Before working PGA TOUR events, Mark Dusbabek was an NFL linebacker
6 Min Read
Before working at PGA TOUR events, Mark Dusbabek once worked for another sports league … as a NFL linebacker
Written by Sean Martin @PGATOURSMartin
It was Christmas 1989 when Mark Dusbabek made his first start for his hometown team. It came on Monday Night Football, in a winner-take-all contest between the Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals at the Metrodome. The winner advanced to the postseason.
Dusbabek grew up an hour south of Minneapolis. His family was interviewed by the local news before the game. Then the linebacker from Faribault starred before a national audience. He intercepted a Boomer Esiason pass and forced a fumble. The Vikings won, 29-21.
“It was probably my best game,” Dusbabek says.
Thirty years later, he’s returning to his home state for another important sporting event. The 3M Open at TPC Twin Cities is the first PGA TOUR event in Minnesota in 50 years excluding majors and the Ryder Cup.
Dusbabek isn’t trying to become the next John Brodie or Tony Romo. He traded in his NFL playbook for the Rules of Golf. He’s worked in the golf industry for three decades, and as a PGA TOUR rules official since 2006.
Making a living on both the gridiron and the golf course may be unique, but the transition was natural for someone from a family that was passionate about the game (his sister, Teresa Bergs, is the 3M Open’s director of sales and marketing, as well).
Ed Dusbabek’s plaster and drywall business gave him the means to join Faribault Golf & Country Club, a modest course where Mark and his four sisters spent the long summer afternoons after working for their father. “I couldn’t wait for training camp to start because that was a breeze compared to working for him,” Mark said.
He was a standout in basketball and football at Faribault High before accepting a football scholarship to the University of Minnesota. The Houston Oilers drafted him in the fourth round of the 1987 draft. He signed with the Vikings as a free agent in 1989.
“Playing football, you had the microscope on you,” he says. “If you made a mistake, it was exposed to the world. I like that pressure with going and doing rules.
“The difference is that in football, you were always trying to get away with something. I respected the officials, but I also knew where they were and what they were looking for and what I could get away with. Golf is different. It’s about honor and etiquette.”
Dusbabek doesn’t deny, however, that a linebacker’s build – his NFL.com player page lists him as 6-3, 232 pounds -- comes in handy when handing out rulings, especially the unfavorable ones. Mark Russell, the PGA TOUR’s Vice President of Rules and Competition, jokingly calls Dusbabek his “enforcer.”
It’s not only Dusbabek’s size that can diffuse a stressful situation, though. He has the proper demeanor for the role, as well.
“You have to be good with people to walk in there and make the players feel at ease,” Russell says.
Dusbabek knows how to handle an angry player. He’s experienced the frustrating side of sports, as well. He exceeded expectations when he worked his way into the Golden Gophers’ starting lineup as a freshman – “I was told by everyone that I wasn’t even good enough to play Division II football. I wanted to prove everyone wrong,” he says -- and he never thought about playing pro football until scouts started showing interest during his senior season, but his career was ended just as he was progressing in the pro ranks.
Dusbabek started 11 games for the Vikings in 1990. The team ranked third in passing defense that year, allowing just 165 yards per game in the air. Little did he know it would be his last full season.
He blew out his left knee in the first game of the 1991 season, tearing his ACL and meniscus. Surgery and rehab were unsuccessful.
“After the fourth operation, I just realized that I couldn’t pass a physical and my knee wouldn’t come around,” he recalls. “I had to retire.”
He worked in finance for a few years, but golf kept pulling him back. He made a move after reading a book entitled, “Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow.” To gain industry experience, he moved to Southern California and spent a year as a volunteer with the Southern California Golf Association. One of his early mentors told him that a knowledge of the Rules of Golf would be useful in a variety of positions.
His unpaid tenure with the SCGA led to a job with the PGA of America’s Metropolitan Section. He returned to Southern California in 2001, spending four years with the SCGA before being hired by the PGA TOUR.
The Official Guide to the Rules of Golf is 522 pages long. Rules officials have to decipher the complex language in that tome. Officials encounter unique rulings, and Dusbabek has had his share. He was involved in the ruling at last year’s RBC Heritage when Kelly Kraft’s tee shot hit a bird and went in the water (he had to accept the penalty stroke). His most humorous involved another Minnesota native, Tim Herron.
Herron’s ball was in a penalty area at the Puerto Rico Open. He was hoping to get free relief from an animal hole, though.
“It wasn’t a hard ruling. You can’t get burrowing-animal relief in the penalty area,” Dusbabek says. “But as we were talking, the crab came out and pulled the ball into the hole.”
The role of rules officials is more than simply enforcing the letter of the law. They are responsible for marking the penalty areas and boundaries, and roping the golf course. It’s one of Dusbabek’s favorite parts of the job, and an area where there are parallels to his former career. Both require taking a wide view to see how all the pieces work together.
“Mark is a good thinker. He thinks outside the box,” says Slugger White, also Vice President of Rules and Competition. “He’s very careful in his thought process. He’s not a knee-jerk type of guy. He’s very thorough.
“When we’re marking the course, we have members come out and say, ‘No one ever hits it there.’ I say, ‘You’re probably right, but we have to be ready for it if they do.’”
Dusbabek played for Lou Holtz at the University of Minnesota. When Dusbabek played for the Vikings, the defensive coaching staff included Monte Kiffin and Pete Carroll. Dusbabek enjoyed the challenge of deciphering an offense. Learning its tendencies. The preferred plays in certain situations.
“The finer points of the game,” he says. “That was a big chess game. It’s the same way in golf, working out the strategy of it all. You try to put it together to make the best tournament you can.”
There’s one big difference between the two vocations, though.
“The physical aspect,” Dusbabek says. “You didn’t want to get your ass kicked.”
Sean Martin manages PGATOUR.COM’s staff of writers as the Lead, Editorial. He covered all levels of competitive golf at Golfweek Magazine for seven years, including tournaments on four continents, before coming to the PGA TOUR in 2013. Follow Sean Martin on Twitter.