Bunker Mentality

Golfer disqualifies himself six days after tournament for possibly having touched a leaf

Blayne Barber. (Getty Images)

Here's one heck of a painful yet admirable story. To understand exactly how painful and admirable, if you're not a golf fan, you need to know a couple facts going in:

1. Golf is a game of self-imposed, self-administered rules. Particularly when cameras aren't around, the burden is on you to admit if you violated those rules.

2. Q School is a series of golf tournaments in which participants compete to earn their US PGA Tour card, entitling them to play for the tens of millions of dollars on offer week-in, week-out during the next year. This is the last year of Q School; next year it will be replaced by a completely different system.

All right, so, with that in mind, we give you the story of one Blayne Barber. An exceptional amateur player - he's been a member of the US Walker Cup team, and is therefore considered on the fast-track to a glittering career -- he advanced easily out of last week's Q School first stage.

But something continued to trouble him about his play in the tournament's second round at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia. Specifically, one tiny leaf.

Barber wasn't sure if he had brushed a leaf in the sand trap of the course's 13th hole. His caddy, who happens to also be his brother, insisted that he hadn't touched it. But just to be on the safe side, he penalised himself a stroke.

It is a strange rule: after all, something as minor as brushing a leaf clearly offers the player no benefit.

But the rules of golf are clear: if you accidentally clip a 'loose impediment' in a bunker - that could mean a leaf, twig or anything similarly natural - it is deemed a penalty because it is an action that might shift the sand to make your shot a little easier. It is immaterial whether the sand does shift or not.

So to make certain he was completely within the rules, Barber decided to penalise himself by a shot.

Problem is, the penalty for such an infraction is two strokes, not one.

Barber only realised that when talking to a friend later that evening, a conversation which raised another problem: having signed his card for a one-shot penalty that should have been two, he knew he had therefore signed for an incorrect score. The penalty for signing for a score lower than the one you have actually achieved is disqualification.

At first, he tried to play on: his caddy kept insisting there was no movement of the leaf, and Barber kept on playing the tournament's next two rounds, rationalizing that it was an unnecessary penalty and he tried to tell himself that his mind had just been playing tricks on him.

But his conscience wouldn't let him go.

"I continued to pray about it and think about it, and I just did not have any peace about it," Barber later told Golfweek. "I knew I needed to do the right thing. I knew it was going to be disqualification."

He called the  Tour six days after the tournament's end, and submitted to disqualification because he had signed an incorrect scorecard.

His disqualification moved a full six players into the next stage, because those players tied for 19th and now were tied for 18th, the cut line for advancing to the next stage of the lengthy Q-school process.

One sad irony: Barber was five strokes ahead of the cut line, so even the added penalty would not have hurt him. Still, Barber is content with his decision, even though it means he will have to qualify tournament-by-tournament throughout 2013.

"I just feel peace about it," Barber said. "Doing the right thing and doing what I know is right in my heart and in my conscience is more important than short-term success."

-Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter at @jaybusbee.