Gone Too Soon
Reflecting on the tragic passing of Doug Brecht, one of golf's true friends
Among the many pieces to the puzzle that makes up tournament golf, perhaps the most under appreciated and invaluable are rules officials. As they are in any sport, these arbiters are at their best when they are invisible.
One of the very best was LPGA director of rules and competitions Doug Brecht, who died Oct. 12 at the age of 62 after a three-month battle with West Nile Virus. Doug was a friend of mine, but more importantly, he was a friend of golf.
Doug, who lived in Oklahoma, one of the states hardest hit by this year's outbreak of the mosquito-born virus, played golf for the University of Oklahoma and later coached its women's golf team before beginning his 22-year career with the LPGA. He was diagnosed during the Jamie Farr Classic in Toledo, Ohio, in early August and never left the hospital.
I first met Doug in the mid-1990s and most of the many conversations we had over the years took place in his golf cart as he patrolled the course during a tournament. One of his passions was pace of play, which on the LPGA, at times needs to speed up to be glacial.
Famously, Doug imposed the slow-play penalty on Morgan Pressel that proved to be the turning point in her semifinal match against Azahara Munoz in this year's Sybase Match Play Championship. He took some heat for that, but what he did was right. Doug never let potential controversy stop him from doing the right thing.
Brecht had informed Pressel and Munoz they were seven minutes over "time par" after the front nine. On the par-3 12th hole, Pressel was confused by the swirling wind and took too much time to play the hole, which she won when Munoz made bogey to go 3 up.
But on the 13th tee, Brecht informed Pressel she was being penalized loss-of-hole for slow play and thus that 3-up lead was reduced to 1 up. Munoz eventually won the match 2 and 1 and went on to claim the title with a victory over Candie Kung in the final.
It was also Doug who told Michelle Wie that she would receive a two-stroke penalty for grounding her club in a hazard on No. 11 in the final round of the 2010 Kia Classic. Wie finished fifth and the penalty cost her about $90,000.
This is who Doug was -- a fierce and fair enforcer of the rules, especially when it came to pace-of-play issues. Under Doug's leadership the LPGA, unlike the PGA Tour, actually imposed penalty strokes for slow play.
The LPGA has given out nine slow-play penalties since 2008, including two this season before the Sybase incident. The last time a penalty stroke for slow play was issued on the PGA Tour was the 1995 Honda Classic.
During one of our many chats in his rules cart, Doug gave me this amazing statistic. He said that on the Champions Tour, the time elapsed from when the pin is removed and putting begins to when it is replaced when putting is completed is three minutes and 15 seconds.
"On the PGA Tour, it is 3 minutes and 30 seconds," Doug told me. Then, with a hard look at me he said: "What do you think it is on the LPGA?" With wide-eyed wonder and a head shake of disgust he delivered the punch line: "Five minutes. That's 27 minutes a round lost to the PGA Tour just on the greens."