Amateur Loses Status After Tiger Giveaway

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- An amateur golf champion has been banned from tournament play for a year because he accepted a sports utility vehicle from Tiger Woods.
 
Mike Freeman, the reigning Orlando City Amateur champion, voided his amateur status when Woods gave him the keys to a $42,000 Buick Rainier for hitting his shot on the green, USGA officials said. The shot was filmed using hidden cameras and has been aired in a series of commercials.

Freeman's unintentional mistake happened May 1 at the par-3 12th hole at The Legacy Club at Alaqua Lakes in Longwood, about 10 miles north of Orlando.

Freeman was playing a friendly round when Woods appeared out of nowhere and offered to play the hole with the foursome.

Woods challenged Freeman's group, as well as others, to a nearest-to-the-pin contest. Most players thought he was kidding, and Woods was the only one aware that it was being taped.

Freeman, a 39-year-old medical-supplies salesman from Longwood, hit a 7-iron on the 157-yard hole to within 10 feet. When Woods whipped out the keys, Freeman yelled, 'Just for hitting the green? You're serious? Awesome.'

Freeman had no idea of the shot's consequences.

According to USGA rules, an amateur may accept no more than $500 in prizes at a single event.

'Because it was a contest, if you will, the rules of amateur status still apply,' USGA official Donna Anderson said. 'Whether he knows he's participating or not, it's still a prize he won based on his golf skill.'

Freeman has been suspended for one year from amateur events at the state and national levels. He learned Wednesday that he won't be allowed to defend his title at the Orlando City Amateur on July 25-27.

He also must petition to have his amateur status restored next year. Until then, he can compete only in tournaments that include professionals. But he can't accept any prize money in those events because he wants to regain his amateur status.

'What I did should not constitute losing my status,' Freeman said. 'This was a situation where I didn't enter anything and didn't ask for anything. Because I hit the shot and happened to win something I didn't know was at stake, I'm history?'
 
Three other Orlando residents won 2004 Rainiers during the TV spots, which began airing June 18. Buick spokesman John Wray said all the winners were told that their amateur status was potentially in jeopardy as they signed the requisite paperwork.
 
Don't feel too bad for Freeman, though.

Between the vehicle and royalty checks, he could earn about $70,000 by the time the commercials stop running this fall.

'This isn't the way I wanted it to work out,' Freeman said. 'I'm definitely not complaining, but I have to sit out a year, which hurts me more than anybody. I don't see why there couldn't have been a compromise.'
 
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