Pro golfer Hayes penalizes himself out of a job
J.P. Hayes can sleep at night, knowing he did the right thing.
That doesn't mean the last few days haven't been difficult and it doesn't mean the coming months won't be a challenge.
They have been, and they will be.
But as a professional golfer, playing a sport that is self-policed - a sport in which integrity is as important as winning titles and cheating is practically non-existent - Hayes knows he did the right thing.
Hayes inadvertently played a non-conforming golf ball - one not on the list approved for competition by the United States Golf Association - for one hole of a second-stage qualifier in McKinney, Texas.
The 43-year-old Appleton native disqualified himself from the second stage of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament last week. The first DQ of his career was especially harsh because it left him ineligible to play fulltime on the PGA Tour in 2009.
Though it is not uncommon for PGA Tour members to call penalties on themselves - Menomonee Falls native Mark Wilson called a two-stroke penalty on himself at the 2007 Honda Classic and still went on to win - Hayes' honesty essentially kept him from returning to the PGA Tour.
"It's extremely disappointing," Hayes said in a telephone interview from his home in El Paso, Texas. "I keep thinking I'm going to wake up and this is going to be a bad nightmare."
On his 12th hole of the first round at Deerwood Country Club last Wednesday, Hayes' caddie reached into his golf bag, pulled out a ball and flipped 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 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."
With the two-stroke penalty, Hayes shot a 74. He came back with a 71 on Thursday and was in good shape to finish among the top 20 and advance to the final stage, Dec. 3-8 in La Quinta, Calif.
The top 25 finishers plus ties at the final stage earn exempt status on the PGA Tour for the following year. For Hayes, who struggled in 2008 and finished 176th on the money list, it was his only way back.
But his nightmare was just beginning.
After the second round, as Hayes relaxed in his hotel room, it suddenly occurred to him that the wrong ball he had played in the first round might not have been on the USGA's approved list.
"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. "He said they'd call Titleist the next day. I pretty much knew at that point I was going to be disqualified."
Hayes refused to blame his caddie.
"He kind of wanted to take some of the blame, but he knows I'm anal about my equipment," he said. "I go through my bag every night. I want to know what's in there. It's almost therapeutic for me."
This time, Hayes missed one non-conforming ball. The prototype should have been easy to spot because while it bore the Titleist brand name, there was no label on the "seam" to identify the model.
Hayes said if he'd teed up the ball on a par-4 or par-5, he would have immediately known he had the wrong ball because he uses the label as an alignment aide with his driver. It's a habit he picked up several years ago, when it was rumored Titleist balls flew a few more yards when struck on the label.
"But it was a par-3 and I don't use the label to line up on par-3s," he said. "It was my mistake. I had no choice but to take my medicine."
As for calling the penalty on himself and then taking it another step and volunteering information that got him disqualified, Hayes said, "I would say everybody out here (on the PGA Tour) would have done the same thing."
With more than $7 million in career earnings, Hayes doesn't have to worry about how he'll feed his family. He figures he'll get in 10 to 12 lesser tournaments based on his "past champions / veteran members" status and likely will get in a few more on sponsor's exemptions.
"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."
I am one who loves order, but not for it's own sake , but because it works best. Golf has gone to an extreme by having rules that don't really impact the game but rather test the character of the players in an exercising fashion. In today's world where the exact opposite is so often so true, I must say ultimately I agree with the USGA and the golf rules. If the world was more honest and people willing to be held accountable I would point out that the golfer didn't really do anything wrong and didn't impact the competition in a serious way. But we have too many people who now make the exception the rule. Meaning, they (we) are determined to always find a reason why some punishment shouldn't and doesn't apply to us.
Unfortunately, President Clinton expanded this practice with his behavior in the White House, so that now many people intellectually know that if they don't quit and pursue every thread of hope there is a reasonable chance they can improve their situation.
Well for a society to work we need as much self-policing of behavior and morals as possible.
We need a resurgence in honesty, and personal accountability.
This golfer has shown the way in at least one way.
Congratulations to him.
He shouldn't receive any special notice though.
We want this to become normal and unremarkable.
making the word "liberal" safe again!