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End of an era: Mark Russell, Slugger White to retire from PGA Tour in 2021

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It’s an end of an era. PGA Tour rules officials Mark Russell and Slugger White, who both hold the titles of vice president of competitions and have led the competitions department since 1999, confirmed that they will work their final events in 2021 after more than 40 years of service. The news was originally shared with Tour staff in an internal memo.

Russell, 69, the Tour’s longest tenured active employee (since Karen Rose retired in June), said he still plans to work 16-20 events next year and assist in a smooth transition.

“It’s not like it’s the last time you’re going to see me,” said Russell, who is working this week’s QBE Challenge. “I’m not really riding off into the sunset. I’m more into the thinking of riding off into the sunset stage. I’ll be around next year. I’m going to be out there to help them. I’m not leaving immediately.”

White, 71, who played four seasons on the Tour from 1976-79 – “probably three and a half too many,” he cracked – joined the Tour’s staff on January 1, 1982. He said he intends to work 6-8 events and that his swan song may be the Memorial in late May.

“That’s enough for me,” said White, who became recognizable for his distinctive Panama hat. “It’s been a damn good run. It’s time to pass the baton, which is fine. I’m not going to be afraid to relax a little bit.”

When asked to describe what made White good at his job, Russell said he was a good listener.

“I always felt like whenever I was in a situation that my blood pressure went down,” White said. “It never went up.”

Mark Russell pulls the flag during the TaylorMade Driving Relief on May 17, 2020 at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida. (Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Network)

The announcement comes on the heels of European Tour veterans John Paramour and Andy McFee working their final events in October.

Together with Russell and White, the world of professional golf is losing more than 160 years of experience at the top of the game. Their retirement will leave a void in the administration of the Rules of Golf.

In addition, John Lillvis, who came to the PGA Tour from the LPGA, and Dillard Pruitt, a former winner on the PGA Tour, have retired after 20-year stints as rules officials.

Gary Young will head up the Tour’s Rules and Competitions department. Steve Rintoul, John Mutch, Stephen Cox and Ken Tackett were all promoted to the role of senior tournament director on the PGA Tour.

Daniela Lendl, the daughter of tennis great Ivan Lendl, will become the PGA Tour’s first female rules official, and will work on the Korn Ferry Tour. She was a member of the University of Alabama’s national championship team in 2012, and spent the last three years at the USGA, most recently as an assistant manager of rules operations.

But the loss of golf’s four most prominent faces at applying the Rules of Golf at essentially the same time begs the question: how do the PGA Tour and European Tour begin to replace that institutional knowledge?

“The most important thing to me over the years that I thought I was responsible for was hiring the best possible people,” Russell said. “I’m extremely proud of the people that Slugger and I have hired and I’m sure it will carry on.”

“It’s a lot of years and you take a lot of experience with you,” White said. “I hope I’ve given some of that experience out and I’ll be around for a little bit. They know what they’re doing and they’ll be fine.”

Slugger White

PGA Tour Rules Official Slugger White rides alongside Tiger Woods on the 11th hole during the third round of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club on Sept. 26, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The following is an interview Golfweek conducted with Slugger White:

GW: What was the first event you worked and did you experience a baptism by fire?

SW: 1982, Palm Springs. I gave my first ruling by myself to Jack Nicklaus, how about that. It was funny because I’d seen him earlier that week and he said, “Well, I understand you’re not playing anymore,” and he wished me good luck.

I was sitting at the 12th hole at Torrey Pines and I got a call and Gordie Glenz, he was a rules official and my mentor, Gordie says, “Go ahead, you’ve got it.” You could hear me coming from a mile away, like a covered wagon, the cart was so loud. Jack was standing there and I had to tell him that it was a French drain and we treat it as ground under repair. He looked at me with those steely blue eyes and said, “Are you sure?” I said, “I’m positive.” He said, “OK, where do I drop?” That was my indoctrination. We’ve talked about it since. He doesn’t remember it, but I damn well do.

GW: What decision kept you up the most at night?

SW: The one that bugged me the most was with Kevin Stadler out in Las Vegas in 2005, when we had to disqualify him for starting with a non-conforming club that he had nothing to do with and it just made me sick to my stomach.

I was sitting behind the first green when I got radioed. I thought it was going to be a 15th club, which is real easy. He showed me a wedge that was bent. I told him I know where this is headed, I’m 99 percent sure, but we’ll talk about it as a committee. That’s what we do. He continued to play. He was coming down the ninth hole and I had to disqualify him and drive him in. Hell, he was in tears, his caddie was in tears and I was all choked up about it. It was gut wrenching. That rule has since changed from a DQ to a penalty.

Other than that, there’s nothing else that I feel like I screwed up, at least I hope I didn’t. But we always say if you don’t think you’re going to make a mistake, you’re mistaken. Back then there were 1,200 decisions. I’m smart enough to know that I’m not smart enough to know 1,200 decisions. I can find them, but I haven’t memorized 1,200 decisions.

Paul Casey, Mark Russell

Paul Casey takes a drop in front of caddie John McLaren and rules official Mark Russell (center) on the 18th hole during the final round of the 2019 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at Pebble Beach Golf Links. Photo by Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

GW: Do you think the new slow-play policies being implemented next season will be effective?

SW: I really hope they do. I never really felt we had a slow play problem. The reason I say that is because it’s hard to play fast when you’re playing for that kind of money. What has slowed our play down is agronomy. Our greens are so fast now. When I was playing, the greens ran at 8.5-9 (on the Stimpmeter) and you could finish out. Now they all mark it out. But I hope it does. The big thing is it will recognize the slow players. We have too many players now who are slow and if they just got on with it the flow would be fine, you’d just play and wouldn’t have to slow down.

GW: When’s the last time you gave out a slow-play penalty?

SW: I think the last one, and this has been a while, is Glen Day at Honda, years and years ago. Now, we’ve got it to where you really have to be – I don’t want to use an adjective you can’t print – but you’ve got to be a dumb ass, how about that? You really do. I’m sorry. You can paraphrase that as much as you want, but you’ve got to be really looking to be penalized to be penalized. To be penalized you have to be hit twice and you’ve got to be an idiot to be get hit the second time and we haven’t gotten to that point.

GW: How long have you worn the Panama hat?

SW: I’ve done that I’d say 25 years, maybe more. I had some skin cancers cut off me and so I adopted the hat. I think it helps somewhat – I haven’t had anything cut off in a while – but I’m not sure enough.

GW: What current player would make the best rules official?

SW: I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head. Shoot, I don’t know if they could take the pay cut!

GW: What are you most proud of from your 40 years on the job?

SW: I feel like I’ve been respected by the players. The respect is there and that means everything to me. I’m really proud of the team Mark and I put together on our rules staff.

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original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2020/12/10/mark-russell-slugger-white-to-retire-pga-tour-2021/

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