This morning, I got a call from my cousin, Robert, asking if I had heard the story about the NAIA golfer who purposely lost on a playoff hole after already qualifying for the NAIA National Championship so that a golfer from another team could make the tournament in his senior year. At that point, I had not, so when we hung up I quickly researched it. This article on ESPN.com presents the facts and I encourage you to read it before proceeding with this blog.
Sportsmanship as defined by Webster is: (noun) : conduct (as fairness, respect for one's opponent, and graciousness in winning or losing) becoming to one participating in a sport.
After reading that article, listening to the audio file with comments from Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic and other ESPN analysts, and checking out a couple of blogs with opinions on both sides of the debate, I decided that I was going to post my thoughts. I'll say up front that this blog could go on and on, but I would most like to hear the comments of others. I am also a big fan of true sportsmanship stories such as this story almost exactly two years ago to the date involving the softball teams of Western Oregon and Central Washington.
First, I don't want to be too critical of St. Francis' Grant Whybark for his attempt at sportsmanship. The sports world needs feel-good stories and the NAIA's mantra is Champions of Character. I just think that if Whybark truly felt like this was something he needed to do, he could have gone about it in a much more low-key way that wouldn't call attention to himself. He is obviously a skilled golfer as he shot a one-over-par 145 over 36 holes in the conference tournament to force the extra hole, so he could have just missed a long putt during the playoff without anyone really noticing it. However, by blatantly blasting a ball 40 yards out of bounds and making sure that he told everyone who would listen about his intentions, he decided to draw attention to himself which is really not what good sportsmanship is all about. It is also a little arrogant to think that he wouldn't lose the playoff hole to his worthy opponent playing it straight up. One other question...would Whybark have done the same thing if he had anything to lose? I think we all know the answer to that one.
The person that I really feel for is Olivet Nazarene's Seth Doran. Obviously a well-liked player by his conference peers, Doran was having a great tournament of his own as he matched Whybark hole-for-hole to finish with an identical one-over-par 145 after 36 holes. While I am sure that Doran is excited to make the trip to the NAIA National Championship at nearby TPC at Deere Park in Silvis, Ill., site of the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic, I am guessing that the true competitor in him wishes that Whybark had a mulligan on the hole and the two of them could play it out on the up-and-up. Personally, I probably would have pounded my tee shot into the woods (although it typically goes there without me trying) if I was Doran as I would rather have won the berth on my own merit.
One other thing...the sport of golf is one of integrity - possibly more so than any other sport. It really is about what you do when no one else is looking. Golfers are taught to self-report even the smallest and most obscure of errors that sometimes cost them championships and thousands of dollars just as it recently did Brian Davis. However, it is that integrity that draws people to the sport. While we all like to see people doing things for others, the goal in golf is to shoot the lowest possible score within the realm of the rules. To try to do otherwise really goes against the very nature and integrity of the game. It would be better to withdraw than to purposely hit bad shots.
Finally, the true winner in all of this is the NAIA and the NAIA National Championship that will take place on May 18-21. Typically, this tournament doesn't draw anywhere near the coverage or media curiousity that the NAIA's highly-successful 32-team, one-site basketball national tournaments or even the NAIA World Series in baseball draw. However, I would be really surprised if there are not TV cameras there when Whybark and Doran tee off in 12 days. The best thing for the NAIA to do in order for it not to be a distraction to the other golfers who aren't used to this kind of coverage would be to pair the two of them together and watch the story continue.
I welcome your thoughts on this subject. Was this just good sportsmanship by Whybark or did he dishonor the game? How would you have handled the situation if you were Whybark or Doran for that matter? What ending would you like to see when the two compete at the NAIA National Championship? Thanks for taking the time to tee it up with me.