Ron Sirak

Gone Too Soon

Continued (page 2 of 2)

Let me tell you something about rules officials: They put honor and honesty above self-preservation. They see themselves as the defenders of the integrity of the game and place that responsibility on the highest ethical shelf.

During the stormy days when Carolyn Bivens was commissioner of the LPGA, I was not on the tour's most-favored list. There were a lot of controversial issues and I wrote about them. As Ted Baxter would say: "I'm a newsman, Lou."

Problems began early in 2006 when the LPGA unilaterally tried to change the media credentialing language to give it ownership of photos and stories about its tournaments. That led to a brief media boycott, including by Golf World.

Later that year, three LPGA executives quit on the eve of the LPGA Championship saying they did not have confidence in Bivens. And in 2008, Bivens was roundly criticized for proposing an English-only language requirement on tour with the penalty for not passing a proficiency test a loss of playing privileges.

Bivens finally left the Monday after the 2009 U.S. Women's Open following a players' revolts in which several of the tour's stars wrote a letter to the LPGA Board asking for Bivens' removal.

During Biven's four-year term I was given the cold shoulder by many LPGA officials, even some of those whose job it was to deal with the media. Because I wrote about the news of what was happening -- how do you not cover the resignation of three executives or the language flap? -- some thought of me as anti-LPGA.

The single group within the LPGA that remained the friendliest to me during that time were the rules officials, Doug Brecht chief among them. They knew that what I was doing was trying to apply the rules of journalism to my coverage of the LPGA and the Bivens administration.

The rules officials never questioned my respect for the LPGA and my passionate support of women's golf. The LPGA rules officials, under the leadership of Doug Brecht, separated the politics of the tour from the enforcement of a fair and equitable playing field, for journalists as well as players.

At the 2006 Women's British Open played at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, I was walking along a hole at one of the farthest points from the clubhouse on the classic out-and-back course when a rules official -- not Doug -- came by in cart.

"Jump in," the official said, to which I replied: "It's probably not good for you to be seen with me," referring to the displeasure with which some in the tour's leadership viewed me. "I'd be proud to be seen with you," the official said.

That's the tone Doug Brecht set at the LPGA. He believed in doing the right thing, which was not always the easy thing or the popular thing. He believed in playing by the rules. He was much too young and much too good to have this happen to him.

The last time I saw Doug, we chatted in his cart near the 14th green at Blackwolf Run during this year's U.S. Women's Open. Not surprisingly, pace of play came up. "Take care," he said as I left. "Keep them moving," I said.

I wish I had known those would be our last words before life's cruelest penalty was imposed on Doug. But if I had known, Doug would have reminded me, we are all playing by the same rules and life for all of us has the same destination. Goodbye, my friend. Keep them honest up there.

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