The last quarter of the year is a time companies bring their prototype products out on tour for "validation." For J.P. Hayes, however, using a prototype Titleist golf ball in the second stage of the PGA Tour's Qualifying School meant something different: Disqualification.
The second stage of Q school is perhaps the most nerve-wracking of all. Make the cut and you are assured of some form of status on the PGA or Nationwide Tour. Fall short and your next 12 months are pretty much going to be spent begging for exemptions or playing on mini-tours.
On the 12th tee of the opening round of second stage at Deerwood CC, the 43-year-old Hayes--a two-time winner on the PGA Tour with career earnings in excess of $7 million--got a ball from his caddie and only after marking his ball on the green did he realize it was a different model than the one he started the round with. "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."
But after the second round, Hayes was in his hotel room when he realized he might have a bigger problem--he may have played a ball not on the USGA's Conforming Ball List. Hayes had been given the balls some four weeks earlier simply to test, not use in competition.
"I pretty much knew at that point I was going to be disqualified," said Hayes. And he was.
Hayes could have easily kept on playing and no one would have known his secret. But Hayes did the stand-up thing. It's a cliche that "golf is a game of honor" but that cliche also happens to hold true. In an era when players who trap the ball in baseball or football instantly hold up their arms trying to bamboozle the umpire or referee, golf is different. Hayes accepted his fate, and did not lament his misfortune.
"It's not the end of the world," he said. "It will be fine. It is fine."
Hayes is not the first player to endure such a situation, as this article John Feinstein wrote for Golf Digest in 2007 attests. But how players handle the task of calling penalties on themselves speaks volumes about the person as well as the sport. Bobby Jones once called a penalty on himself and upon receiving praise for doing so, scoffed, "You may as well praise a man for not robbing a bank." The bank Hayes went to at Q school, however, was one without money. It was the Bank of Honor and Hayes made a huge deposit. Tournament directors receiving a letter from Hayes asking for an exemption should put him high on their list, because at a time when people are losing their jobs, Hayes only lost his because he chose to do the right thing. Pay it forward, folks.--E. Michael Johnson