J.P. Hayes, a journeyman professional golfer who has never finished higher than 19th in a Major tournament, did something extraordinary last month: He self-reported his accidental use of a non-regulation golf ball in a PGA Tour qualifying event, sacrificing the chance to earn his 2009 tour card in the name of honesty and sportsmanship.
That honorable act evoked kind words from fellow players and high praise from fans and media members, but such acclaim was far from universal. On discussion boards throughout the sports blog-world and over the airwaves of sports talk radio, voices of criticism and even mockery emerged.
"Calling a penalty on yourself for such an insignificant infraction (one which no one would ever know about) and can mean you getting or losing your PGA card is total stupidity," wrote one online commenter. "J.P. needs to distinguish what honesty is, not stupidity," echoed another.
Such sentiments have reached Hayes, who admits to noticing that public reaction is split. The 43-year-old says he never considered how others might interpret his decision and is surprised at the level of attention it's received: "I truly believe that most every player on Tour would have done the same thing."
Indeed, the game of golf carries with it an expectation of honesty. Players police themselves in tournaments, assessing penalty strokes and adhering to rules and regulations independent of referee oversight. Golfer Jeff Sluman made headlines in 1996 when he disqualified himself from the Bay Hill Invitational after playing from a drop zone that might have been illegal. "I'm not sure," Sluman said at the time. "And if I'm not sure, I couldn't live with myself and keep playing. What if I won? It would be like a curse."
That level of reverence for fair play has characterized most of golf's great champions. Bobby Jones, the game's first real superstar, once penalized himself a stroke in the U.S. Open for a violation no one else could have seen. When complimented for such honesty, he remarked, "Well, you might as well have praised a man for not robbing a bank."
Hayes likewise never considered concealing his error. He first assessed himself a penalty during the round after his caddie flipped him the wrong ball for one hole. Later, back in his hotel room, he realized that ball was a Titleist prototype not approved for PGA competition. He called an official that night for a ruling. "The damage had been done and there was nothing I could do about it," Hayes told a national radio audience on ESPN's Mike and Mike show. "I was disqualified the moment I hit that ball."
Like millions of other college football fans, Barack Obama wants a playoff to replace the convoluted Bowl Championship Series in determining the country's national champion. The president-elect has said as much on two national television broadcasts, promising to "throw my weight around a little bit. I think it's the right thing to do."
In response to those comments, BCS coordinator John Swofford has indicated that Obama may need every last pound of the gravitas behind his new office to even budge the college football powers that be. Swofford's statement claimed that the majority of college football's constituencies have settled on the current system for its dual utility in choosing a champion and maintaining the importance of the regular season.
Your move, Mr. President-Elect. For even the most ardent supporters of playoff reform, the question stands as to whether the White House should involve itself in governing athletics. Some conservatives have squawked in recent years over Congress policing steroid use in baseball. But others have weighed the benefit of a clean game against a slight expanse of government authority. Is the abolition of the BCS so worthwhile?