This is a story that will take me some length of time to chronicle, but only because a lot of you who aren’t familiar with golf and it’s rules and etiquette will need a quick “Golf 101″ to fully appreciate my claim that golf, indeed, is a GREAT game.
Yesterday was the Final of the 2007 Baltimore Match Play Championship and I was fortunate enough to work my way through my half of the 32-player bracket to make it into the championship match against a good friend of mine, Al Medlin. The summary of the story is this: Al beat me on Sunday at Mount Pleasant, 3 and 1, which means after 17 holes – with one hole to play – he had an insurmountable 3-hole lead. It was a great weekend of golf for me, despite the loss. I won two very exciting, see-saw matches on Saturday at Pine Ridge just to make it into the Finals and I played well again on Sunday…but Al was just a little bit better. And that’s how golf goes. You can play your best or close to your best and someone else makes one more putt or hits one more good shot than you do – and you don’t win.
But that’s not the story.
The story took place on Saturday afternoon at Pine Ridge. I was playing against Brad Foxwell and Al Medlin was playing Ed Legg in another quarter-final match. We went out as “foursomes”, meaning there were four of us in the group, but I was playing my match against Foxwell while Medlin and Legg were playing their match against one another.
On the 11th hole, Legg was 2-up on Medlin, meaning he had a 2-hole lead with 8 holes to play. We were all on the green and Foxwell had a putt of about 20 feet, but in his intended line of the putt he was about to make was Legg’s coin, which is used (for those of you not familiar with golf) to “mark” his ball’s position on the green. When on the putting surface, a player places a coin behind his ball, and then lifts the ball so others can play without interference. So, with Legg’s coin directly in his putting line, Foxwell asked Legg to move his coin “one to the left”, which is golf talk for moving his coin one putter-head length left or right…so that the coin is no longer in the intended line of the putt. Legg complied, moved his coin, and Foxwell putted. It was then Medlin’s turn to putt and he did.
Here’s where the story gets great.
Legg returned to his coin, put his ball down and started to go through his routine to make his putt when Medlin – his opponent – suddenly stopped him. “Eddie, did you move your coin back? I don’t think you did.”
Legg bent down, put his coin back on the green and said, “No, I didn’t. Thanks for reminding me.” He then replaced his coin to its original spot, placed his ball on the green and made a 6-foot putt that retained his 2-hole lead.
What makes golf so great is that Medlin would have WON THE HOLE had Legg not returned his coin to its original location. The penalty, in match play, for not replacing your coin is LOSS OF HOLE. By reminding Legg he had forgotten to move his coin back, Medlin was, in all reality, helping his opponent not commit a rules infraction. And with that, Legg kept his 2-hole lead, all because his opponent helped him.
Can you imagine, for one second, Kelly Gregg coming to the line of scrimmage and looking over at Cleveland’s Eric Steinbach and saying, “hey, dude, you look like you’re lined up offsides…better scoot back a half-step or so.”?
Is there any other sport out there where players who are competing against one another take the time to advise him/her of a possible rules infraction before it occurs?
It struck me, as I watched that unfold on Saturday afternoon, that the Golf Gods would somehow repay Medlin for that sportsmanlike act. They did – he went on to beat Legg in extra holes Saturday…then he won his semi-final match later in the afternoon…and then, he beat me yesterday in the Final.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Al Medlin won those matches because he’s a helluva player. But there are times when a player gets rewarded for “doing the right thing” and, in Al’s case, his reward was the 2007 Baltimore Match Play Championship.
Congratulations to a fine player, a nice man and a true golfing sportsman. Well done, my friend.