hit more fairways. make more putts. avoid the hazards. play by the rules.
Two Acts of Sportsmanship

Posted on Monday 6 July 2009

I’ve been fortunate to learn about two wonderful acts of sportsmanship on the golf course this year. What makes them worth thinking about is that they both happened at the highest levels of amateur golf a month apart. While I’d like to think that this sort of thing happens often, I wonder if it actually does.

The first event was in early June and had to do with the scheduling of the finals of the Maryland Amateur. The weather was atrocious all week and the finals had to be rescheduled from Sunday until Monday. That didn’t become an issue until the second finalist was determined; he was scheduled to play in the second stage of qualifying for the US Open on that same day. After much discussion and soul searching (and no pressure from either officials or the finalist with the issue) the other finalist decided that if the situation were reversed he wouldn’t want to have to choose between attempting to qualify for the national championship and potentially winning the state amateur. So he agreed to postpone the final until Tuesday so his opponent could attempt to qualify.

The second act of sportsmanship happened yesterday. Two friends (of mine and of each other) were playing in the 36 hole final of their club championship. They are both outstanding players; one is a nationally ranked amateur and the other is highly acclaimed in our region. They came to the 34th green all square and both had makeable birdie putts. The first player missed his putt. The second player conceded his next putt and attempted to knock his ball back to him. Instead, the ball went in the hole. The second player then proceeded to make his birdie putt, ostensibly taking a one-up lead going to the 35th hole.

At that point the referee, who is also the head professional at their club, stepped in and erroneously ruled that the second player, by inadvertently knocking his opponent’s ball into the hole, had made a practice putt and therefore had lost the hole. Both players were stunned by the ruling and attempted to make the case that it was not in any way a practice putt. The head pro would have none of it and apparently didn’t try to look up whether he’d ruled correctly or not.

The player who’d lost the hole on the course but won it by incorrect penalty then conceded the 35th hole and they walked to the 36th tee all square. That was about all he could do as he was powerless to change the wacko ruling.

It doesn’t change the value of the sporting acts, but neither outcome could be deemed a fairy tale ending. In the case of the Maryland Amateur the accommodating sportsman lost on the 36th hole of the final. He took the loss very hard, but he’s an outstanding player with many years of fine golf ahead of him. As to the club championship case, it was every bit as outstanding match as the first 33 holes were. The players both made par on hole 36 and birdie on the 37th. The player who conceded the 35th hole then made a birdie on the 38th to take the championship.

There’s one other aspect of the latter situation that I can’t get out of my mind. If it’d been me who’d had that ridiculous ruling on the 34th green I’m not at all sure that I’d have been able to make a swing afterward. Maybe that’s why he’s a fabulous player and I’m not. Good on you, my friend.


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