Q-School DQ: Barber's nine days of doubt

By Jason SobelNovember 7, 2012, 1:20 pm

Blayne Barber doesn’t remember declaring his intention to be a professional golfer. He recalls going to the golf course in Lake City, Fla., with his father, David, beginning at age 3. He has a keen memory of quitting baseball as a preteen to concentrate full-time on the game that would lead him to Auburn University, All-America honors and a spot on the prestigious Walker Cup team.

But he doesn’t remember the exact moment his dream became a spoken goal.

His mother does, though. Terri has told the story so often over the years that Blayne just takes her word for it these days. She recalls that as a 7-year-old, he looked her in the eye one day and simply stated, “I’m going to be a professional golfer.”

Fifteen years later, that goal became a reality.

Upon graduating from Auburn, he turned pro this summer. Which means that the autumn was going to be spent in the same capacity as so many high-profile young professional golfers before him: Competing in the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament – more affectionately known as Q-School.

Like every one of them, Blayne’s destiny would be determined by the qualifying process. Unlike any others, he would be the agent of his own luck.

The following chronicles nine days of doubt. It’s a story of fate and faith, presumption and apprehension, conviction and confusion.


DAY 1: THE INCIDENT

OCT. 25, 2012

It all began with a leaf. One little leaf that fluttered off a nearby branch and came to rest in a bunker adjacent to the 13th green at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga.

Unfortunately for Blayne, his ball came to rest in the second round of the first stage of Q-School adjacent to that little leaf, sticking up in an awkward vertical pose. He saw it there, took notice of its existence, warned himself about brushing it prior to impact. He reminded himself of Rule 13-4c, a silly and somewhat mystifying policy which prohibits a player from touching a loose impediment in a hazard, even as part of the maneuver to dislodge the ball.

And then he swung.

Maybe he grazed that little leaf on his backswing. Maybe he didn’t. Blayne’s brother, Shayne, was caddieing that day, right next to him at the time, watching closely.

“I was standing right there,” Shayne adamantly states. “It didn’t move.”

Blayne wasn’t so sure, though. Unlike a criminal conviction that requires something beyond reasonable doubt, golf’s rules only allow for two options – certainty and illegality. Which is to say, if a golfer isn’t sure whether he broke a rule, then he’s presumed guilty of breaking that rule.

When he approached the next tee, he apprised his playing partners of the situation and assessed himself a penalty of one stroke, despite Shayne’s continued plea that there was no reasonable doubt. He later signed his scorecard for a 1-under 71 and retreated the 45 minutes back to Auburn, thinking about that one little leaf the entire time.

That night, Blayne recounted his round with current roommate and former teammate Michael Hebert. He told him about the incident and felt a knot in his stomach when Hebert questioned not the action but the consequence.

“He asked, ‘Oh, is that a one- or two-stroke penalty?’” Blayne recalls. “I was like, ‘I’m pretty sure it’s one,’ but I started thinking about it in my head. I knew that if it was a two-stroke penalty and I hit the leaf that I was automatically disqualified.”

There are no gray areas in golf’s draconian rules. Either he missed the leaf and signed for a score higher than he really had or he brushed the leaf and signed for an incorrect score, which would result in disqualification. 

Blayne’s fate rested in his own hands.


DAY 2: THE MORNING AFTER

OCT. 26, 2012

Shayne could sense an uneasiness in his brother as they drove to the third round of the four-day event. He could tell something was bothering him.

When they arrived at the course, Blayne quickly sought out two rules officials and explained the situation. Still encumbered by the possibility that he may have touched that leaf, he needed assurance that he was under no penalty if he indeed hadn’t committed the infraction.

“I asked them, ‘If I signed for a score higher than what I shot, that’s OK, correct?’” he relates. “And they said yes.”

That may not have given him much peace of mind, but Blayne was still able to shoot a 2-under 70 to remain well within the mix of the top 18 players and ties who would continue to the second stage of Q-School weeks later.


DAY 3: MIXED EMOTIONS

OCT. 27, 2012

In the final round, Blayne cruised to a 6-under 66. Didn’t possibly glance a leaf in any hazard, didn’t have a doubt about a score that left him in a share of fourth place overall, easily advancing him to the next stage.

Here’s where it’s important to understand just how important this is to a young golfer.

A player who reaches the next stage maintains an opportunity to then advance to Q-School’s final stage, at which PGA Tour status is the ultimate reward, with placement on the developmental Web.com Tour serving as an adequate consolation prize.

That’s the good news. Those who aren’t fortunate enough to advance not only lose their $6,000 tournament entry fee, they are jettisoned to golf’s version of purgatory, attempting to Monday qualify at bigger events or toil away on the mini-tours or – even worse – abandon the dream and take up apprenticeship at a course, stocking inventory and teaching 25-handicaps the finer points of making contact with the ball. With the dissolution of Q-School as we know it beginning next year, there will be even fewer opportunities for players to reach the big-time and more stories of hopefulness giving way to heartbreak.

This was the decision that awaited Blayne. Trust his brother and continue trying to realize his dream or plunge into purgatory for at least the next year of his life.


DAY 4: SLEEPLESS NIGHTS

OCT. 28, 2012

Do or do not. There is no try.

Zen philosopher Yoda – of 'Star Wars' fame, of course – has spawned a generation that spits in the face of notions such as, “It’s the thought that counts.”

Three days after maybe touching that leaf in the hazard and one day after the first stage had been completed, Blayne continued trying to piece together that scene from the 13th hole. There was no videotape; none of his playing partners or their caddies had even noticed the leaf precariously standing in the path of his swing. The lone witness was his brother, who remained steadfast in his assessment that there was no harm and no foul.

And yet, something still didn’t feel right.

“I wanted to make sure I wasn’t convincing myself one way or the other,” he says. “I wanted to believe I didn’t hit it, but I was going back and forth between this uncertainty in my mind. I didn’t want to start my entire career with this uncertainty in my head …

“I was definitely pretty torn up about it; it was weighing on me pretty heavily. It was on my mind all day, every day. I wanted to forget it, I wanted to close the books on it. My caddie says I didn’t hit it, so I want to move on, but it just kept weighing on me. I would lie there at night and there was a constant battle in my head.”


DAY 5: HIS BROTHER’S KEEPER

OCT. 29, 2012

Shayne is 19, a little over three years younger than his big brother. He says they weren’t that close growing up in Lake City, but when Blayne left for college – first at Central Florida for a year, then Auburn – the relationship blossomed.

“We started becoming a lot closer,” he explains. “We don’t talk all the time, but I love watching him and talking to him and keeping up with him.”

He also loves caddieing for Blayne, something the middle of three siblings does at least a few times each year. He knows his game, but even more importantly knows his mindset. Shayne understands that his brother has a penchant for calling penalties on himself – not every round or every tournament or even on a regular basis, but enough that he keeps a careful eye on him anytime he’s in a precarious position, so that Blayne won’t misconstrue a close call as a penalty.

That’s the reason why, as Blayne took a smooth swing at the ball from that bunker five days earlier, Shayne never looked up. Didn’t watch the ball land some 6 feet from the hole, didn’t get a read on which way the ensuing putt would break. Instead, he remained focused on that one little leaf and how it was standing vertically in the same spot both before impact and after.

Now they were both back in Lake City at their parents’ house and while Blayne didn’t directly mention anything about that incident, Shayne could still sense the same uneasiness in his brother as the morning after it happened.

“His brother was convinced he did not do it, so that was a big thing for Blayne,” their mother explains. “There was this struggle between, Did I do it or not do it?”

If Blayne asked, he’d just tell him the same thing again. He didn’t see him graze the leaf. But Blayne didn’t ask again. This wasn’t about what his brother saw. This was about him dealing with the decision internally.


DAY 6: NEW WIFE, NEW LIFE

OCT. 30, 2012

Blayne is engaged to be married to Morgan Stanford on Dec. 15, exactly a dozen days after the final stage of Q-School is completed. In their wildest dreams, the happy occasion could have owned even happier undertones, with the groom about to embark on life as a PGA Tour professional, competing for millions of dollars on a weekly basis. Or maybe he’d be resigned to the consolation prize, playing the demanding Web.com circuit in what would amount to a perfect internship before reaching the top level.

If he decided that he had committed the infraction and needed to disqualify himself, he knew the impact it could have on their first year of marriage and beyond. Forget the money. No longer would they have a chance to live the good life, instead scraping to compete anywhere and everywhere, the prospect looming of long trips and low pay and little fanfare.

It’s hardly the worst thing in the world; plenty of people would gladly trade in their jobs to play golf for a living. But it wasn’t exactly the optimal beginning to married life, either.

As he struggled with his decision, as he continuously and continually replayed that bunker shot in his mind, Blayne included Morgan in his thoughts about what happened.

“I had a lot of conversations with her about what I was thinking and feeling,” he says. “These decisions affect her as well because we’re about to get married.”


DAY 7: KEEPING THE FAITH

OCT. 31, 2012

Some people shy away from public displays of religious affiliation. Not Blayne. His Twitter bio references his Christian faith and he’s more than willing to speak about what it means to him.

“This is something I prayed a lot about,” he says. “I continued to not find peace about it.”

Listen to his words and it’s easy to understand how a resolution began forming through prayer.

“It just goes so much deeper than golf and my PGA Tour card and my career,” he explains. “I didn’t want there to be this little chasm in between me and God or me and this thing that I always thought would be on my conscience and weigh on me. I knew that ultimately when that is weighing on me, I had to just come forward and do what was in my heart. That’s way more important than short-term success.”


DAY 8: THE DECISION

NOV. 1, 2012

On Saturday morning, exactly one week after he may or may not have touched a leaf in a bunker during his backswing, Blayne came to the conclusion that there was only one proper decision.

Still at their parents’ house, he sidled up next to Shayne and told him that he wouldn’t be caddieing for him in second stage, because he wasn’t playing.

He was going to disqualify himself.

“As soon as he told me, I said, ‘If that’s what you need to do, that’s what you need to do. No, you won’t get your card, but there’s good that can come out of this,’” Shayne recalls. “The way he’s handling it, I know it’s going to work out in the long run. I respect his decision a whole lot more than I’ll ever be able to tell him.”

“I don’t know why all this is happening,” Blayne admits. “I don’t know what it will entail in the future, but maybe it will have an effect on someone, maybe someone will learn from it. It’s a lot bigger than me. I just wanted to do my part to make it right and clear my conscience.”

He still doesn’t know if his club touched that leaf. He never will. What he does know is that his career won’t begin under suspicion, even if he was the only one who suspected that he may have committed the penalty.

Blayne also knows that he has the admiration of those closest to him.

“I am very proud of him,” Terri beams. “If he thinks at all that it might have happened, then he did the right thing. I know he’s going to be successful, but he will do it with a clear conscience.”


DAY 9: THE AFTERMATH

NOV. 2, 2012

There are several different ways to interpret this story. One is that it took Blayne Barber too long to disqualify himself, that if reasonable doubt existed he shouldn’t have waited nine days to alert PGA Tour officials and remove himself from the field at second stage. Another is that he’s a fool for giving up the potential of competing for millions of dollars next year on the game’s highest level, instead placing himself in purgatory for something that may not have even happened.

Mostly, though, the resounding response to his decision has been wildly positive. It’s what separates golf from all other competitive pursuits, recalling Bobby Jones’ self-penalization when he chided those who cheered by claiming, “You may as well praise a man for not robbing a bank.”

Because of this decision, six players – Robert-Jan Derksen, Jamie Arnold, Corbin Mills, Jonathan Moore, Chesson Hadley and Maarten Lafeber – who originally finished in a share of 19th place have been issued a reprieve, each granted late admission into the second stage of Q-School, thanks to one of their own listening to his conscience.

As for Blayne, he contends he’s already learned not only a lot about himself in the aftermath, but about fellow players, fans and other interested observers.

“It’s been overwhelming,” he says. “I was not expecting this outpouring of support. It’s been a blessing; it’s made me happy and at peace with what happened. And I’m at peace with how it’s going to work out.”

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Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon. 

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”