November 19, 2008
The true test of a man's character is what he does when no one is watching. John Wooden said that, or maybe it was Spider-Man. Whatever, it still holds true; being noble and upstanding is easy enough when you've got people watching, but when you're alone with yourself, when you could do the wrong thing (or avoid the right thing) and get away with it, well -- that's when you find out what kind of person you are.
By that standard, then, J.P. Hayes is among the best that sports has to offer. He played a nonconforming ball for a single hole of the second stage of Q School last weekend. He realized it more than a day after the "violation," called it on himself, and thus disqualified himself from Q School ... with some severe, career-altering effects down the line.
So how did this go down? So easily, you'll cringe:
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.
Okay, so, two-stroke penalty, no big deal. He recovered well enough to put himself in position to finish in the top 20 and advance to the third and final round of Q School. The top 25 finishers in that round, plus ties, earn exempt status for the entire 2009 PGA season. So, breathe deep, think about how close you came to disaster, then tee it up for the next round.
Only, while Hayes was breathing deep, he realized something else -- not only did he play the wrong ball, he might have played a ball that wasn't even approved for play at all.
"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 ... I called an official in Houston that night and said, 'I think I may have a problem. He said they'd call Titleist the next day. I pretty much knew at that point I was going to be disqualified."
Now, the easy move here would be to either do nothing or blame the caddy. Hayes rose above both those temptations, putting all the blame on himself and asserting that everybody else on the PGA in his shoes would have done the exact same thing. We'll never know, but let's hope so.
Also, Hayes already has more than $7 million in career earnings, so it's not like he'd consigned himself to another year working the counter at the Quik Stop. But still, knowing you're taking yourself out of the running for a year of career stability and wealth takes some serious situational ethics.
Would you do it?