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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

Getty Images

Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

Getty Images

Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.