During my second round at my second year at Q-School, I took a drop from a hazard that got me disqualified. Actually, I disqualified myself. But it was a long drawn out affair.
It was one of those esoteric situations where, in preparing to take my relief, it was clear that as soon as I dropped the ball it was going to kick off the crown of the bank down into the hazard. The hazard line was right on top of the five-foot retaining wall with the pond below. There was no way to catch it before that: drop, boink, splash. So in that circumstance, it was going to cost me two brand new Titleists before I would be able to place the third one where the second hit before its demise.
But fortunately, I remembered a decision in the USGA’s, Decisions on the Rules of Golf, to the effect that if it was clear that there was no way to avoid drowning the first two balls, you could forego all that and simply place the new ball at your nearest point of relief.
The decisions are presented in the form of questions and answers: in the instance where such-and-such happens, can your proceed in such-and-such a way. And there was a precise decision for my exact circumstance. Unfortunately, I remembered the answer to the question being “yes,” when, in fact, the answer was, “no.”
Before I proceeded, I asked my fellow competitor who was keeping my scorecard if he agreed with me and he said that he did. So I placed the ball where it wouldn’t bound down into the water, chipped on and made the putt.
But it got me to thinking. So when I went to dinner that night with another guy from Northern California, I brought my Decisions rule book with me. Nothing like a good rules book to spice up a Mexican dinner. The other guy couldn’t believe I brought the damned thing. But I was a rules buff; not too many guys even owned a Decisions book at the time, let alone knew what was in it and I wanted to confirm that I had been right.
So about three sips into my frosty margarita, I found the rule. And the color drained from my face. Not so much over its implication, but simply because I had been wrong about it. It was an obscure rule, but it wouldn’t have been in there if it hadn’t happened before. And then about the time my tacos and enchiladas arrived, the implications finally hit me: I had signed an incorrect scorecard, a deed subject to disqualification if your score improves as a result. Mine had.
But all this hadn’t dawned on the other guy yet. He was like, “Oh, well. Now you know.” I didn’t say anything at that point, but the consequences began to well up in me.
By the next morning, I finally accepted that this innocuous offense was the death of me when I couldn’t even putt. I had no real choice, at least not one that I could live with.
I ran it by the Tour official hoping against hope that since the tournament hadn’t ended, there was some provision for me to correct my scorecard. But he confirmed my worst fears. He said, “You’ve done the right thing, Bill. It is, after all, a gentleman’s game. If it’s any consolation, we’ve been trying to get the USGA to change that rule forever. We’ve had caddies almost laying in the water trying to catch the ball as soon as it crossed the hazard line.” (Note: Beware! Rule 20-2c/3 lives on to this day.)
But that didn’t help me. I was down the road without a paddle. But at least I could sleep at night.
So when I came across this article in Golf Week about 12-year-old junior phenom, Jeffery Miller, who also did the right thing, it brought my circumstances back to me and affirmed that integrity is still alive in our younger generations:
After returning to his nearby Phoenix home the night of the final round, the sixth-grader realized there was a 15th club in his bag. It was an 18-inch hybrid club that belonged to his brother Nicholas. The club had found its way into the bag the night before when it is believed that the younger Miller had placed it there after the two were outside practicing in their backyard.
Not only did he DQ himself the next morning, in his next tournament, he soldiered on after he had over 20 cactus needles imbedded in his hand rather than withdraw from the tournament. Read the whole thing. You’ll be inspired. He’s got to have some amazing parents.