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Fox Den’s Koger a British Open invitee
Pro golf enthusiast will be first American walking scorer ever to work British Open


John Koger’s love of professional golf has taken him across the country and inside the ropes within spitting distance of the game’s greatest players.

As a walking scorer on the PGA Tour since the late 1980s, this 35-year Fox Den Country Club member and West Knoxville resident has compared score sheets and occasional small talk with the likes of Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson.

Now he’s breaking down an international barrier while preparing for the thrill of a lifetime.


Koger will become the first-ever American to be a walking scorer at a British Open, as he heads to Royal Troon in Scotland July 15-19. He’s leaving July 9.

“I got a letter the first of April,” said Koger, who along with wife, Rosemary, a fellow PGA Tour volunteer, go across the country about 10 times a year following the PGA Tour.

“In Chicago last year at the U.S. Open, on Saturday, I had the head rules official for the European Tour with me,” Koger said. “We talked during the round, and I said ‘I work a lot of tournaments, what do you think the chances are for me to be a walking scorer at the British Open?’ And he said, ‘Well, I don’t know that we’ve had an American, but write this guy right here,’ and he gave me a name.”

After getting a letter a few weeks later saying he was “being considered,” the official word came in early April. “It said, ‘you’re in,’ and we turned backflips,” Koger said. “(Rosemary) was in Nashville visiting her sister when I got the letter, and I called her and told her all about it. After about ten minutes of talking, she said, ‘what other mail did we get?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know, I threw it all in the floor.’

“No other American’s done it, that’ll be sort of interesting. We’re going, and we’ll go see what happens.”

Koger is also a walking scorer at two Nationwide Tour events each year, including the Knoxville Open at FDCC, where he was named Volunteer of the Week for this year’s event.

NEAR FAMOUS GOLFERS

Though he’s never been invited to Augusta to work the Masters, Koger regularly works the U.S. Open and PGA majors. “On the PGA Tour I’ve had the winners several times,” Koger said. “Scott Hoch at Doral (last year).” Koger and his wife just returned from working the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, N.Y.

“I’ve had Tiger, Davis Love (III), V.J. Singh, most anybody you can name I’ve had a least once, sometimes several times,” Koger said. “I’ve had Ernie (Els) several times, (Retief) Goosen (last week’s U.S. Open champ) several times. I was with Goosen last year in Tampa when he won the Tampa Bay Classic.”

As for the Kogers’ favorite among the PGA Tour pros, “Stewart Cink,” Koger said. “A very nice guy, very religious, (my wife) knows his wife pretty well by virtue of some relatives. Also, the real prejudice part of it, I’m a Georgia Tech guy (Class of ’63), and Stewart Cink went to Georgia Tech.”

THE PROCESS

As for the process, “I go with each group — one group for eighteen holes — and we record every shot that they make, and where it’s from,” Koger said. “And the score they make.

“When we get through, I go into the trailer with the players,” Koger added. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, almost one-hundred percent, I’ve got the same thing they’ve got. When we get in there, they’ll swap (score)cards, they’ll ask me to read the numbers out. There’s almost never a question.”

Koger started as a walking scorer in the late 80s at the PGA Tour’s Doral Open in Florida and then picked up the PGA Developmental Tour’s (now the Nationwide Tour’s) Knoxville Open from its inception in 1990.

MEMORABLE MOMENTS

Koger was also a close observer to one of the most bizarre moments during any PGA Tour event in recent memory. It made national news and proved embarrassing for golfer Brenden Pappas.

“Brenden Pappas had been jawing with his caddie,” said Koger, who was scoring the Pappas group. “We got to hole 15 and the caddie threw down the bag and said ‘I’ll find somebody else to caddie for yah,’ and walked off the course. I absolutely had never seen that before. I sat there, with all the people standing around there, with my mouth open.

“Pappas then went around and said, ‘alright, who wants this bag?’” Koger added. “And some guy stepped out of the crowd and said, ‘I’ll carry it’ for the last three holes. I was right there. I couldn’t believe it.”

As for recently being in the thick of the tension — the Buick Classic at Westchester Country Club, N.Y. earlier this month — “one of the guys I had was Padraig Harrington, and he tied for the championship but lost in the playoffs,” Koger said.

HONESTY

Koger recalled an example where a player appeared to make one score, but because he was honest and based on technicalities, alerted Koger that he actually took an extra stroke.

It involved Deane Pappas, Brenden Pappas’ brother.

“We said, ‘good par,’ and we’re walking to the next tee and he says, ‘guys, one of those (putting) swings wasn’t a practice swing, I swung and my club went under the ball,” Koger recalls the golfer admitting. “Nobody in the world knew that but him. The golfers are very honest people.

“I had to call in on the radio, because I had already finalized that hole, and say, ‘put Pappas down for a five instead of a four.’”

WHY DO IT?

Being a walking scorer allows Koger to combine two of his favorite things. In addition to being a lifelong golfer, “I’ve always liked numbers, I’ve always liked statistics,” he said. “I like baseball because I like statistics. I always liked to look at the things that were published, ‘this guy hits seventy percent of the fairways, and this guy does this or that.’ I just thought that was interesting.

“So I got started and thought, ‘that’s pretty neat,’” Koger added. “Plus, it gives you the best view of the golf tournament. And I like to see people who know how to play golf, play golf. And I’ve had a little more time, the kids left home and I started going to more tournaments. And my wife absolutely loves to go. She volunteers at about half of ’em.”

At the U.S. Open, Rosemary “worked scoreboards at the media tent, which she thought was really neat,” Koger said.

A retired engineer with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Y-12 who remains a part time consultant — and who taught part-time six years as a professor of engineering at the University of Tennessee until 2003 — Koger can afford to pursue his hobby.

And being a non-paying job with minimal expenses taken care of, “you’ve got to want to do it,” Koger said.

 

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