By Sean Martin, Golfweek
Blayne Barber had easily advanced out of the first stage of PGA Tour Q-School, but something was weighing on him. It was an incident in the tournament’s second round, one of those moments when this game’s rules so harshly penalize the slightest misstep.
Barber was unsure if he’d brushed that leaf in the bunker on his 13th hole at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga., so he knew what he had to do: disqualify himself and forsake the opportunity to earn a PGA Tour card. His honesty allowed six other players – Jamie Arnold, Corbin Mills, Jonathan Moore, Chesson Hadley and former European Tour winners Robert-Jan Derksen and Maarteen Lafeber – to advance to Q-School’s second stage in his stead.
Barber, a member of last year’s U.S. Walker Cup team, immediately penalized himself one stroke for the potential infraction even though his caddie/brother, Shayne Barber, said the leaf hadn’t moved. Blayne also informed his playing partners of the penalty.
He was discussing the incident that evening with his former Auburn teammate, Michael Hebert, when Hebert said the penalty for such an infraction was two shots, not one (Rule 13-4c, "Ball in hazard; prohibited actions"). “That’s when things went haywire in my mind,” Barber said. “My caddie was watching and didn’t see the leaf move. I thought maybe I’d psyched myself into thinking I’d (touched the leaf).”
Barber played the final two rounds because his caddie was certain the leaf hadn’t moved. “I continued to pray about it and think about it, and I just did not have any peace about it,” Barber said. “I knew I needed to do the right thing. I knew it was going to be disqualification.”
Barber called the PGA Tour on Nov. 2, six days after the tournament ended, to report that he had signed an incorrect scorecard. His disqualification moved the six players who had tied for 19th into a tie for 18th. The top 18 and ties at Callaway Gardens were slated to advance to Q-School's second stage.
“I just feel peace about it,” Barber said. “Doing the right thing and doing what I know is right in my heart and in my conscience is more important than short-term success.”
Barber had advanced to the second stage with five shots to spare, but his failure to penalize himself that additional stroke resulted in his signing a lower scorecard, which results in disqualification. "It ultimately comes down to me not knowing it was a two-stroke penalty," Barber said.
It’s a tough turn in what had started as a promising pro career. Barber, 22, was one of the world’s top amateurs when he turned pro earlier this year after graduating from Auburn with a degree in finance.
He tied for 33rd in his pro debut at this year’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational on the Web.com Tour, and finished 15th in his other start on that circuit, at the Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open. He won three of five starts on the NGA (formerly Hooters) Tour, including a victory at Hombre Golf Club in Panama City Beach, Fla., which would’ve been his site for Q-School’s second stage.
Now, he will rely on Monday qualifying and sponsor exemptions for starts on the PGA and Web.com tours, and try to earn a card or his way into the Web.com Tour Finals, the tournaments that will replace Q-School as a source of PGA Tour cards. Barber also is getting married Dec. 15 to Morgan Stanford.
Mills, the 2011 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion, birdied two of his final three holes at first stage. He thought he had safely advanced to second stage after making a 15-foot birdie putt on his final hole. He drove home disappointed, though, after apparently missing by one stroke. He learned Nov. 2 that his quest for a PGA Tour card continues. He called his new opportunity “a second life. It’s a blessing.”
Moore is seeking his first trip to Q-School finals after a successful amateur career that included the 2006 NCAA title and an appearance on the 2007 U.S. Walker Cup team that also featured future PGA Tour winners Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Kyle Stanley and Chris Kirk. Moore played this season in Asia, recently collecting a career-best second-place finish at the Macau Open.
“You don’t even think it’s an option, that once you miss that you’re going to get a call back that you get to keep going,” said Moore, who is 16th on the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit. He was scheduled to play in the Hong Kong Open, which is co-sanctioned by the European and Asian tours, next week, but will stay stateside to chase his PGA Tour dream. “It was a shock more than anything.”