The 19th hole

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Mark Dusbabek

The former NFL linebacker has traded dishing out hits for administering rulings on the PGA Tour.

interview BY ELI MILLERPublished: December, 2010

Dusbabek started 11 games for the Minnesota Vikings in 1990 (PHOTO: Getty Images).
Many NFL players become avid golfers after retiring.
Mark Dusbabek loves the game as much as any of the most frequent footballers turned golfers, but he’s also found a highly unique calling to accompany that passion — the former linebacker is a rules official for the PGA Tour.
A native of Faribault, Minn., Dusbabek excelled at the University of Minnesota and was drafted by the Houston Oilers. Fittingly, he made his biggest mark in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings, for whom he started 11 games in 1990.
A knee injury forced him to retire, and he wound up pursuing a career in finance. He transitioned to golf when he was in his mid-30s, humbly taking a volunteer job in the course rating department for the Southern California Golf Association.
With dedication and enthusiasm, the 46-year-old Studio City resident worked his way to the PGA Tour, where he’s been an official since January 2006.

Last month, we interviewed Dusbabek just before he began officiating the first stage of Qualifying School at Oak Valley Golf Club in Beaumont:

"Golf is such a special sport. In football, if I could get away with holding a tight end as he’s releasing on a pass route and keep him from getting open, I tried to get away with it. Vice versa for him. As it’s been said in football, if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying. But golf is the exact opposite.

I watched the Dustin Johnson ruling at this year’s PGA Championship on TV. I’ve worked with David Price (the first rules official who approached Johnson), who didn’t see the infraction but was told about it in his earpiece. I feel for David. He has great knowledge of the rules of golf, and he’s a class guy. It’s just a tough situation.

I’ve been in situations where you have to tell a player there may be an infraction committed unwittingly. You get a range of responses — it depends who you’re dealing with and the situation. Whenever I get in a sticky situation, I tend to revert back to my football days. You could be playing in front of thousands of people, but you don’t hear the fans or anything else, you’re so focused on the game. When I’m working a tournament, it could be 1,000 spectators barking out something, [NBC Sports on-course reporter] Dottie Pepper or somebody else with a microphone standing there trying to catch every word, and also a TV camera right there. A lot of times I don’t even notice that that’s going on. I’m focused on trying to get the ruling correct.

One rule that I would like to see changed is if a player takes his stance and addresses the ball, and then the ball moves, he’s penalized no matter if he caused it to move or not. I don’t think that’s always fair.

I think technology has developed so much that it’s hurt the game in a way. A lot of great old golf courses are becoming obsolete because guys do not have to shape shots or have different shots in their repertoire anymore. I think that hurts the game in the long run. When you can bomb it 320 yards and then hit a wedge into the green, it’s not always what an old-style golf course was designed for. I think that takes away from the game.

Missing my daughter while I’m on the road is probably the hardest thing I have to do. It’s a very nomadic job we have, and for some odd reason I like it. I like going out on the road and doing my thing. This job really fits who I am. When I go to Greensboro, N.C. once a year, I see the volunteers that I’ve worked with for five years, the tournament director, the operations director, the cart barn guys — that’s my family for the week.

Happiness is more important than money or anything else. I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum, and there’s nothing that can replace happiness. When I worked in finance, I was always trying to squeeze in nine holes after work or on the weekends. When I took a vacation, I always wanted to know what golf courses in the area I could play? When I went back home to Minnesota to visit my family, friends and teammates, what do we do? We played golf. I grew up around golf — my dad had me caddying when I was young — and I didn’t really know that you could have a career in it. I started at zero, but to me it was just getting in the door, and I knew I would find my way after that.

I always played golf recreationally, never competitively. I like golf for being able to hang out and have a beer with my buddies. I like nature and being around the elements, which is I normally love to walk the course.

I could take my clubs on the road with me if I wanted to, but it’s kind of a hassle when you’re packing your bags for a month to carry my clubs, too. I usually save it for when I get home.

I still like to watch a good football game, and I prefer college over the pros. I like to follow where my coaches are — I still keep in touch with Lou Holtz, my coach for two years at Minnesota. Having this job has reconnected me with a lot of teammates and coaches around the country — and one thing a lot of us have in common now is golf.

My index keeps creeping up, it’s now a 7.4. When I was with the SCGA, I think it got down to a 2.3. As long as I can stay in single digits, I think it still stays respectable!

Including myself, my ultimate foursome would be my dad, Ed, my brother-in-law, Joe, and my best friend growing up, Steve. They’re who I have my fun rounds with. It would be great to play with Tiger, other guys on Tour, or professional athletes like Wayne Gretzky, but I’ve been around people like that all of my life and to me it’s all about being close to home and my roots.