Sportsmanship on the Green

March 4, 2009

At the second stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School, where nerves go to die, J.P. Hayes showed himself a player we can all respect.  A 43-year-old journeyman that has won on both the PGA Tour and the Nationwide Tour, Hayes was trying, like so many of his golfing peers, to make it through the second stage of Q-School to the all important final stage, where you either get another crack at the PGA or the solid consolation prize of the Nationwide.

Hayes won't be getting either this year because he broke one of the many rules in golf that can cause you to be disqualified.  Hayes played a non-conforming golf ball for one hole in the first round but he didn't realize he'd broke the rule until a day later.

On his 12th hole of the first round at Deerwood Country Club, Hayes' caddie reached into his golf bag, pulled out a ball and tossed it to Hayes, who missed the green with his tee shot.  He then chipped on and marked his ball.  It was then that Hayes realized the ball his caddie tossed him was not the same model Titleist with which he had started his round.  That was in violation of the one-ball rule, which stipulates that a player must play the same model throughout a round.

"I realized there was a penalty and I called an official over," Hayes said.  "He said the penalty was two shots and that I had to finish the hole with that ball and then change back to the original ball."  The two-shot penalty set him back but he still shot a 74 and followed that up with a 71 in the second round.

The following day he made a second discovery and came to the realization that he had done more than just evoke a two-shot penalty; he might be in danger of disqualification.

"It was a Titleist prototype, and somehow it had gotten into my bag," he said.  "It had been four weeks since Titleist gave me some prototype balls and I tested them.  I have no idea how or why it was still in there."

He could have said nothing and kept playing.  But he couldn't have lived with himself knowing he had possibly broken the rules.

"I called an official in Houston that night and said, 'I think I may have a problem,'" Hayes said.  "The official said they'd call Titleist the next day.  I pretty much knew at that point I was going to be disqualified."

In golf, especially big tour golf, you can play one ball and one ball only.  Hayes broke that rule when his caddy tossed him a different Titleist during the round.  Failing to abide by the one-ball rule is a two-shot penalty.  Failing to play a conforming golf ball, which Hayes did by using the prototype, is justification for a disqualification.

The rules in golf are the rules in golf, and you have to live by the wedge and die by the wedge.  While it might seem a little ridiculous that such a small infraction can remove someone from a tournament—and any chance of having a regular schedule—Hayes made the right decision.

Was Hayes mad about what happened or pissed at his caddy for throwing him the wrong ball?

"I'm kind of at a point in my career where if I have a light year, it might be a good thing," he said.  "I'm looking forward to playing less and spending more time with my family.  "It's not the end of the world.  It will be fine.  It is fine."

Respect Hayes.  You have earned true respect.

Good night, gentlemen.

Note: You can play golf as you might live your life in many ways, but the rules only give you two paths: you either follow them and earn respect or break them and become that "other guy."