Being a 17-year-old amateur in the U.S. Open doesn't just mean you can't celebrate with an adult beverage in the clubhouse after your round. No, you also can't get the lovely multi-figure check your playing partners will cash on Monday morning.
Against all odds, Beau Hossler is remaining in the hunt at the U.S. Open, hanging tough even as many of the world's best golfers flame out on the unforgiving holes of Olympic. He finished Saturday at even par, leaving him at +3 for the tournament and four strokes back of the lead. But Hossler is an amateur, intending to play golf at the University of Texas, and that means that for now, he's playing for pride.
The United States Golf Association operates the Open and promulgates the official rules of golf with a zeal to rival any government bureaucracy. The USGA takes amateur status so seriously that it's dedicated 57 pages to detailing what does and doesn't constitute amateur-hood, and what can and can't get your status revoked. (Example: for an amateur, accepting money for winning a hole-in-one contest is forbidden, but winning money in a closest-to-the-pin contest is just fine.)
We're not talking about a small sum at stake here. Last year, everyone inside the top 20 received a six-figure sum. This year's total purse is $8 million, and the winner will take $1.4 million of that. The tenth-place finisher gets $185,086, and the last-place finisher will take home $16,513.
But it's not like Hossler can walk off the 18th green on Sunday, declare himself a pro and put his name on a fat check. That's covered by the USGA's Rule 3-1, "Playing for Prize Money": "An amateur golfer may participate in a golf match, competition or exhibition where prize money or its equivalent is offered, provided that prior to participation he waives his right to accept prize money in that event." So even if he wins, Hossler can't cash in. (For the record, an amateur's prize money gets redistributed among the field.)
This all harkens back to golf's origins, when amateurs like Bobby Jones were revered gentlemen of sporting leisure, while "professional golfers" were derided as sleazy hucksters a step above snake-oil salesman. Today, for most players in most sports, amateurism is a quaint anachronism, something to be endured and shed as quickly as possible ... you know, like your parents when you're 17. Still, there's a nobility to it, even if there's not any money.
But enjoy your trip to Olympic, Beau. Maybe stop by the gift shop on the way out? You'll have to pay for your own shirt, of course. You understand.
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