness could be very impactful.” – Craig Winter
But the big news is the NIL changes. About the only things you can’t do these days to run afoul of your amateur status is play for money above the specified limits, teach golf for money or accept a job as a golf professional. Other than that, you’re probably good.
“We thought the amateur game was in pretty good shape the way the rules were for the millions of amateur golfers who play every week at the club level,” Craig Winter, the USGA’s senior director of rules and amateur status, told me on Tuesday. “We affirmed that through our feedback process back in February. What will be reflected in these changes that come out in 2022 is that there really isn’t much change for the club golfer. There is an increase in the limit for prize funds. But outside of that, most of the golf that’s played on the amateur level will not be impacted.
“Where we do see the potential for epic change is with respect to the elite amateur and the highly competitive player. The removal of the restrictions about name, image and likeness could be very impactful. Separate and aside from what the NCAA has done, on a local, organic level, tournament golf can be pretty expensive. Travel can add even more to that. Removing the restrictions and freeing up the expense parameters will, we think, change the face of amateur golf and, eventually, the professional game.
“If you look at those amateurs who perhaps don’t have access to the game today, we think these changes will give them better access and level the playing field. We hope that it will allow them to move from the local level to the regional level to the national level. We’re really excited about that part.
“It’s primarily about helping the younger golfers. In our role, I cannot tell you how many calls we get saying, ‘I’ve just qualified for a national championship. How can I go about getting some of the expenses necessary to travel?’ The rules have been such that it’s difficult for everybody to get access to expenses. Hopefully, in 2022, the car dealers and the local business will want to help tell that story.”
The model is local. And while Winter is quick to point out that the NCAA and golf’s rules makers came at this from different angles and with different motivations, the result is similar. You don’t see running backs or receivers at the University of Iowa getting Nike contracts. But you do see a lot of local businesses helping those kids. The same will be true with golf. A few players will garner national attention – prominent agent Mark Steinberg just announced that he will be working with Stanford sophomore Rachel Heck, for example – but most of the money will come from a local Chevrolet dealer or the guy with the regional restaurant chain.
“We had to ask ourselves, ‘What does the modern game look like?’” Winter said. “Part of what our modernization goals were aimed to do is reflect how the game has evolved. And the modern game includes travel and international competition. When you think about the international teams (which is a major part of golf outside the United States), most of the expenses are taken care of. But what about those junior players who are attempting to access the game (who don’t make the national team of their respective countries). If you look at somebody who just missed the national team, but their parents can’t afford all the services and expenses that come with being on the national team, that person can now go to a local business and ask for help.”
And in that regard, USGA and R&A officials think this could give the game a different look in the coming years.
Grant Moir, director of rules at the R&A, said, “The code must evolve to meet the needs of the modern game. This is particularly important for modern elite amateur golf, where many of the players need financial support to compete and develop to their full potential. The new rules give them this opportunity and will help to make the game even more inclusive.”
Winter put it on a more personal level. “I was at Oakmont at the U.S. Amateur this year and the stories of a lot of them were the same,” he said. “Most of them are from the same socioeconomic backgrounds. When you talk about changing the face of the game, as young players, the rules today make it difficult to get the funds to play at a high level. Letting the community provide the means to help and to share in the success of those young players, is the way for everyone to move forward and onto the national stage.”
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