Monday, November 24, 2008


there was a brief spotlight of sports news recently on a sport completely unrelated to triathlon or anything endurance-related, but which i see as touching on a subject that concerns all sports--or for that matter, all society.

the story dealt with an aspiring professional golfer named J.P. Hayes. to join the PGA, golfers have to get a PGA card. most golfers get this by qualifying through qualifying school and/or tournament play. J.P. Hayes was at one such tournament crucial to his chances for qualifying. however, at the end of his rounds he found a ball which he had inadvertently used on a hole. rather than concealing the fact and accepting his score (and thereby keeping himself in the race for a pro card), he reported himself and took a disqualification from the tournament--effectively destroying his chances at qualifying for the PGA.

there's a number of good links on the story of what happened (i put the full text of the 1st article at the bottom of this post):
what gets me about this story is that J.P. reported himself. golf is different from other sports in that it's self-regulating. that is, there are no referees or judges on the green monitoring penalties and infractions of athletes. as a result, players are expected to hold to a code of honesty, even if it means hurting their own competitiveness in play.

this is something that a cynical person would argue is naive at best and ludicrous at worst, since it's contrary to human nature to act out in a way that penalizes the self. particularly in sports, where the primacy is on trying to win, and the pressure is to exercise supreme pragmatism and employment of any possible option that aids achievement of a win. often, this means bending or violating the rules when given the opportunity to do so.

this attitude is so prevalent that social scientists even incorporate as an assumption in social models of human behavior--the "rational actor", where "rational" is defined as acting out of self-interest. it's as if we accept it as the norm.

but people don't always act that way. people, in fact, often act in ways that are entirely selfless, even to the point of penalizing themselves. how do you explain acts of charity? how do you explain parents forgoing personal opportunities to raise children? how do you explain soldiers on a battlefield who throw themselves on grenades to save the lives of their comrades?

people often say that these are extreme cases, and that human beings don't act that way in normal settings, particularly in settings where the pressure is for self-gain at any cost.

well, here's a situation where a human being did. and in sports, no less, where the drive is win at any cost.

there's a saying that "our character is what we do when we think no one is looking." sad to say, i think most of us would show a pretty poor character if we knew that there was no one to catch us cheating. not just athletes, but society in general.

which is why i think this story is so special. because it shows that there is still character in this world, and that it exists, even in a pressure-packed environment like sports. because it means that if a person in such a context can still retain a measure of character then the rest of us can as well.

you might say that such a lesson is still lost in this case, because character wasn't rewarded. J.P. Hayes lost his opportunity for his pro card because he turned himself in.

thing is, i'm not so sure. my father and grandfather before him always told me that a person shouldn't be rewarded for doing what they're expected to do; doing the right thing is the standard, not the exception.

but even in a world where it is not the standard, i still see the lesson here as relevant. and here's why: it means that there is still a place for things like good and decency and virtue in this world, and that these just aren't words but ideas that people live by...ideas that lift humanity out of the morass of bestiality and darkness and frees us to aspire to the greater aspects of existence. ideas that allow us to be better. ideas that allow us to become noble. ideas that allow us to truly live.

and these achievements are only possible when we act for the greater whole rather just for ourselves.

and that's the meaning of honesty.

Hayes becomes latest to cry, 'What a stupid I am.'
Canadian Press
3 days ago

The moment J.P. Hayes looked down at the golf ball on the floor in his hotel room, he knew there were only two options. Keep his mouth shut and his chances of playing full-time on the PGA Tour next season alive. Or pick up the phone and disqualify himself.

Ten days later, the only thing that seems remarkable to Hayes about that decision is the stir it created. He said he was only doing what any golfer would, although in Hayes' case, totalling up the cost probably will require six figures.

"It's blown me away," Hayes said Thursday about the reaction. "I certainly don't want to be made out as a hero. I'm just a player that did the right thing. If it's served to remind people what a good game we've got, that's great. But I've already moved on."

Hayes was on the tee at the par-3 12th hole in the first round of the PGA Tour's qualifying tournament when his caddie flipped him the fateful golf ball. He missed the green, chipped on, marked his ball and then realized it wasn't the one he'd started the day with. Hayes called over an official and took a two-shot penalty, then went back to playing his original ball on the next tee and finished the round with a 74. He shot 71 the following day, leaving him with a very good chance of moving on to final stage of Q-School, from where the top 25 finishers and ties graduate to exempt status on the PGA Tour for 2009.

Like a lot of golfers, Hayes is such an equipment freak that he goes through his golf bag every night. When he did that in his hotel room the night after the second round, he realized the ball that had already cost him two strokes was a prototype that hadn't been approved for tournament play. After he called a PGA tour official, he recalled, "I pretty much knew at that point I was done."

The last thing Hayes wants is people feeling sorry for him. He lost his tour card after slumping to 178th on the money list last season, but nearly two decades after turning pro and years of bouncing between the big tour and the minors, he's bankrolled US$7 million in career earnings.

He also knows there are worse ways to make a living than another stint on the Nationwide Tour, even at age 43. What he still doesn't understand is the fuss.

"We don't have refs on the course, so we have to call penalties on ourselves. I've done it before, dozens of guys have," Hayes said. "Just about everybody out there does, but usually we move on and nobody hears about it."

That's not entirely true. Enough stories like Hayes' have slipped out over the years to suggest that while golfers are hardly saints, they tend to do the right thing a lot more often than their counterparts in just about every other sport.

Golfers have called penalties on themselves after discovering their child's cut-down club rattling around in the bottom of the bag (too many clubs) and because a ball wobbled in stiff winds while they were getting ready to putt it. There are too many stories of players DQ'd for signing incorrect scorecards to list, but the most famous one ended with Argentine Roberto deVicenzo delivering perhaps the most-famous and least-bitter lament ever in pro sports: "What a stupid I am."

If the same thing happened in major league baseball or the NFL - where the unofficial motto is, "If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying" - his agent would have filed a grievance while the ink on the scorecard was still dry. For some reason, golf is different.

"It's the most honest thing anyone could do," fellow pro Rich Beem said about Hayes, who's a good friend. "This guy lost his job because of it. To me, it not only shows how much class J.P. has, but most PGA Tour pros in general. Most would do the same thing."

But Beem acknowledged a moment later, "I would like to think I would in that position, but it would be tough. I'm glad that wasn't laid on me."

As anybody who plays the game knows, golf can be cruel and nowhere is that manifest more than at Q-School, where the pressure is palpable because so many livelihoods are at stake. A golfer named Roland Thatcher came to the 18th hole at Bear Lakes in West Palm Beach, Fla., in 2001 needing only a par to get his card. He bounced his approach over the green, onto a cart path and eventually onto the roof of the clubhouse. Not only was his lifelong dream scuttled, he had take a drop in a pampas bush and play his next shot from there. Thatcher made triple bogey and hasn't been heard from since.

Hayes may be much luckier. Among his calls the last few days were several from tour sponsors who might be willing to give him an exemption. Between those events and several second-tier tournaments where he's won in the past, Hayes figures he'll get a dozen starts on the big tour next season.

"A few people who've called reminded me good things can come out of tough situations," he said. "We'll see."

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