Three weeks ago Blayne Barber, 22, a talented up and coming player was on track to the PGA Tour. On Oct 27th at the Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga., he signed his scorecard for a final-round 66 at the first stage of PGA TOUR Qualifying School.
During the round Barber was in a greenside bunker that a leaf embedded in it. Barber thought his sand wedge might have brushed the leaf during his backswing. This would have been a violation of Rule 13-4c against touching a loose impediment in a hazard. The only other person that might have seen what happened was his brother and caddie Shayne -- who said he had watched the swing and saw no such contact between club and leaf. He decided to assess himself a one stroke penally, the problem is, it's a two-stroke penalty.
Would you have made the same decision?
"I just really wanted to be sure I was making a wise decision. I came to the point where I decided, 'I know that I hit that leaf.' Maybe I was trying to convince myself otherwise because Shayne was standing there watching. Finally, I believed I did touch it, and I called the wrong penalty on myself. So I wanted to live up to that and make it right and learn from it."
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On Nov. 2, six days after attesting to the accuracy of his scorecard, he called the PGA TOUR office to disqualify himself. Like most life-changing decisions, Barber's was a complicated one that will be examined in detail here. The immediate ripple effects, though, are cut and dried, both for Barber and the six players who tied for 19th to miss by one stroke at Callaway Gardens only to then have their chances restored by Barber's disqualification.
Barber, a professing Christian whose Twitter account contains the self-description, "Sinner saved by grace alone," is playing in a NGA Tour event this week near Orlando. He opened with a round of 66 on Tuesday at the Harmony Golf Resort, finishing with five straight birdies.
"I did what I know was right," he said in an interview earlier this week. "This is between me and God and about doing the right thing and making sure I rectified this, for myself and for those other guys who made it through."
The "small" penalty in question came down to a little leaf embedded in a greenside bunker at the 13th hole during the second round. The leaf was standing vertically on end behind Barber's ball, which had come to rest a couple inches in front of it. As he tried to hit the shot, Barber thought his sand wedge may have brushed the leaf during his backswing. This would have been a violation of Rule 13-4c against touching a loose impediment in a hazard.
Barber was well aware of the rule, having seen the broadcast of the 2010 incident at Harbour Town Golf Links, when TOUR pro Brian Davis thought his club had brushed a loose blade of sawgrass during his backswing from a bunker adjacent to the 18th hole during a playoff with Jim Furyk. Davis immediately called it to the attention of TOUR official Slugger White, and a High-Def replay in the scoring trailer clearly showed a tiny movement of the grass. Davis was assessed a two-stroke penalty.
Unfortunately, there was not a rules official nearby at Callaway Gardens to inform Barber that the penalty for the infraction is two strokes. Over the disagreement of his brother and caddie Shayne -- who said he had watched the swing and saw no such contact between club and leaf -- Blayne notified his fellow competitors that he was assessing himself a penalty of one stroke.
Therein lies the mistake. Some purists, meaning those who can recite Rule 13-4c verbatim and think everyone else should also have it memorized -- along with rest of the rule book -- have assailed Barber for not knowing the penalty. Others have taken issue with his waiting until the tournament was over for a week before revealing to the TOUR what had transpired.
His explanation follows, verbatim: "There were just a lot of emotions going on. I'm trying to start my career and there was a lot of pressure in the situation and it seems like a big, enormous moment. So there was that doubt going back and forth in my mind, 'Did I touch it? Did I not touch it? Shayne says I didn't; I feel like I might have.'
"And I just kept going back and forth, and I didn't want to make a decision one way or another on an uncertainty. I didn't want to stake everything on my being 70 percent sure or whatever the case may be. I just wrestled with it over and over, sought a lot of counsel from other people around me and talked it through multiple times".