Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Personal Strength of Fairness - Golf's High Standard

On Sunday, April 18, 2010, I had just returned from a day trip to Bellville, Texas. It’s a cute little town in historic Austin County, and my wife was gathering material for a newspaper feature about a Mother’s Day outing. I was tired, and all I wanted to do was collapse in front of the TV.

The only thing that interested me was the Verizon Heritage golf tournament. I don’t usually follow these events, but one of my favorite players, Jim Furyk, was on top of the leader board going into the final hole. Good for him.

One shot behind was someone I never heard of, Brian Davis, who was playing with Furyk in the final twosome. So Davis, who in 16 years on the PGA tour had never won a tournament and was ranked somewhere below 100th in the world, now had a chance to do something wonderful for his career. I was sucking on my beer and starting to get interested.

Both golfers hit good drives and both put their second shots on the green. Furyk’s putt just missed the hole and he settled for par. But then Davis holed a 16-footer for a birdie, and now the two were tied at the end of the tournament. Sudden death playoff!

The two golfers played the 18th hole again. Brian Davis’ second shot hit the green in nearly the same spot as before, but shockingly it bounced off the green, down onto some rocks, and landed in hard-packed sand covered with thatch. A horrible lie! Furyk’s second shot wasn’t much better. It rolled off the back of the green. With his putter, Furyk lagged his third shot close to the hole, practically guaranteeing a par.

To equal that, Davis would have to hit a nearly impossible shot out of the mess off the green. Unfortunately, his ball stopped 30 feet beyond the hole. But he still had a reasonable chance of making the putt and staying in the playoff. A million dollars hung in the balance.

But here’s what happened next, and this is why I’m writing about this relatively obscure golf tournament. Brian Davis called an official over to tell him that he thinks he saw something out of the corner of his eye when he took his shot. He thinks he might have touched a piece of thatch. If there is videotape, can they check to be sure?

You see, it’s against the rules to move or disturb debris before striking the ball. Doing so is considered “improving the lie of the ball,” and the penalty is two strokes.

The officials reviewed the videotape in slow motion and sure enough, the club moved a piece of thatch about an inch during the backswing. Davis was assessed two penalty strokes, which made it impossible for him to force another tie. Furyk won the tournament.

The infraction was almost imperceptible, unintentional, inconsequential and no one was aware of it but Davis. But he called the infraction on himself, even though he knew it would cost him dearly. So after 16 years, he still hasn’t won a tournament, and he’s still ranked close to 100th in the world.

Brian Davis was disappointed about losing, but he had no regrets about the penalty. He did what he was supposed to do, very likely what any of the other golfers would have done in the same situation. Because the standard of ethics in professional golf is amazingly high. It’s a gentleman’s game.

But Brian Davis is no longer obscure. He knows he did the right thing, and so does the entire world. His act of fairness was spotlighted by live television and has since been commented on by hundreds of sports announcers and writers. He is now a highly visible symbol of what it means to play fair.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength. (Permission to use photo purchased from


Kathleen Scott said...

Maybe golf should be a required course for political science majors.

Kristina Evey said...

I'm sure he will receive a lot of ridicule for that, but as far as I'm concerned, that's the true measure of a man. Kudos to him.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

I'm with Kathleen. John Daly is my favorite golfer. Laugh. Go figure.