Ask the Referee: Andrew Langford Jones

In the final instalment of our short series interviewing some of the top referees in the game, this month it is the turn of Andrew Langford-Jones (Chief Referee, PGA Tour Australasia) to answer your questions, and to share his vast knowledge and experience of refereeing.

How did you get started in refereeing?

Unlike most Rules referees I became involved more by accident than choice. I became involved back in 1988 when the Director of Tournaments for the Australasian PGA Tour, Trevor Herden rang me up and asked if I would be interested in helping. Basically he needed another set of eyes on course to assist with pace of play. I enjoyed the experience so much it was not long before I had read the Rule book from cover to cover and with the practical experience I soon became a fulltime Rules Official on the Tour. In 2002 Trevor moved on and I now hold the position that he previously held. Trevor now holds the position of Director of Championships for Golf Australia.

What do you enjoy most and least about your job?

Most. Working with elite sportsmen in any area is great fun and being involved on a day to day basis with the best in your field is a most rewarding experience. The people I have met in this job are also extraordinary. Apart from the golfers I have also been lucky enough to meet people from all walks of life and other sports. People such as Nelson Mandela, Princess Diana, Prince Andrew, three American Presidents, sportsmen such as Jordon, Botham, Ponting, and of course several Australian Prime Ministers. The list goes on. Golf is a great equaliser.

Least. Definitely the travel and hotel rooms and the time spent away from the family. Often people will remark to me that I have the best job in the world. Maybe I have, but at times the thought of another hotel or plane trip is quite depressing.

Are you a good golfer? Does it help to be a good golfer to be a good referee?

Good is Tiger, Scott and McIlroy. Alright golfer is probably a more appropriate term to describe my ability. I have always managed to keep a single figure handicap and while I don’t think it is totally necessary, it does help in assessing whether a players shot is reasonable or not. Well, in theory it should.

I remember back in my early days I had a ruling with Jean Van de Velde. After assessing all the information at hand I denied him relief on the basis I did not believe his choice of shot was reasonable under the circumstances. Jean wanted to hit a shot through a small hole in the tree canopy. I denied him and Jean went ahead and played the perfect shot. As he left the area he turned, pointed at me, and said, “Don’t you ever put your ability on my shot again.” I have never forgotten that moment. These guys are so good that perhaps if I had been a slightly better golfer I might have had the imagination to see the shots that they do.

What do you think are the most challenging aspects of refereeing?

The Rules are so complex that it is always a challenge to keep on top of the changes. At most Major events there is usually a debate at some stage during the week involving perhaps the top twenty Rules people from all over the world and often they can’t agree what is the right ruling, so how can we mortals be expected to have the right answers at hand all the time.

The other challenge is make sure you have the ability to think outside the square or laterally. For example we have all walked into an area that has a white line around it and thought GUR when a simple drop from casual water within the GUR might be the better option for the player.

What is your favourite memory from your refereeing career to date?

Clearly the 2007 Presidents Cup in Montreal. The two teams were relatively close with only the single matches to be played. As luck would happen I was drawn to referee match number four. Out came the names, Tiger Woods representing the USA and Mike Weir the Internationals. Now Tiger was clearly number 1 in the world but Mike, being Canada’s only Major winner was clearly the hometown favourite. It was estimated in the papers the following day that twenty thousand people followed that match in what turned out to be one of the all time great matches, with Mike Weir winning one up on the 18th. The atmosphere was amazing and after the nerves died down on about the fourth I actually enjoyed it, although I must admit when Tiger conceded the match on the 18th green I was very relieved it did not have to go down the 19th. My observer that day was R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson, one of the truly great men of our sport.

Favourite event to referee?

The Open Championship or the Presidents Cup. Both are great fun just to be at.

What do you carry on the golf course with you when you are refereeing?

Good question. The answer depends on whether I’m walking or in a cart.

When I walk I like to carry as little as possible. Definitely a Rule Book and a copy of the Local Rules and a radio for communication purposes. A watch and gotcha or box of dental floss (for measuring) is also very handy.

If I’m in a cart I tend to load up with everything. Wet weather gear, umbrella, shower cap to cover my paper work on the steering wheel in case of rain. Timing sheets, band aids, pocket knife, shoe polish, stop watch, binoculars, etc.

No one has ever been able to prove or disprove that John Paramor (Chief Referee on the European Tour) even has an old kitchen sink in that famous bag he always carries out on course. The one thing I can confirm is that John has never been confronted by a problem on course that he couldn’t solve by dipping into that bag of his.

Your most embarrassing or funniest moment?

My most embarrassing moment is easy. It occurred at the Open Championship at Carnoustie in 2007. It was the second round and I had been given the Phil Mickelson match. At the time Phil was ranked number two in the world.

On the second hole Phil carved it way right onto a grassy bank. After searching for four and a half minutes a spectator found a ball plugged in the long grass. Phil asked if he could identify the ball to which I said yes. After confirming it was his ball he looked at me and asked, “nearest point”; to which I answered yes. Now this is where the embarrassment starts. Fifty one weeks out of fifty two the Professional Tours of the world play embedded ball through the green. At the Open Championship we play embedded ball only on closely mown areas. As the ball left his hand, like a sledge hammer, it occurred to me that this two foot high grass was not closely mown. Now I had to inform Phil that I had erred and the ball would have to be replaced in the original pitch mark. After a short discussion as to whether the ball should be played from its new position or not Phil agreed the ball should be replaced.

This was only the beginning. Now faced with an unplayable lie he chose to drop within two club lengths onto a step path leading from the green to the next tee. We dropped it twice and both times it rolled closer to the hole so finally we placed it at the point where his second drop struck the course. Phil then walked down onto the green and I melted into the crowd grateful to finally be hidden from the all telling TV cameras

The ball however, not content to end my embarrassment at that point, then decided to follow Phil down onto the green, some five yards away. As the ball had been stationary for some time it now had to be played from its new position on the green. As I explained this to Phil I could feel the glare of 400 million pairs of eyes, watching worldwide on TV.

The moral of the story is that if you are going to stuff up do not do it at the Open Championship with 400 million people watching on television. That is embarrassing.

My funniest moment involved Niclas Fasth at the New Zealand Open when with three holes to go Nicolas’ ball finished in the lap of a very attractive lady at the rear of the green. When I arrived Nicolas wanted to know his options. I informed him of his options finishing with, “of course you can play the ball as it lies, but if you choose to do so, I am sure this young lady would appreciate you taking a very shallow divot.” The crowd erupted in laughter and judging from the phone calls the television audience appreciated the humorous side of the situation as well. Unfortunately Nicolas did not and expressed his opinion forthwith. Luckily for me he went on and won the title in a playoff.

If you could change any Rule of Golf what would it be?

Rule 18. Ball at Rest Moved. With modern equipment greenkeepers all over the world are striving to get their greens harder and faster. That’s fine, except occasionally the ball when laying on these super quick greens may move a dimple or two. Unless the player at address actually touches the ball and causes it to move I would allow the ball to be replaced without penalty.

I am and always have been a great believer that the player who has the least number of hits should win the tournament. Tournaments should not be decided by technical penalties

What has been your most difficult ruling?

An example of the above caused me great difficulty some years back when Peter O’Malley walked into the scorers hut and ask the scorer to check his card. While this was happening Peter left the scoring area and went to his bag outside to retrieve his watch and wallet. Upon returning to the scoring hut he was informed that he had been disqualified for not signing his card. At no time was it Peter’s intention to leave the area or not sign his card he merely left the hut to retrieve his watch and wallet while the scorers checked his card. The arguments for and against disqualification lasted well into the night before I finally declared it a Committee error in not defining the scorers area properly.

Any tips for budding referees?

Almost as important as Rules knowledge is “people skills”. When I first started doing Rules back in the eighties we were instructed to ask,”Under what Rule are you seeking relief?” It didn’t take me long to refine that approach when several players informed me that they had no idea what rule was involved except they needed help.

Now we approach with a more subtle line such as, “Hello mate. How can I help you?”

Try it. Rules officials are not the enemy and should not take the role of policeman. We are there to help the players and in doing so protect the integrity of the field and the game.

Do you prefer refereeing match play or stroke play?

Personally I enjoy both forms of the game but because ninety-five per cent of our time involves stroke play I probably feel more comfortable with stroke. I do however prefer playing match play.

What is your thought process when a player asks you for relief from a damaged area of the course that has not been marked as ground under repair?

One of the great rules men of the modern era Mike Shea from the PGA Tour once said, “Being a Rules Official involves hours and hours of complete and utter boredom interspaced with moments of blind panic.”

When I work overseas, rulings such as these become much more difficult, for the last thing you want is to give relief that has not been taken by earlier players in the round. What we all try to do is obtain knowledge from the rest of the Match Committee early in the week to ascertain what is the rule or standard for the week with regard to damaged areas.

It is impossible to always mark every bit of GUR. There will always be something that we miss. Courses also change during the week. Sometimes this occurs due to weather and at other times due to vehicle or foot traffic.

My advice is to always contact your fellow rules team first to ascertain if anyone else has had a ball in the area concerned and secondly what action was taken on that occasion. Consistency is what we are trying to achieve.

Once relief has been given from such an area the area should immediately be marked so that no future problems arise in the area.

What preparation do you do in advance of attending a tournament?

Prior to leaving home I try and ascertain the type of course we will be working at. For example if it has plenty of water I read up on the hazard rules etc. If it’s a match play event study your rules specifically dealing with match play issues.

Check the forecast and pack your bag accordingly. Always make sure your rules book is packed. Contact the Chief Referee for the week and see if a copy of the local rules is available.

When you arrive the first thing is to do a survey of the course to note any potential problem areas and discuss these with your fellow officials as to how they are going to be treated. I always scan the draw to note any potential slow groups that may need potential attention.

If you hadn’t ended up being a referee, what would you have done?

I would try to have been a good husband and father to my kids. The two don’t go hand in hand.