Dorman: Barber clears his mind with q-school DQ

Chris Condon/PGA TOUR
Blayne Barber disqualified himself six days after his first stage of q-school.
November 14, 2012
Larry Dorman, PGATOUR.COM

For most of the hundreds of professional golfers battling for playing status on the 2013 PGA TOUR, these are the days of anxious uncertainty. There are no givens for anyone without a card. That would include Blayne Barber, 22, a promising young player who, a mere three weeks ago, had a future in the game that seemed to be brightening each day.

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It might not seem so at first glance, but Barber believes his outlook has brightened even further since the clear, chilly afternoon of Oct. 27 at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga., when he signed his scorecard for a final-round 66 at the first stage of PGA TOUR Qualifying School.

His road to success, however, has taken a very different turn than the one he seemed destined for after finishing at 14 under, in a tie for fourth place and easily inside the top 18 scores that advanced to this week's second stage.

The All-SEC selection from Auburn and member of the 2011 Walker Cup and Palmer Cup teams did not advance to the second stage. After seemingly doing everything he had to do to advance his career, Barber had something more important to do, he said, "to move forward with my life."

On Nov. 2, six days after attesting to the accuracy of his scorecard, he called the PGA TOUR office to disqualify himself. Like most life-changing decisions, Barber's was a complicated one that will be examined in detail here. The immediate ripple effects, though, are cut and dried, both for Barber and the six players who tied for 19th to miss by one stroke at Callaway Gardens only to then have their chances restored by Barber's disqualification.

Barber, a professing Christian whose Twitter account contains the self-description, "Sinner saved by grace alone," is playing in a NGA Tour event this week near Orlando. He opened with a round of 66 on Tuesday at the Harmony Golf Resort, finishing with five straight birdies.

"I did what I know was right," he said in an interview earlier this week. "This is between me and God and about doing the right thing and making sure I rectified this, for myself and for those other guys who made it through."

Four of the six reprieved players -- Jamie Arnold, Corbin Mills, Jonathan Moore and Chesson Hadley -- are playing this week at various Second Stage sites. The other two, Robert Jan-Derksen and Martin Lafeber, both PGA European Tour veterans, withdrew.

Hadley, a former Georgia Tech standout competing in his third q-school, is at Bear Creek Golf Club in Murietta, Calif., this week. He said he had resigned himself to pursuing another year on the developmental eGolf Tour after just missing at Callaway Gardens and was "blown away" when he heard what Barber had done.

"When I left Callaway Gardens one stroke short, I was dejected and disappointed and frustrated and mad," said Hadley, who went into q-school off a strong year that included a win, two seconds and four other top-five finishes on the eGolf Tour. "Then when I got the call from Karen Rose at the TOUR, I couldn't believe it.

"It's just, you couldn't make it up. I felt so bad for Blayne, who's a friend of mine, and at the same time it's great for me, obviously. Just not exactly the way I expected to make it into second stage. Still, I'm extremely grateful."

The same goes for Mills, the 2011 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion, who told his hometown Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.) that what Barber did by disqualifying himself was "a blessing" for him and the other players who thought they had been eliminated.

"I was pretty down thinking I just came up a little short," said Mills, who begins second stage today at Southern Hills Plantation Club at Brooksville, Fla. He added, "It doesn't surprise me that Blayne would call a penalty that small on himself. He's just that kind of person."

The "small" penalty in question came down to a little leaf embedded in a greenside bunker at the 13th hole during the second round. The leaf was standing vertically on end behind Barber's ball, which had come to rest a couple inches in front of it. As he tried to hit the shot, Barber thought his sand wedge may have brushed the leaf during his backswing. This would have been a violation of Rule 13-4c against touching a loose impediment in a hazard.

Barber was well aware of the rule, having seen the broadcast of the 2010 incident at Harbour Town Golf Links, when TOUR pro Brian Davis thought his club had brushed a loose blade of sawgrass during his backswing from a bunker adjacent to the 18th hole during a playoff with Jim Furyk. Davis immediately called it to the attention of TOUR official Slugger White, and a High-Def replay in the scoring trailer clearly showed a tiny movement of the grass. Davis was assessed a two-stroke penalty.

Unfortunately, there was not a rules official nearby at Callaway Gardens to inform Barber that the penalty for the infraction is two strokes. Over the disagreement of his brother and caddie Shayne -- who said he had watched the swing and saw no such contact between club and leaf -- Blayne notified his fellow competitors that he was assessing himself a penalty of one stroke.

Therein lies the mistake. Some purists, meaning those who can recite Rule 13-4c verbatim and think everyone else should also have it memorized -- along with rest of the rule book -- have assailed Barber for not knowing the penalty. Others have taken issue with his waiting until the tournament was over for a week before revealing to the TOUR what had transpired.

His explanation follows, verbatim: "There were just a lot of emotions going on. I'm trying to start my career and there was a lot of pressure in the situation and it seems like a big, enormous moment. So there was that doubt going back and forth in my mind, 'Did I touch it? Did I not touch it? Shayne says I didn't; I feel like I might have.'

"And I just kept going back and forth, and I didn't want to make a decision one way or another on an uncertainty. I didn't want to stake everything on my being 70 percent sure or whatever the case may be. I just wrestled with it over and over, sought a lot of counsel from other people around me and talked it through multiple times.

"I just really wanted to be sure I was making a wise decision. I came to the point where I decided, 'I know that I hit that leaf.' Maybe I was trying to convince myself otherwise because Shayne was standing there watching. Finally, I believed I did touch it, and I called the wrong penalty on myself. So I wanted to live up to that and make it right and learn from it."

What Barber didn't want or expect was for the incident to become a cause celebre for him. He has been somewhat overwhelmed by the outpouring of support he has received from well-wishers, both friends and strangers, and accepts that the critics "are entitled to their own opinion."

"I know that if you're worried about what everyone else is saying you're probably not going to make very much progress in this game or anything else in life," he said. "I did what I know was right."

Let's remember, the only other person who saw what happened insisted that Barber's club never touched the leaf. So what Blayne Barber did, initially by assessing himself a penalty, admittedly erroneously, and ultimately, by coming forward to disqualify himself, was protect the integrity of the field. In this case, justice delayed was justice delivered.

Larry Dorman is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.