Gone Too Soon
Brecht, seen here with Cristie Kerr, worked as a rules official for the LPGA for 22 years.
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."
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.
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.