Rules Junkie: Why An Amateur Missed Out On A $292k Payday

The PGA Tour is big business nowadays, from its mammoth television contracts to its tournament sponsorships. The most tangible result of the influx of money into the game — that jut so happened to coincide with the rise of a charismatic young man from California — is the bloated purses that the guys play for each week.

This past week’s Valspar Championship had a relatively modest purse by today’s standards — $6.1 million was up for grabs. Winner Charl Schwartzel claimed $1.098 for his trouble and the rest of the leaderboard earns a percentage as laid out by the Tour. A top-15 finish usually nets you somewhere in the six figure range, while a made cut guarantees you a little over $10,000.

It’s a safe bet that amateur Lee McCoy would have taken just about any amount of money following his week’s worth of work at Innisbrook. The University of Georgia senior was the recipient of a sponsor’s exemption due to his local ties and he parlayed that course knowledge into a tie for fourth place and what normally would have been a $292,800 check.

Instead, under the USGA’s Rules of Amateur Status, which McCoy plays under for Georgia, he had the leave that cash on the table and watch it get split between Charles Howell III and Graham DeLaet who finished T5. 

The literature from Rule 3-1a:

3-1. Playing for Prize Money

a. General

An amateur golfer must not play golf for prize money or its equivalent in a match, competition or exhibition. However, 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.

McCoy knew this coming in, so there was no use for him to concern himself with it until Jordan Spieth, his playing partner on the final day, told him it would be best if he didn’t check the tie table in the scoring tent to see how much money he would have made. 

Like any self-respecting man, McCoy did the complete opposite of what he was advised

Q. How difficult is it for you to think of 200-some-thousand-dollars you might have won?

LEE MCCOY: Jordan, we were sitting in the scoring tent and it was a sheet with the winnings there and he told me not to look. I looked. I shouldn’t have looked. Lot of money. Lot of money.

I think I got like 350 bucks in my bank account right now so it’s mostly gas money. It hurt but there’s so much going great for me right now. I’m just trying to take it all in, just really grateful to be standing here.

McCoy, presumably, will have plenty more opportunities to make the kind of money he missed out on Sunday when he goes pro in a matter of months. But, with just $350 in his bank account and heading back to school, it sure would have been nice to have some of that cash available for a night out on the town.

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