Golf is a sport based on honesty and integrity. Andrew Ramos has never had a problem assessing himself penalty strokes.
A Totino-Grace junior, Ramos did have a problem when he was told last week a penalty, more severe than a stroke or two, was about to be assessed on him. He and four other prominent boys golfers received a reprieve Monday, when the Minnesota State High School League backed off on suspending them for playing too many rounds in outside events during the high school season. One of the golfers had begun to serve his suspension when he learned of the change.
"I'm pretty happy now with the way everything turned out," said Ramos, who is committed to Oklahoma for college.
Ramos will play in the Team TaylorMade Invitational this weekend in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. "It was very confusing, though," he said. "I didn't know if I was going to be able to play or not."
Ramos, the fifth-ranked high school player in the state according to the Minnesota Golf Association; his brother, freshman Collin; top-ranked Spring Lake Park junior Jake Birdwell, the defending Class 3A champion; fourth-ranked Cretin-Derham Hall sophomore Sam Udovich, the Class 2A champion in 2022; and Rochester Mayo sophomore Isaac Ahn faced suspension for playing in tournaments that had been approved by the MSHSL earlier this season. Birdwell was the lone member of the group who had started serving his suspension.
"It was mind-boggling," said Tim Ramos, Andrew's father. "We thought we did all the right things, filled out all the paperwork and it was approved by the MSHSL. Then two weeks before the end of the season, you are going to suspend kids for playing in those events? It was unfair for the kids."
Ramos said the players were told there was no recourse.
"We even checked into an appeals process and was told there wasn't one," he said. "The kids were totally stressed out."
The golfers' families retained attorney Jon Steckler of Madigan, Dahl & Harlan, P.A., to represent them.
The controversy stemmed from the MSHSL's rules about participating in events not sponsored by the sport's national governing body. Each golfer is allowed to participate in 16 events, high school or national, during the high school season, but there was confusion about events that involve more than 36 holes, as some national tournaments do.
The MSHSL warned activities directors Wednesday that the players faced suspension if they went ahead with plans to play in certain outside events. On Monday, the MSHSL reversed course.
"The MSHSL has reviewed its rules and policies regarding participation in 'Elite National camps or Elite National tournaments' under Bylaw 207," attorney Kevin Beck wrote in an email. "Student athletes who applied for and were approved to participate in non-MSHSL events in the spring of 2023 have not violated Bylaw 207 and are, therefore, eligible for varsity competition under Bylaw 207 provided all other bylaws for eligibility are met."
Beck serves as legal counsel for the MSHSL.
Andrew Ramos played April 21-23 in Mexico in the Mayakoba Invitational, a 54-hole tournament. His application to play was approved by Bob Madison of the MSHSL on March 16 with the comment, "Please note this will count as one of their events." He finished 54th.
Collin Ramos participated in the Thunderbird Junior All-Star event May 5-7 in Phoenix. His application was approved by Madison on April 3. He finished 38th in the 54-hole tournament.
Totino-Grace activities director Mike Smith was happy to hear about the decision on a call from Madison just before noon Monday.
"A lot changed between last Wednesday and five minutes ago," Smith said Monday. "The final outcome was the right thing to do."
Birdwell, who has committed to Illinois, started serving a two-week suspension so he could return in time for section tournament play. Section play must be completed by June 8, five days before the opening round of the state tournament. Birdwell played in a 54-hole tournament in Athens, Ala. He tied for 13th in the 48-player field.
Udovich, the Class 2A individual medalist a year ago at St. Croix Lutheran before transferring to Cretin-Derham Hall, was getting ready to leave for Roanoke, Va., to play in the Scott Robertson Memorial event this past weekend when he heard he would be suspended if he played. He played anyway, tying for 53rd place. His participation was approved by Madison on March 31.
"It was so illogical and came out of nowhere," said Mike Udovich, Sam's father. "This whole thing has been bizarre. It didn't make any sense."
An email from the MSHSL asking for a list of Minnesota players competing in the Scott Robertson Memorial caught tournament administrator Debbie Ferguson off guard.
"I am still dumbfounded about the amount of control that the Minnesota State High School League is trying to place on golfers," Ferguson said in an email. "It should be the goal of the Minnesota State High School League to see that your athletes advance to the collegiate level."