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Monday, April 19, 2010

Why Integrity, Honesty and Character are foundation values of Positive Leadership

The scene was the 1925 U.S. Open at Worcester Country Club in Worcester, Massachusetts, and Bobby Jones was in the hunt for his second major championship.

As Jones prepared to hit a shot out of the rough late in the tournament, he noticed that his ball had moved ever so slightly during address. His playing competitor, Walter Hagen, never saw the incident. The same went for his caddy and the spectators watching his round. The pressure was placed squarely on Jones to make the right call.

Unlike other sports where a referee makes the final decision on a penalty or foul, golf lives by a different set of rules. These rules include putting the onus of calling a penalty on yourself. The ability to live or die with that decision is one that makes golf such an honourable sport.

Instead of living hiding the penalty and going on with his round, Jones decided to do the right thing and call a 1-stroke penalty on himself. That one shot ended up costing him the tournament in regulation, as well as the championship, as he went on to lose a 36-hole playoff to Willie Macfarlane.

Famed sportswriter, O.B. Keeler, lauded Jones for his decision, one that ultimately cost him one of the most prestigious trophies in golf. Instead of taking the honour and recognition for his decision, Jones pleaded with Keeler to not write about the incident.

“You might as well praise me for not robbing banks,” Jones said.

Brian Davis probably felt the same way after last Sunday's final round of the Verizon Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links.

Davis and Bobby Jones might not have a lot on the common on the surface (one is a golf legend; the other is a journeyman tour pro) but it became very clear on Sunday that both are cut from the same cloth that preaches honour before accolades.

After making a miraculous birdie on the 72nd hole of the championship to force a playoff with Jim Furyk, Davis found himself in a very interesting predicament on the first playoff hole.

After watching his approach shot draw left of the green on 18 and into a water hazard, Davis was left with the difficult shot of getting his ball up and down from beside a bunch of reeds and twigs. During his takeaway on the shot, Davis noticed a reed had moved during his backswing.

Davis immediately called over rules official Slugger White to tell him the news. The violation of rule 13.4 (which prohibits moving a loose impediment in a hazard during a takeaway) went unseen by everyone but Davis. After watching the incident on television replay it was confirmed that Davis did in fact brush the reed with his club. Davis called a two-stroke penalty on himself and went on to lose the playoff to Furyk. As much fun as it was to see Furyk finally put on the plaid jacket at Harbour Town, there was definitely a bitter-sweet taste to the victory.

Davis’ decision, one that cost him $400,000 and a trip to the SBS Championship next year in Hawaii, was probably the toughest decision of his life. 

But if ever there was a decision that made you proud to be a fan of the sport, this was certainly one of them.

In a sports world where steroids and cutting corners is an accepted practice, Davis’ decision to call a penalty on himself speaks volumes about not only Brian Davis as a person, but the integrity of the sport of golf.

“That [decision to call a penalty] will come back to him spades, tenfold,” White said afterwards.

After calling a penalty on himself during the 1925 U.S. Open, Jones went on to win the U.S. Open the following year. We can only hope Davis gets the same kind of karma in the near future for his honourable decision. 


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