Editors' BlogJuly 13, 2008

Last Word on US Open Contest

Jason Kauflin of Milwaukee writes with a last word on the US Open contest and his hope for how we might change the contest next year. He thinks we were "unfair" in the way we conducted the contest.

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I was one of the thousands of golfers who entered this year's US Open Contest, making it down to the last public cut when we were asked to submit a video. I knew it was a pipe dream, but it was very fun to imagine as I shot my video and had my local pro write a letter of recommendation for me.>

After I saw the Final Five who were chosen I was almost thankful I was not one of the final golfers picked. I felt to choose John Atkinson as one of the finalists did a tremendous disservice to the contest and especially to the other four finalists chosen. Don't get me wrong, I wish Mr. Atkinson all the best. But to include a golfer with a story like his and then have the winner chosen by an online vote was in a word UNFAIR.>

No one could compete with that and it was obvious he was going to win even before the first vote was cast. If I had been one of the other four guys trying to generate enough votes to have a dream like this come true I would have been furious. His inclusion had "NBC" written all over it......I'm sure they were just salivating to do their five minute biography on John during the television broadcast. It might have made for good TV, but I truly don't think that was what this contest had in mind when it was concocted.>

Here is my advice on next year's contest: Choose a foursome to play the course. If you are going to have an online vote, make it an even playing field...no sympathy cases, no war veterans, etc. Just four average Joes who take golf very seriously as a hobby. Choose four completely different 8-10 handicaps. Examples: An older gentleman who once was a scratch golfer that just can't shoot that low anymore. A guy who can't hit it very far but hits it straight and has a good short game. A guy that crushes it off the tee but still is inconsistent because he never played in HS, took it up later in life, and is obsessed with improving his game (that would be my category). A solid high school female golfer. Etc, etc, etc. Then after learning about the final foursome chosen, pick some celebrity caddies that would make each golfer even more nervous.>

I personally was crushed when Mr Atkinson got on the first tee with that hybrid. Speaking as someone who would have met this challenge head on, I was disgusted that he was going to "play it smart" just to shoot the number. Play your game and do the best you can. And if playing a hybrid off the tee on a 440 yd par 4 is his normal game.....he should have never been selected in the first place.>

KEEP IT FAIR....THIS IS A GOLF DIGEST CONTEST, NOT THE MAKE-A-WISH FOUNDATION.>

Sorry if any of this sounds cruel to Mr. Atkinson, that is not my intention.>

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Jason, you don't need to apologize to John. He's got other things on his mind. But let me make a couple of points.

First, the five guys we chose were "average Joes" as you put it. They were weekend golfers with interesting stories who love golf and play it every chance they get. What made their essays appealing, not only to us, but to the readers who cast more than 117,000 ballots for them, was that they were able to communicate that love of the game so well. And it was different for each of them. In John's case, that communication was incredibly moving because he has used golf to endure and fight back against the worst luck a person can have.

Second, we did not pick John Atkinson. Nor did NBC. You and the readers who cast those ballots did. Many people at the magazine, honestly, predicted that other finalists would win; they were quite sure of it. I think John was chosen not only because of his courage, but also because he was the highest handicap. He really was the 10-handicap that Tiger was talking about. He had a chance to break 100, but it was a stretch.

On your suggestion that the contest was "unfair": C'mon. Unfair is what John is going through. A non-smoker diagnosed with lung cancer at 38. So Golf Digest should on top of that tell him that because of his condition he can't enter our contest?

What struck me most about your letter was your desire for Golf Digest to concentrate on "normal" golfers. I don't know how old you are, Jason, but at 62 I can tell you that there's no such thing. If you wake up every day, as a friend of mine says, with "automatic good health," more power to you. I hope you never have a day like John has, or lose a child (of which many of our essayists spoke so movingly), never learn your friend has ALS, never go to war, never have to face any catastrophe that rips your life inside out. I hope you have the luxury of always believing that average Joes don't deal with this stuff--or that somehow they can keep it separate from their golf games. As much as I understand what you mean when you want us to keep things "fair", read those 56,374 essays and you'll see that fair is a fantasy. Whether Golf Digest chooses one amateur contestant or four, as you suggest, they'll each have challenges in their lives and I'll be they'll use golf to get through them.

Here's our position. If you love the game and celebrate the fact that it brings you joy, you're one of us. And if you realize that the game also helps you endure times when joy seems lost forever, you're also one of us. And in either case, we're pleased to have you in the contest, chips fall where they may.

--Bob Carney

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