An unfortunate case of favoritism dashed the dreams of a handful of Missourians hoping to play a bucket list course, offering a window into how parochial golf organizations sometimes operate when they think no one is watching.
Hosted at Bellerive Country Club, site of the 2018 PGA Championship, the recent Missouri Amateur drew a tremendous amount of interest from amateurs across the state. That necessitated six initial qualifiers and one last-chance qualifier. But many of these competitors were outraged upon finding out that Patrick Britt, a Missouri Golf Association board member who was eliminated at both the Falls Golf Club qualifying site and the last-chance qualifier, somehow teed it up in the 115th Missouri Am. When a withdrawal made a spot available on the morning of the opening round of the championship, Britt jumped the line of players who were on the alternate list.
How exactly did this happen?
A total of 10 alternate spots were distributed through the six qualifying sites. Players who missed the cut at any of these were offered a last-chance qualifier. In an email sent out by Scott Hovis, executive director of the MGA, competitors were informed (in bold): “You will be playing for 4 qualifying spots and no alternates!”
Alex McCulla claimed the first spot with a 5-under 65. The other spots were filled in a 5-for-3 playoff among Britt, Zach Shirley, Carsen Silliman, Hank Lierz and Kevin Jeske. Shirley, Silliman and Lierz emerged from the playoff. Britt and Jeske were eliminated…seemingly.
“Hovis made it very clear that only three spots were left and no alternates were available,” one competitor said.
That all changed on the morning of the first round of the Missouri Amateur, when a few competitors noticed that Britt had sneaked into the field. A concerned past competitor reached out to the MGA. “If it states something different on the website then I take the responsibility of it being wrong,” Hovis wrote in an email. “However this year with the increase in the entries into the Last Chance (86) players we had 1 alternate.” This contradicted the accounts of players present at the qualifier and the emails they received beforehand.
With alternates from other sites awaiting the spot, why was Britt awarded a place in the field? Competitors past and present expressed confusion and disappointment. “It’s completely wrong that a director of a golf association can pick and choose who he wants to get in the field based on who he’s friends with,” one player told the Fire Pit Collective. Although the effects on the championship are seemingly minor, willfully allowing the wrong player into the field compromises the integrity of the event. Retroactively awarding an exemption and calling it an alternate spot is a “tough look for everyone involved,” said one competitor.
In a statement to the Fire Pit Collective, Wayne Fredrick, president of the Missouri Golf Association, said:
During the Missouri Amateur last week at Bellerive CC, there was an error in judgement and process by the Executive Director of the MGA. The Executive Director was notified by a qualified player of their intent to withdraw from the event. Given the short timeframe until the tee time of the player, the Executive Director filled the slot with a player who was on site and had attempted to qualify both in the regular qualifying and the “Last Chance” qualifying.
The Executive Director chose that person because they were onsite at the time. This selection should not have taken place, and on behalf of the MGA, I want to personally apologize to anyone who perceives themselves to have been wronged by the decision.
Moving forward, the alternate process will be turned over to the Players Advisory Committee to design a new process to provide complete transparency as to alternate selection and placement in the tournament, publishing a list of alternates and their positions on that list once qualifying is completed, as well as the process for choosing the order of qualifying site ranking.
Additionally, we will establish a “day of” protocol for those players choosing to be on site during the first day of the tournament.
We will be handling all other aspects of the situation internally within the MGA Board of Directors.
Three of four players who advanced from the last-chance site made it to match play in the Missouri Amateur. Britt did not.