10 years after an incredible act of sportsmanship.
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April 17, 2020
By Doug Milne Jr., PGATOUR.COM
On Thursday, while home in Orlando, Florida, celebrating his son’s 16th birthday, PGA TOUR veteran Brian Davis received an unexpected call from his longtime caddie, Steve Hulka.
While Hulka certainly didn’t want to interrupt Oliver’s big day, his call’s primary purpose was to wish Brian a happy 10th anniversary.
Not only did the Englishman need no refresher as to what anniversary Hulka was referring to, but he also wasted no time engaging in the celebratory conversation of the 2010 RBC Heritage.
The anniversary, though, was not the mark of a victory. In fact, it stands to represent one of the most storied losses in PGA TOUR history.
But then again, if ever a victory could emerge from the smoldering ashes of a brutally disappointing loss, it was April 18, 2010, the final round that year at Harbour Town Golf Links.
Most remember how the story unfolded. In search of his first career PGA TOUR title in his then-169th start, Davis followed a bogey-free 5-under 66 in the third round with a 3-under 68 on Sunday. A birdie on the 72nd hole moved Davis to 13-under 271, forcing a playoff with Jim Furyk.
Back at the par-4 18th for the first hole of sudden death, Davis pulled his approach shot left of the green, pin high, into a hazard.
“To this day, for whatever reason, the thing that stands out more than anything was when Slugger (White, PGA TOUR Tournament Director and Rules Official) came over to look at my situation,” Davis said. “Before he walked away, Slugger looked at me and said, ‘Brian, it is a hazard, so just be careful.’ ”
Had Davis’ club touched the reeds in the hazard with his swing, there would have been no problem – provided the reed was intact and not considered “loose.” As fate would have it, the reed Davis did make contact with was not attached.
10 years after an incredible act of sportsmanship!
The result? Davis called a two-stroke penalty on himself. Instead of his first TOUR win, it was the fourth of his five career runner-up finishes in 370 starts.
Had Davis, the only one to know what happened, not reported the infraction, there’s no telling how his life may have been forever changed.
Davis, though, immediately called White back over.
“At the time, I had no idea what was happening or what was going to happen afterward,” Davis recalled. “I saw a reed move as a result of my swing and got Slugger back over so I could explain what I had seen happen.”
“I can’t believe it’s been 10 years,” said White. “Brian Davis is aces in my book. I was probably only 30 feet away and didn’t see it. But he did. And calling it on himself was incredible.”
“When I did it, I didn’t even think about it,” Davis said. “And I never could’ve imagined what was going to be the fallout with all the TV interviews, radio interviews, magazine and newspaper interviews … and even all the letters I received.”
Did it open his eyes? Not really. Davis was confident in doing what he believed to be simply the right thing.
After everything settled that Sunday night 10 years ago, Davis was asked to come to the media center for a press conference. It coincided with the trophy presentation taking place on the 18th green with Furyk.
“I was happy to oblige going to the media center, but I was also totally deflated,” Davis recalled. “Most people don’t truly understand what losing a PGA TOUR event takes out of a person. So, I was quite numb the whole time trying to process the loss while they are firing questions at me about the ruling and decision I made.”
When Furyk spoke to the media in his winner’s press conference, he addressed the situation straight away – and cited his admiration for Davis. “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,” he said that night. “I admire him for what he did. It’s a testament to our game and the people that play on the TOUR.”
Davis understood the media’s curiosity but said it was difficult being in there, breaking down what was, in fact, a loss.
“I’ll always remember that when I left the golf course later that night, I didn’t have a single text message on my phone,” Davis said this week. “There were no voicemails, no nothing. I figured all my friends and family were scared to reach out to me because they thought I was going to be all ticked off for having lost in a playoff because of a ruling I called on myself.”
After he crossed a bridge off Hilton Head Island, Davis’s phone began to blow up. Until that point, it had no signal.
“My agent just kept calling and calling and calling until I finally picked up,” Davis said. “He told me, ‘Look, I don’t know if you have been paying attention, but this thing has completely blown up, and I have already booked you for interviews tomorrow from 9 a.m. straight until 5 p.m.’”
Having spent the bulk of the time on the phone with family and friends, Davis recalls South Carolina’s drive back home to Orlando going rather quickly. The impact extended much longer than just that night. Everybody was touched by his incredible act of sportsmanship.
“I got lots of letters of support from family and friends and people I didn’t even know,” Davis said. “But the one which really stands out was a letter I got from a teacher somewhere in Texas. She explained that she had used what I did for a project in her class about doing the right thing. She even had every kid in her class write me a letter. That’s when it really hit home. I was just, like, wow.”
Once the attention died down a few weeks later, Davis was able to take stock of what it all truly entailed.
“I was back to looking at my position on lists, and I was looking at upcoming tournaments that I didn’t know if I was qualified for,” Davis said. “Those were all still things I had to consider. But, if I had won, none of that would’ve had to cross my mind. I would have also been able to get excited about taking my family to places like Kapalua.”
He spends his days with his two sons and daughter. While he says his kids are old enough to now understand what they were vaguely remembering seeing a decade ago, Davis prefers them to have a well-rounded picture of all dad has done.
“We don’t want to be remembered in our careers for penalties we call on ourselves,” he said. “I want to be remembered for things like winning the Spanish Open like I did [in 2000 on the European Tour]. That’s the kind of thing I want to remember and be remembered for.”
The PGA TOUR’s collective character is that its members don’t tend to dwell upon game strategy, not always translating into the W. Instead, they place their focus on ways to improve the next time that tee goes into the ground.
Because of the standout event at the 2010 RBC Heritage, Davis just didn’t feel like he had that time to shift gears for several weeks. However, four starts later, Davis claimed his fifth and most recent runner-up finish at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club.
“All the Hilton Head stuff was a long time ago, and I just don’t think about it much these days,” he admitted. “But even away from the golf course, the subject does still come up. So, that still makes me think about it, but I don’t analyze and process it anymore like I used to.”
Yet, it still resonates.
10 years after an incredible act of sportsmanship!
“What Brian did 10 years ago says so much for his character,” White said. “What a wonderful, wonderful guy. His integrity is next to none. It’s just that good.”
“When you’re on the PGA TOUR, you are on the main stage,” Davis said. “We are self-governed out here, so I think that anytime we can exemplify that and it comes out good, well, then it’s a good thing — no matter who ends up holding the trophy that week.”
Source: Doug Milne Jr., PGATOUR.COM
Pictures: Stan Badz (PGA Tour) SkySports
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