Oprah hasn't called. Neither has Letterman or Leno. But J. P. Hayes says he has fielded at least 30 requests for interviews since he became national news, and that amazes him because golfers routinely turn themselves in after infractions of the rules.
"It probably happens every week on the PGA Tour," said Hayes. "You just never hear about it. Why I've attracted so much attention, I don't know. But it's good for golf, I guess, because it confirms what we're all about, although a couple of the responses I've read or heard are interesting. Some people aren't buying it. They're saying there has to be more to the story, or that I'm doing all this for publicity."
Rather than impugning Hayes' character, however, that sounds like a reflection of how jaded we've become by hanging around the sewer of sports. In fact, Hayes was perfectly content to take his medicine quietly after being disqualified during the second stage of Q school at Deerwood CC in Kingwood, Tex. Then Hayes -- who hails from Wisconsin but lives in El Paso, Texas -- was contacted by Gary D'Amato, a golf writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"Gary told me he'd been getting a few calls back home about what happened," said Hayes. "So I told him. In the first round, on the 12th hole, I used a ball that I realized after playing two shots -- my tee shot on the par 3 and a chip -- was not the same [type of] ball I'd started the round with. I brought over an official, and I took a two-shot penalty. Finished the hole with that ball, then changed back to my original. Then, after my second round, I realized that second ball might not be a conforming ball. It was a Titleist prototype. We get them maybe once a month to test them. It got into my bag, I used it, and I was disqualified."
So, after twice abiding by the essence of golf's culture, Hayes went home to plan his future at age 43. His burst of honesty created headlines, although within the community of golf, it was business as usual. Only a couple fellow players contacted him, and one of them was a fellow Cheesehead, Steve Stricker, who stays in touch with Hayes anyway.
"That's what we do," said Stricker. "Maybe someone else, knowing that it meant no chance of being on the PGA Tour next year, might have let it slide. Probably not. And certainly not J.P. That's the guy I grew up, what he did with nobody else knowing or looking on."
Hayes exonerated his caddie, and did not volunteer naming him. (He's John Charpentier.) "I take the bag back to my hotel room most of the time," said Hayes. "I go through it every night, like a ritual, to get all the stuff out of there. Like bananas. There are usually nine balls in there for every round. I usually use six, and like I said, a nonconforming ball can get stuck in one of those pockets. It's nobody's fault but my own. It's not my caddie's responsibility. I'm in charge of the balls and bananas."
Soon after Hayes' story had been resurrected, the John Deere Classic extended its first sponsor's exemption for 2009 to Hayes. He won that event in 2002, and the first paragraph of the press release cited Hayes' act. Hayes said he will play the Nationwide Tour next year while waiting for responses to his requests for other sponsor exemptions on the PGA Tour.
"I'm going to write letters just like I used to write them," he said. "I'm not going to be making a big deal about what happened at Q school. I'm not going to write anything about it. I'm proud to be a professional golfer and I'm proud of what we stand for. This is the culture we grew up with. I didn't do anything special. To tell you the truth, I'm almost embarrassed by all this attention. But, like I said, if it helps remind people what we're about, I guess it's OK."
Hayes thus wins Golfer of the Month in a close race with Tony Romo, the Dallas Cowboys' quarterback who participated in the Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge prior to the national championship at Torrey Pines last June. Romo is an excellent and frequent player, but here is the rest of the story. Last week, in a spur of the moment gesture, he took a homeless man who identified himself only as "Doc" to the movies and sat with him through "Role Models" in Dallas. What was not reported is this: Romo originally proposed going to a soccer game, but the stranger declined, saying he had suffered enough.
-- Bob Verdi