For Ripon resident, the rules of golf have become a passion

ragostini@modbee.comAugust 27, 2013 

— Gary Fox always lovedthe rules of the game — football or golf.

The Ripon resident has been a willing student of both sports and even hustled up and down the field as a local high school and community college football official from 1974 to '94. Since then, his passion turned full-time to golf.

Today, Fox, 59, has climbed to a leadership role in the Northern California Golf Association. In January, he'll begin a two-year term on its board of directors.

"If you're a rules nerd, you're a rules nerd," he cracked.

Don't be fooled by Fox's playing down the demanding process he underwent in recent years. Fact is, he earned his NCGA blue coat — worn by all board members — and is eager to continue his work with the organization that serves more than 165,000 local and regional members.

"I'm a believer in what the NCGA does and with its owning the two courses (Poppy Hills near Pebble Beach and Poppy Ridge near Livermore)," Fox said. "It's always about giving back to the game with me."

He'll work alongside Merced's Brian Morse, the current NCA vice president and board member since 2004, who becomes president next year.

Fox will assume his official NCGA duties while Poppy Hills, its flagship headquarters opened in 1986, continues its major facelift.

There will be no shortage of tournament supervising for Fox, a lifelong golfer — he carries a 10.2 handicap index — who lives alongside the ninth fairway at Ripon's Spring Creek Country Club.

Fox started his football officiating alongside Stockton's Pete Morelli, the St. Mary's High principal better known today as an NFL referee. His mentor was Modesto's Jerry Streeter, the longtime coach and official.

After he ended his football officiating in '94, Fox took a self-described "retirement" until his curiosity about the rules again kicked in. Only this time, it was about golf rules. That led him to doing volunteer work at various local and regional tournaments until he became a certified rules official five years ago.

His stewardship has led him to many tournaments from the U.S. Mid-Amateur to the Pacific 12 Conference championships to, of course, all NCGA competitions.

"I just wanted to know more about the rules. They always piqued my interest," he said. "It's been fun watching the juniors and the college kids. Seeing them develop has been fun."

The workload, a labor of love for Fox, probably will intensify next year.

"I've enjoyed the whole process," he said. "If you go to any NCGA tournament, you develop an appreciation for what they do."

• BETTENCOURT —Beyer High graduate Matt Bettencourt has regained his exempt status on the PGA Tour for 2014. The 2010 Reno-Tahoe Open champion did it in dramatic fashion last weekend at the Cox Classic, the final regular-season tournament on the Web.com Tour, which was televised on The Golf Channel from Omaha, Neb.

Bettencourt, 38, bogeyed the third hole of a playoff and lost to Australia product Bronson La'Cassie. The second-place check for $86,400, however, vaulted the former Modestan from 63rd to 16th place on the Web.com money list. The top 25 after last week automatically punch their cards for the PGA Tour.

The warm weather and windy conditions appealed to Bettencourt, who shot 21-under 263 (67-64-65-67) and led by two strokes until La'Cassie forced the playoff with back-to-back closing birdies. Until then, Bettencourt was in control, especially after he drove the 315-yard par-4 ninth en route to an eagle.

A late-season rally, not unlike his two wins in 2008 that carried him to the Tour the first time, again proved instrumental. The Cox marked his second runner-up finish in as many weeks.

Bettencourt needed every bit of that comeback. He had to win or finish second in Omaha to again reach the PGA Tour, so the sting of that playoff setback was softened.

Next year promises more stability for the former Northern California Open and Modesto City champion. He lost exempt status on the big tour after he fell to 173rd on the money list in 2012. This year, he rotated between the Web.com and the PGA (he squeezed into nine PGA Tour events as a past champion).

The pressure on Bettencourt will be reduced at the four-tournament Web.com Tour Finals beginning this week in Fort Wayne, Ind. The top 75 money winners on the Web.com and the 126th-through-200th finishers on the PGA Tour's FedExCup points list will compete for 50 PGA Tour credentials.

Twenty-five cards already have been secured by Bettencourt and his Web.com mates. The rest go to the survivors over the next month.

"It's good to have my card back," Bettencourt told Web.com officials. "I feel great and I'm looking forward to playing (this week)."

• HOLE-IN-ONE — Ron Campbell, Modesto, 176-yard third at Del Rio CC (River), 7-wood.

Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or (209) 578-2302. Follow Ron via Twitter, @modbeesports.

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