By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM contributor
CANONSBURG, Pa. – The mental alarm went off, of all times, while Blayne Barber was talking with reporters about life after consigning his career to a year’s detour.
Barber, you’ll recall, is the young pro who belatedly removed himself from last year’s PGA TOUR qualifying when he learned he’d given himself a wrong penalty. Now he was in contention at the Mylan Classic when a questioner’s casual lead-in triggered something.
“You’re 10-under, second place…”
Barber talked about his well-rounded play, then the session broke up. The Florida native went back to the scoring area at Southpointe Golf Club and asked to see his card again.
A few minutes later, Barber walked up the clubhouse stairs to the tournament office, explaining that he’d overlooked a birdie written down at No.16 that should have gone as a par. What added up to a 65 should have been a 66.
Officials had no option. Barber was disqualified Friday, having signed an incorrect scorecard.
“That’s pretty raunchy luck right there,” said Chesson Hadley, one of Barber’s closest friends on the circuit. “Bad things happen to good people.”
Of course, it can rightfully be argued that Barber should have been more thorough in checking his card. He’d actually confirmed the nine-hole splits with the walking scorer assigned to his group, but the part that counts is the 18 scores entered for each hole.
Somehow he failed to notice one of his playing partners had given him a 3 in the box for No.16, rather than the proper 4.
“We both missed it,” Barber said on the way out. “It’s unfortunate because it could have been corrected.”
Once Barber left the scoring table, though, it became fixed – and unfixable. Even if his internal bell hadn’t gone off Friday, that 10-under would have been staring him in the face upon arriving for Saturday’s round.
How star-crossed can a guy be? It’s not like Barber toppled from a placing somewhere in the middle of the pack. A top-10 finish might have been the push he needed to make an outsider’s run at a berth in the Web.com Tour Finals.
“I don’t understand why that happens,” said Hadley, who was to have dinner with Barber and his wife after Friday’s round before getting a text canceling plans.
“It’s kind of like, alright, Blayne’s going to catch his break this week. He’s going to win, or he’s going to finish second, get status, move on. Move into the playoffs, play well there – all these great possibilities. Then, boom.”
Don’t feel too badly for Barber. The former Auburn All-America has found his way into eight events between the PGA TOUR and Web.com Tour, with a sixth-place finish at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open and almost $70,000 in earnings between the two circuits.
He’s also won once on the NGA Tour in 2013 and lost another in a playoff five weeks ago, adding another $54,000 to his account.
“It’s been better than we thought it was going to be,” Barber had said prior to the scorecard episode. “It’s fun. It’s just kind of a day-to-day journey, and we’ll see where it takes us.”
Barber, 23, admitted he didn’t know what the future would hold when he called the PGA TOUR last Nov. 2, fully six days after tying for fourth in Q-School’s first stage at Callaway Gardens in Georgia.
He explained that he’d assessed himself a penalty stroke for brushing a leaf in a bunker during his backswing, only to find out after returning home that the proper penalty should have been two strokes.
The unassessed stroke had been weighing on his conscience, even though he wasn’t even positive his club had moved the leaf. His caddie hadn’t seen it, nor had his playing partners.
“That whole argument was in my mind – maybe I didn’t actually do it,” he said, explaining the time lag.
Reporting the error, he knew, would result in disqualification. That meant a year on the periphery, though it should be pointed out that he still needed to reach Q-School finals before putting his name on a PGA TOUR or Web.com Tour card.
“I knew I was just starting [as a pro],” said Barber. “Golf is a longevity sport, so even if it set me back for a year in the grand scheme of things, it was totally worth it.”
What he didn’t anticipate was the attention. Recent U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson and Jonathan Byrd were among the dozens of texts and emails lauding him for upholding the values of the game.
At the Brasil Classic, a local television crew even had Barber re-enact the bunker incident in a segment trying to explain his honesty to a soccer-steeped sporting nation.
“I thought I was going to make the call, deal with the situation and it kind of would be brushed under the rug and forgotten about,” he said. “And then it just kind of turned into something I never thought it would.”
Ditto for his friendship with Hadley, a direct beneficiary of Barber’s largesse. He was one of a half-dozen players suddenly given berths to second-stage qualifying when Barber’s infraction moved the cut line.
After Hadley earned his Web.com Tour card, he sent Barber a thank-you note early in the year. The two played practice rounds together in Louisiana and discovered they share a deep Christian faith.
Hadley now stands No.3 in Web.com Tour earnings, locking up his PGA TOUR card. “He’s just played incredible this year,” Barber said.
Now it’s Hadley’s turn to help pick up Barber.
“The Lord has a miraculous way of working things,” Hadley said, “and I really hope He has a plan for Blayne to do really special things. … Somehow, some way, good will come out of all this.”
If nothing else, Web.com Tour qualifying is only a couple months off. His year in limbo served, Barber finally can let his clubs determine his destination again.
Don’t blame him, though, if he takes his time in the scoring area.