• Alistair Tait

Obscure Englishman deserves place on golf's roll of honour

Brian Davis will probably go down in golf’s record books as a mere footnote. He deserves a high place on golf’s roll of honour for his integrity.

The Englishman’s action in the 2010 Verizon Heritage on the PGA Tour, which was due to take place this week, should always be remembered. It’s further proof, if any were needed, that our game stands above all sports when it comes to abiding by the rules and spirit of fair play.

Davis, chasing his first PGA Tour title, found himself in a sudden-death playoff with Jim Furyk at Harbour Town Golf Club in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Furyk took the title at the first extra hole when Davis called a two-shot penalty on himself after touching reeds in the hazard beside the 18th green. His actions weren’t discernible to anyone but himself, but he had no hesitation in alerting PGA Tour rules official Slugger White to his misdemeanour.

The then 35 year old cost himself £270,000 as a result, but it was a price worth paying.

“I could not have lived with myself,” he said.
"Obviously I want to win a PGA Tour event more than just about anything but no victory would be worthwhile if it had a cloud hanging over it. I am proud to uphold the values that my parents taught me and I teach my kids the same stuff. Be honest in your sport and in your life and simply do your best. That's all you can do."

The Englishman was a little surprised by the fuss his action caused. His reaction was similar to legend Bobby Jones, who once said this about calling a penalty on himself:

"You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank."

Furyk took home £674,000 for the victory. Davis had to settle for £404,000. Furyk was quick to acknowledge Davis’s sportsmanship in his victory press conference. He said:

“It's obviously a tough loss for him, and I respect and admire what he did. To be there and be in the battle and have an opportunity to win the golf tournament, and then have to call a penalty on yourself has got to be extremely disappointing. I admire him for what he did. It's a testament to our game and the people that play on the tour, and that we have so many guys that do that.”

Davis won twice on the European Tour – the 2000 Spanish Open and 2004 ANZ Championship – before joining the PGA Tour in 2005. His second-place finish to Furyk is one of five runner-up finishes on that circuit, where he’s made over $13 million.

The Londoner, son in law of former England goalkeeper Ray Clemence, isn’t the first player to call a penalty on himself for committing an infringement no one else could possibly have seen. He won’t be the last either. It’s what marks our sport out from others, where cheating sometimes seems to be part and parcel of winning.

Davis’s honesty at a time when he stood to realise a dream of winning on the PGA Tour still remains a credit not only to his integrity, but to our game.

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