Alberta Couple View PGA Event From ‘Inside The Ropes’

By Gord Montgomery, Senior Writer, Inside Golf

LA QUINTA, California — It’s one thing to be a spectator at a PGA TOUR event, trying to keep up with players as they make their appointed rounds. For one Stony Plain, AB, couple, keeping pace with particular trios was no issue at all at The American Express golf tournament in La Quinta, California.

Michael and Darlene Kuzek were officially allowed ‘inside the ropes’ which to many, if not all golf fans, is the primo spot for watching the action. The couple were working, not just spectating, at this year’s tournament.

Both were on-course as official scorers, so needless to say they were right in the middle of the action every time they set foot on one of the three courses this 72-hole event uses. But get one thing straight: official scorers are not those carrying the players’ number on a big sign. The two Albertans had much more teed up with their roles as they trod around the courses.

Michael has volunteered at this event for six years, starting as a crowd control person. That job though, he said, didn’t fit the bill for him.

“I went over for a couple of years as a spectator,” before volunteering his time. “The first year, I was a marshal. That was kind of interesting. It was the year Phil Mickelson and Adam Hadwin were paired on the final day and the crowd following those two guys was just enormous! The second year, I applied to be a walking scorer, got the position, and have done it now for five years.”

As for Darlene, her path to the same job took a somewhat different route. “Mike had been doing it for a couple of years and during one of the years of COVID, they weren’t giving the extra guest passes (to the tournament as well as the concerts that take place after the first two rounds) so Michael said to me, ‘You should be a volunteer, too.’ I emailed to be a walking scorer, so that’s how I got involved.”

Being inside the ropes calls for decorum and the ability to not become a distraction to the players. “They tell us don’t speak to the players unless they speak to you because they’re working,” Darlene explained. “Stay out of their way, out of their line of sight when they’re hitting their ball. But we have to be able to see their ball,” and that’s where the rub of this job comes into play.

These two and the other walking scorers on the course not only have to keep track of strokes each player takes, but they also have to let others know everything about each shot.

“We’re quite busy when we’re scoring for them,” Michael began in explanation of the inner workings of what they do. “What we do is we mark whether they’re using a driver, a hybrid, or an iron. They want us to hold a button down when a player is addressing the ball and then as soon as they hit the ball, we have to release that button. Then there’s the next player,” where the same ritual takes place.

“When we get to the fairway, we have to mark down location, on the fairway, the deep rough, or in a bunker. That’s the information that you see on the PGA website. A lot of that is coming from the walking scorers and ShotLink. We’re busy, quite busy.”

As much as everyone watching on the other side of the ropes, or TV, want to see players record great scores, sometimes that can be a bit of a walk in the park for the scorers. There’s not much to let others know the player went driver-fairway-green-holed out. On occasion, there is the hope for something a little different. Not that such a scenario makes a particular player happy.

“Where it gets really exciting is when someone hits it out-of-bounds, plays a provisional, takes a drop, or hits it into the water. Then we’re a little bit more tracking because we have to record all that stuff on the device and that’s what is fed to the TV. It’s quite involved,” Michael added.

To keep pace, the scorers have to do online training, Darlene said, along with an in-person session where they get the feel for the communication device that is used. “We go through a bunch of different scenarios. This year, there was a software update so it was a little different than in the past. There were some added features, a little different process for a couple of things.”

Not everyone on the course including the spectators, the players, and the scorers, are perfect all the time. Mistakes can be made — and are made — but the use of radio contact can remedy those for the scorers. “They’ll also call to see if a player did score an eagle, that kind of stuff,” she added.

Needless to say, the Albertans are both avid golfers and that plays a key role in what they do at The American Express. “It’s important to know about a penalty drop, when a player has to re-tee, so you can score it effectively,” noted Darlene.

“Also etiquette,” Michael chimed in. “When these guys are shooting, we need to be off to the side or when they’re putting, not be behind them. Not moving. I think someone who’s not a golfer may not understand that.”

Scorers never know who they’ll be teamed up with daily and as such this year, Darlene had what her husband referred to as “the lucky draw.”

“I had Adam Svensson last year (Michael has yet to draw a Canadian player) and he was doing good until he hit one into a pond. This year, I was following Scotty Scheffler and Patrick Cantlay on Friday,” Darlene recalled.

Not to be outdone, Michael had this to say: “This year I had the privilege of scoring for Sam Burns when he shot a 61 on Friday, so that was pretty interesting. Interesting …. and how do I put it? You know when a person hits the fairway, hits the green, takes a putt or two, never in trouble. I hate to use the word, boring but …. there’s not much interesting going on. He was never in trouble.”

While this job is important and not easy, it does have its perks. The volunteers get fed, get to attend the popular evening concerts, and a certificate to tee it up at a PGA course, Darlene said.

“We get to meet a bunch of new friends,” Michael ended, about being in a prime spot to watch the best golfers in the world make their daily rounds.