The U.S. Golf Association’s official Rules of Golf contains a set of regulations titled, “Rules of Amateur Status.” The USGA defines an amateur golfer as “one who plays golf for the challenge it presents, not as a profession and not for financial gain.” By definition, therefore, an amateur may not collect winnings in a professional event, including a PGA Tour or other PGA-sponsored tournament.
An amateur golfer may become a professional almost any time he wishes, except during a professional tournament. If he wants to retain his amateur status while playing in a PGA Tour event, under Rule 3-1 of the Rules of Amateur Status, before the competition begins he must waive -- in writing -- his right to accept prize money. If the golfer then makes the cut in the event, his place is skipped over when prize money is distributed. So if he finishes in 15th place, the next highest-finishing pro golfer receives the 15th-place winnings, and so on down the line.
An amateur golfer may accept a prize or a prize voucher (such as a gift certificate to a club’s pro shop) worth no more than $750 and still remain an amateur, pursuant to Rule 3-2. An amateur may accept a trophy or other “symbolic prize,” according to the same rule, while still retaining her amateur status. The trophy’s value does not count toward the $750 limit. Additionally, an amateur may accept a prize for scoring a hole-in-one within a tournament that includes a hole-in-one bonus prize. The hole-in-one prize also does not count toward the $750 cap.
Playing in a Professional Event
Leading amateur golfers regularly are invited to play in select PGA Tour events. For example, 2010 U.S. Amateur Championship winner Peter Uihlein played in several professional events in 2011, but he collected no winnings. His 48th-place finish at the British Open would have earned about $23,000 if he were a professional. He finished 70th at the PGA Tour’s AT&T National, 57th at the Transitions Championship and ninth at the Nationwide Tour’s Children’s Hospital Invitational. He also played in the U.S. Open and the Masters, but missed the cut in both.
Joining the PGA
Under certain circumstances an amateur golfer may become a member of the Professional Golfers’ Association, provided his membership category “does not confer any playing rights and it is purely for administrative purposes,” according to Rule 2-1. An amateur may compete in a tour’s qualifying competition, including the PGA’s Q-School, while retaining his amateur status if he waives his rights to any prize money awarded during the competition.