Big deal? State native Hayes rejects praise
If J.P. Hayes were reaching over Pau Gasol’s back to get a rebound with a minute left in Game 7, he’d blow the whistle on himself.
If any PGA Tour player, during the second stage of Qualifying School in 2008, had realized that he was playing with a ball that hadn’t been approved, he would disqualify himself.
In doing so he would ensure he would have to spend the entire next season on the tail end of a long waiting list.
That’s what J.P. Hayes maintains, to this day. That’s why he lets all the congratulations sail over his head, for sidelining himself for a violation that no one ever saw.
“I think it was good for the PGA Tour and good for the fans to be reminded that we all play by the rules that way,” Hayes said Wednesday, after his 7-under 65 at the Bob Hope Classic. Thursday’s second round was postponed due to rain.
“But I didn’t like being singled out as the one guy who decided to do it. I mean, that’s not true. It will probably happen every week this year. I was uncomfortable with people making it seem like it was an isolated incident, that I did something heroic.”
He didn’t rescue a collie from the path of a tractor-trailer, but by the standards of everyday life Hayes looked statesmanlike.
It happened at Deerwood Country Club in Kingwood, Texas, on the 12th hole of the first round. It wasn’t an issue of livelihood for Hayes, who has won more than $7.2 million and has been playing competitively since 1992. But he needed to at least make the finals to be able to plan his own schedule.
Hayes’ caddie flipped him a new ball, and Hayes later noticed it was a Titleist prototype ball, and not the same model with which he began the round. He called a two-stroke penalty on himself.
Then he got back to the hotel and realized that the particular ball had not yet been approved for tour play.
Thus, it was “nonconforming.”
Thus, Hayes should have been kicked out of the event.
He wouldn’t have been. Unless he called the tour and ratted himself out.
Which he did.
“I keep thinking it’s a nightmare and I’m going to wake up,” he said at the time.
As he explained, he always goes through his equipment and knows exactly what he’s using. He knew he had done wrong even if there was no replay booth or NCAA investigator at hand.
“I was surprised at how much publicity it got,” Hayes said.
So Hayes played 15 events in 2009, made six cuts, and found himself at Q School again, for the sixth time.
This time he got to the finals and finished eighth, in a tournament where the top 25 players hug their wives and the rest stare into their lockers. A third-round 63 removed stress.
“I didn’t feel a whole lot of pressure,” Hayes said. “If I had the same kind of year it wasn’t going to be the worst thing in the world. But I started playing well and thought, wow, this could be a pretty cool week.”
Skies continued to smile upon Hayes on Wednesday.
For nine holes the day was a sunny still-life portrait, and Hayes shot 5-under on his first nine. Then the wind and clouds invaded, and Hayes found himself using a 5-wood to reach a par-4. He still was 8-under until he bogeyed his final hole.
Until he became a symbol for truth and justice, Hayes was a tour silhouette. He’s 44, father of two, a fly fisherman on the weekends. He won Westchester in 1998 and Quad Cities in 2002, with 28 top 10s. He’s from Appleton, Wis., played at UTEP and lives in El Paso, and is a frequent practice buddy of 2002 PGA champ Rich Beem.
He realizes the World Golf Hall of Fame probably will elude him, so he plans to enjoy whatever golf he plays.
“Don’t get me wrong, I busted my butt to get back out here,” he said. “But there was a time when they couldn’t have enough tournaments for me. Then it got to the point where each week didn’t have a lot of meaning. When you play six in a row, it’s like, where was I last week? You don’t prepare, you just hang on and try to find some magic.
“You play eight or 10 in a row to get your tour card and then you say, what kind of a chance did I give myself to play well? Not very much.”
Hayes walked through his first inning of 2010 too briskly for the past to catch up. Besides, when you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember things.