‘Finest, fairest referee in the world’: European legend John Paramor, 67, dies
John Paramor, who worked 44 years as a referee for the DP World Tour, including three decades as chief referee, died Friday morning due to an unspecified illness, according to a tour release. He was 67 years old.
Paramor, who often went by the nickname, “J.P.,” first joined the European circuit in 1976 after a year caddying for Peter Butler, and at the time, he was just the sixth employee hired by the tour. He would later be promoted to chief referee in 1989, and during his career, he helped influence many changes to the Rules of Golf, including its updated pace-of-play rules in 2016.
He was known not just for his unmatched rules expertise but also his large figure and personality, and his love for red wine, rare filet steak and garlic snails.
Paramor officially retired in 2020, though he officiated a handful of tournaments the next year.
“I said in 2020 that ‘legend’ is a word used too often in sport, but in terms of golf, and the administration of the rules of our sport, it perfectly describes John Paramor,” DPWT chief executive Keith Pelley said. “Quite simply, he was a leader in his field, the guru of referees, and someone who commanded the absolute respect of the players and of his peers. When I arrived at the tour in 2015, I had the privilege of working closely with J.P., who took time to walk me through the intricacies of all the rules and regulations of golf. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for that.
“He was a big character in all senses – his physical stature, his stature in the game and his popularity with anyone who shared a dinner or a social occasion with him. He had a strong personality but had passion for his job and the tour as a whole which shone through whenever you spoke with him.”
Paramor, born in 1955 in Surrey, England, was an accomplished amateur player before deciding to officiate the sport for a living and becoming one of the most respected in his profession. In the age of professional golfers feeling entitled to protection by rules officials, Paramor was known as a staunch defender of the Rules of Golf, dedicated to making the right call, even if it meant being unpopular.
Who could forget Paramor’s famous Seve Ballesteros ruling at the 1994 Volvo Masters. Ballesteros entered the final hole at Valderrama in his native Spain tied for the lead with Bernhard Langer, who was already in the clubhouse. Ballesteros’ drive ended up against a tree trunk, with what the Spaniard presumed to be an animal hole near his ball.
So, he called in Paramor.
“Most of the stuff was kind of behind and close to Seve’s ball, so when he addressed the ball, he’d probably catch it on his backswing, so he was claiming relief,” Paramor said in 2020. “It did take me a long time, and I thought, This is not going to go well for me. It was obviously a tournament in Spain, the vast majority of the spectators were Spanish, they were desperate for Seve to win.”
At one point during the ruling, Ballesteros put his hand on Paramor’s shoulder as the referee stuck his hand into the hole to feel around.
It was then that Ballesteros said, memorably, “Be careful. It might bite.”
But Paramor struggled to find evidence the hole had been made by an animal, and he decided against giving Ballesteros free relief. Ballesteros had to chip out, and he went on to bogey the hole and lose the tournament.
Despite the uncomfortableness of that situation, Paramor and Ballesteros earned each other’s mutual respect over the years as leaders in their respective fields. Paramor once said he owed his job to Seve.
“I’ll miss the players and I’ll miss the interaction with the players, which I’ve also enjoyed – well, for the most part,” Paramor said upon retiring. “There’s been a couple of occasions where it hasn’t gone well.”
Perhaps the moment that most comes to mind was the 2013 Masters, where Paramor penalized 14-year-old amateur Tianlang Guan one stroke for slow play. The decision proved controversial, and many of Guan’s fellow competitors criticized Paramor.
“That was a tough one,” Paramor told Golf Digest in 2017. “I tried very hard to tell the lad what was going to happen if he did not speed up. But he backed me into a corner. I gave him so many chances. But in the end, I had no choice.”
The Englishman never wavered in defense of his call.
That was Paramor, ruling by law, not emotion.
“He was the finest, fairest referee in the world whose word all players respected absolutely,” said fellow referee Andy McFee, who also retired in 2020. “He mentored all referees on all tours and gave them support, confidence and made them better. He was simply the best. He was such a kind, knowledgeable man who was always available to help you and was the most loyal person I’ve ever met. He was my best friend, and it was my privilege to travel the world with him on our tour business.
“What a man he was, and what a life he led. We will never see his like again.”
Asked a couple years ago how he’d like to be remembered, Paramor said, “I would like, really, the first reaction be to smile, and then, ‘Yeah, he was fair.'”