Column by Ken Cohen
One of the ways a golfer fulfills his dream of playing on the PGA Tour the major leagues of professional golf is to go through an arduous three-stage process called Qualifying School. A certain number of players advance to the next stage based on their performance and ultimately the low 25 scores at the third stage graduate to the PGA Tour.
Blayne Barber played in the first stage at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia last month and easily qualified for the second stage six shots clear of the cutoff. During the second round on the 13th hole, Barber hit out of a bunker and thought he may have touched a leaf on his backswing a two-stroke penalty. He wasn’t sure so he asked his caddie who insisted the leaf was not touched. Still, Barber didn’t feel good about it and he penalized himself before turning in his card.
The only problem is he only added one stroke to his score on the 13th hole, not two. Apparently, none of his playing partners who attested his score knew the penalty should have been two strokes.
Barber went on to play the next two rounds and finished six shots within the cut to advance to the second stage.
Six days after leaving Callaway Gardens, Barber was talking about the incident with an old college teammate who advised Barber that the penalty for touching a leaf in a bunker is two strokes not one stroke. That being the case, Barber’s score in the second round should have been one stroke higher. No big deal he still would move on to the second stage.
But golf is very stringent when it comes to turning in your scorecard. If you sign for a score that is actually lower than what you shot, the result is disqualification. Barber knew this. He could have not said anything and gone on his merry way to the second stage. But as he said, he would have never had another good night’s sleep.
Instead, Barber called the PGA Tour, told them that he signed an incorrect scorecard and essentially disqualified himself. He would not be allowed to play in the second stage and his dream of playing on the PGA Tour would have to wait at least a year. With Barber’s score not counting, six players who originally missed the cut by one at Callaway Gardens now finished within the cutline and qualified for the second stage.
Barber’s integrity can only be applauded. While potentially devastating to his future, he did what every golfer is obligated to do apply the rules and protect the field. I can relate to Barber’s experience because I went through a very similar situation many years ago, albeit on a smaller scale. Playing in a qualifier for the New York State Amateur, I was in the last group out on the course and it was getting late. The officials were rushing us to finish the 18th hole because they knew they had a playoff on their hands.
I quickly added my score, turned it in, and sure enough, I was in the playoff six players for two spots. I proceeded to birdie the first hole of the playoff and secured one of the two spots. It was a weird feeling though I was kind of happy but something wasn’t right.
As I was driving home and going through every hole, I realized that my score should have been one stroke higher, meaning that I should have not have been in the playoff. I got off the first exit, phoned the course and told them that I signed an incorrect score and needed to be disqualified. I didn’t even think twice about not doing this my score was wrong and needed to be corrected, otherwise another player was getting penalized. That’s what golfers do.
Barber’s situation is a little bothersome to me because it exposes one of golf’s terrible rules. It’s okay to sign a score that is higher than what you actually shot that ends up being your score, but it’s disqualification if you sign for a score lower than what you shot. The ultimate goal should be to get the correct score. If a mistake is made and realized, adjust the score accordingly and that’s it. Disqualification simply does not justify the error.
Sleep well, Blayne.
Ken Cohen brings 30 years of publishing experience, many covering sports and working for sports companies, His column, “Further Review” will appear every Friday.