January 25, 2010
Imagine you're a golfer. Okay, you may already be a golfer, so imagine you're a good golfer. So good that you're one of the best in your state. And imagine that after years of training and weeks of brutal tournament play, you finally win the state championship! You romp your way to a seven-stroke victory, sign your card, and walk off to celebrate your victory with family and friends.
And then you notice something's wrong with your card.
What do you do? Do you cross your fingers and hope that nobody notices the disqualification-worthy error, or do you step up and admit to the mistake yourself?
If you're many people, you keep your head low and hope for the best (and, most likely, file suit if somebody later tries to take your title away). But if you're Adam Van Houten, you take the more honorable route.
Five years ago, Van Houten had just finished storming his way to the Ohio high school golf championship when he noticed an error on his scorecard. One of Van Houten's playing partners had written down a 5 for the 10th hole rather than the 6 that Van Houten actually earned. And when Van Houten noted the error, he was disqualified on the spot since he'd already signed his card.
Now, you can parse this story a million different ways. The idea that you can get disqualified from a state championship for a stray pencil mark made by someone else is absurd on its face. And yes, it's Van Houten's responsibility to check and make sure everything syncs up between cards. And yes, the error may well have been discovered at a later date. And yes, whoever that mysterious error-prone other player was should be picking up Van Houten's greens fees and after-round drinks forevermore.
But all of those justifications miss the overall point. Van Houten surely knew he would lose the state championship by speaking up, and he did so anyway. That's class, that's sportsmanship, and that earned him a spot on Sports Illustrated's sportsmanship of the decade list. The Ohio State High School Athletic Association honored him with a commemorative medal. And he's got a "when I was your age" story that he'll always be able to use to torment his kids and grandkids.
Van Houten now plays on the golf team of George Mason University. He joins a list of distinguished honorable golfers that includes J.P. Hayes, who disqualified himself from a PGA Tour qualifying tournament after finding he'd used an unpermitted ball for one hole.
Kinda makes you feel a little guilty about kicking that ball out of the woods, doesn't it?
Ohio golfer's scorecard confession wins accolade [AP via Yahoo! Sports]