Tom Carpus, the head golf professional at the Kennett Square Golf and Country Club for the past 10 years, will officiate at the Ryder Cup being contested Sept. 19 through 21 at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky.The Ryder Cup is a three-day, biennial series of matches between the best European and United States professional golfers. Since the Cup's origin in 1927, the U.S. has dominated the competition. However, Europe has won eight of the 11 competitions since 1985, with the last three consecutive U.S. losses being particularly painful.
Because the Cup is so hotly contested, officiating at it-interpreting what some believe to be the nearly indecipherable rules of golf and making rulings based on them - is a critical task and one that only a highly seasoned official would dare engage in. But Carpus is just such an official.
His officiating record at major golf tournaments administered by the Professional Golfers Association stretches back 13 years and includes such championships as PGA (13 times), the Masters, the Players and many others. In addition, for more than a decade, Carpus has been a much-sought-after instructor of the Rules of Golf at seminars and workshops across the country.
Carpus' contributions to the professional education of members of the PGA and others have been so significant that in 2007 the PGA of America bestowed upon him one of its highest honors: the Horton Smith Award for outstanding and continuing contributions to professional education.
On his way to that national distinction, Carpus received local recognition as well, being inducted into the Drexel University Athletic Hall of Fame and being named PGA Golf Professional of the Year in 2002 by the Philadelphia Section of the PGA. He also serves on the Rules Committee of the PGA of America.
When asked whether officiating at a major tournament before thousands of spectators and possibly being seen on national TV embroiled in a controversial ruling was nerve-wracking, Carpus said, "Most of the time nothing happens. In fact, it's really hours of boredom followed by two minutes of sheer terror."
Of course, the terror stems from the risk all officials take that they might provide an incorrect ruling. Carpus said this had happened to him as recently as 2006 at the PGA championship at the Medinah Country Club in Illinois. He said, "I gave a player a ruling on a line-of-sight issue. He didn't like it and asked for a second opinion. He eventually was granted the second and more favorable [for him] opinion."
Carpus believed his interpretation was valid, and with characteristic aplomb he also said, "There are two kinds of officials: those who have already made mistakes and those who will make them in the future."
Even though Carpus himself plays competitive golf locally and has officiated at dozens of PGA-administered events, he says the most enjoyable part of officiating is simply being inside the ropes at a tournament and watching up close and personal the best golfers in the world play the sport to which he has dedicated his life.
Is there a least enjoyable part of officiating? Carpus said no, it's all good. He did allow, however, that staying mentally sharp when little is happening can sometimes be challenging.
But Carpus is accustomed to being challenged on his knowledge of the rules of golf. Because he is known by his friends and club members to have made a fetish of the rules (in a good way), he is continually bombarded with questions about specific situations. Not only does he provide accurate and comprehensive answers, he can also cite the rule number, paragraph, and sub-paragraph of the applicable rule or decision.
Although Carpus has been involved in the politics of golf - he was president of the Philadelphia Section of the PGA in 2004-2005 - as well as the rules of golf, he believes he can contribute more to golf in the future through continued rules committee work at the national level.
Keep an eye out for Tom during play at the Ryder Cup. He'll be the one standing his ground with a smile on his face and a rulebook in his hand.