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Learning rules of golf started Pikesville man on path to U.S. Open

Pikesville’s Steve Levine at the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., where he worked as a rules official for the first two rounds.
Pikesville’s Steve Levine at the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., where he worked as a rules official for the first two rounds. (Steve Levine)

Steve Levine was playing in a tournament at Caves Valley Golf Club a few months after it opened in 1991 when a fellow member accused him of improperly moving some loose impediments to improve his lie.

Levine was "embarrassed" that he was unfamiliar with many of the rules of golf.

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"I decided I couldn't be at Caves Valley and be embarrassed, " Levine recalled Thursday. "I took an introductory rules workshop that was in Baltimore given by [USGA rules chairman and future USGA president] Trey Holland. From there, I started taking more workshops."

It led to Levine's invitation from the Maryland State Golf Association to work as a rules official. Eventually, Levine started working USGA events, including his first U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda in 2011.

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"It's my hobby," said Levine, 67, who retired after selling Manor Hill Foods in 1989. "When I retired, many of my friends thought I'd go crazy. The USGA took me in and kept me sane. I drive everybody else crazy."

Levin has also worked the U.S. Senior Open, U.S. Women's Open and U.S. Amateur. One of the highlights of Levine's quarter-century as a rules official came this week, when he worked the first two rounds of the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash. He is also going to work the U.S. Women's Open at Lancaster (Pa.) Country Club beginning July 9.

"I've really had a good time. I've met so many people all over the country. The USGA has just been wonderful to me," Levine said. "You just come out here and smile. I pinch myself. I love being inside the ropes watching golf."

Levine, who lives in Pikesville, said he has become an aficionado of "interesting" golf courses and said of Chambers Bay: "This is the most unbelievable place I've ever seen. It's hard to describe it. It has elevation that the courses in the British Isles do not have. The place is magnificent."

Despite the fact that rules officials and other volunteers pay their own way to USGA events, Levine said 5,000 signed up for this year's Open within the first 24 hours after the posting went up, and "there were another 1,500 on the waiting list."

Levine said that he prefers working as a rules official for players not in the spotlight.

"When TV is on you, it gets a little crazy," Levine said. On Thursday, "I had an amateur and some younger kids. It was a pleasure, and we had some rulings. … Frankly, it's a lot easier when you don't have a crowd around you."

During the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional, Levine was acting as the rules official in Saturday's third round with a group that included Webb Simpson, who was playing in his first major championship.

Earlier that year, Simpson had lost in a playoff to Bubba Watson after incurring a penalty stroke in regulation when his ball moved marginally while Simpson was addressing it.

Shaken by that incident, Simpson thought the same thing happened on the 13th green at Congressional when he started to putt.

"He said, 'My ball moved,' and I asked, 'Did your ball move?' and he said, 'I don't remember,' " Levine recalled. "I was not going to be the guy that caused him to lose the U.S. Open. He was doing really well at the time."

Levine brought a paid rules official in to discuss the situation with Simpson.

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"He came over and asked what happened, and Webb Simpson said, 'I grounded my club, and the ball moved,' which made me feel a little stupid," Levine said. "Webb Simpson came over to me on the next hole and said, 'Steve, I was just so fired up, I didn't know where I was.' He apologized."

Chris Poindexter, a founding member at Caves Valley who has known Levine for 20 years, said they often go on golf trips togeter.

"Whenever we travel together, he's always carrying this big book," Poindexter said Friday. "First I thought it was the Bible. Then I determined it was the Rules of Golf with all the interpretations."

Poindexter said Levine has become something of a golf purist, even in talking about the game.

"He doesn't let us say sand traps, for example. They're bunkers. He says: 'Traps are things you catch mouse in,' " Poindexter said.

Levine's longtime girlfriend, Lynn Weisberg, said that rather than take the USGA rules test every four years, which is required of rules officials, Levine does it annually.

"There are rules books in every room in the house and car," Weisberg said. "And he loves giving them to young boys starting out."

One golfer Levine gave a rules book to was a 12-year-old he had disqualified from a match for playing from the wrong tee.

"Steve came home and said, 'I had a bad day,' and he had tears in his eyes," said Weisberg, who has been with Levine for nearly 30 years. "After he disqualified the boy, the boy's father came up, and Steve thought he was going to punch him, like at a Little League game. The man said, 'Thanks, we're a tennis family, and we don't know all the rules.' "

Levine, an 11-handicap player, said becoming more familiar with the rules over the past 25 years has not improved his game or ruined any friendships on the course.

"If I'm playing with friends, I never call any penalties," Levine said. "If somebody asks me a question, I answer it. You will not have any friends if you start becoming a rules official while you're playing golf."

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