The Golfer, the Leaf, and a Crisis of Conscience

The Story: A young pro-golfer could potentially lose out on millions of dollars because of his conscience—-and a leaf.

The Background: Blayne Barber didn’t know if he moved the leaf. But his brother Shayne, who serves as Blayne’s caddy, was certain. “I was standing right there,” Shayne says. “It didn’t move.”

Rule 13-4c is professional golf’s peculiar policy that prohibits a player from touching any loose impediment in a hazard—-even a single leaf—-as part of the maneuver to dislodge the ball.

“Unlike a criminal conviction that requires something beyond reasonable doubt, golf’s rules only allow for two options – certainty and illegality,” says Golf Channel columnist Jason Sobel. “Which is to say, if a golfer isn’t sure whether he broke a rule, then he’s presumed guilty of breaking that rule.”

As Sobel notes, “There are no gray areas in golf’s draconian rules. Either [Barber] missed the leaf and signed for a score higher than he really had or he brushed the leaf and signed for an incorrect score, which would result in disqualification.”

After conferring with two rule officials, Barber decided not to mark a penalty on his scorecard. But three days later the incident still bothered him: Did he move the leaf or not?

Although the young golfer is getting married in December and needed the money and job security of the PGA Tour, his conscience kept bothering him.

“This is something I prayed a lot about,” he says. “I continued to not find peace about it.”

[. . . ]

“It just goes so much deeper than golf and my PGA Tour card and my career,” he explains. “I didn’t want there to be this little chasm in between me and God or me and this thing that I always thought would be on my conscience and weigh on me. I knew that ultimately when that is weighing on me, I had to just come forward and do what was in my heart. That’s way more important than short-term success.”

Exactly one week after he may or may not have touched the leaf, Barber made his decision. He called the PGA Tour on November 2 to report that he had signed an incorrect scorecard. Although he had advanced in the tournament, his failure to penalize himself that additional stroke resulted in his signing a lower scorecard, which results in disqualification.

Why It Matters: The twenty-two year old was one of the world’s top amateurs when he turned pro earlier this year. His decision means he’ll potentionally miss out on competing for millions of dollars. But Barber knows there are some things more important than money.

“I don’t know why all this is happening,” Blayne admits. “I don’t know what it will entail in the future, but maybe it will have an effect on someone, maybe someone will learn from it. It’s a lot bigger than me. I just wanted to do my part to make it right and clear my conscience.”

“I just feel peace about it,” Barber adds. “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.”

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