Brian Davis felt his moment had finally arrived when he made a 17 foot putt birdie on the 18th green to tie with America’s Jim Furyk and force a play-off at The Heritage Classic in Southern Carolina. Davis, a 36 year old Londoner, had never won a tournament on the American PGA golf tour.
He had come runner up four times, and after years of dedication his moment seemed to arrive. The dream was crystal clear as he stepped up to play the18th hole again in a ‘Sudden Death’ play-off against the 49 times PGA tournament winner and Ryder Cup golfer, Furyk.
With the light fading over the beautiful harbour and the greens, both players safely reached the fairway from their tee shots. Davis’s second shot ran across the green, over the edge, bounced off some rocks below and finally settled on nicely packed sand with some reeds behind it. However, he successfully chipped up onto the green with his third shot. Now here’s the magic.
No one saw this happen except Davis. As he played his third shot he thought he might have barely touched ‘a loose impediment’ (a loose reed/bit of straw) which is a penalty. “It was one of those things I thought I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. And I thought we’d check on TV, and indeed there was movement,” Davis said.
He immediately called for the tournament referee, Slugger White, and told him what had happened. It was so subtle that the crowd didn’t see it and the TV cameras didn’t see it.
He felt honour-bound to tell the referee, who checked with the TV slow motion replays and duly imposed a two shot penalty for ‘making contact with a loose impediment in a greenside hazard’ (rule 13.4: moving a loose impediment during a takeaway). Davis’s dream was over.
However, his actions on the 18th hole at Harbour Town Golf Links course, will be remembered by many for a long time to come. You can see this magical sportsmanship moment. Slugger White later said: “He’s class, first class”. Brian Davis has since received floods of congratulation cards, letters, emails from people all over America and in particular from parents who said they told their children this is how you play sport and this is how you live life.
Davis proves that nice guys are winners. In his own words, here’s how good it actually felt after the high tension game was over. “It’s probably the first time in my career, or in any golfer’s, where [you] lost in a play-off and actually drove home more positive than when you left,” he said. “It has been a good experience for me, and it has been great for the game of golf that we do call rules infractions on ourselves. It’s just part of the game.”
Note: Thanks to Ollie Campbell for alerting me about this story.
Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll on why golfers call their own penalties