Ruling changes Chesson Hadley’s golf fortunes

Chesson Hadley will tee it up Thursday in the Stadion Classic at UGA, alongside John Daly and a host of golf’s household names, with a chance to win $99,000. At the same time, 80 miles to the east, Blayne Barber will play for relative peanuts in a mini-tour event in McCormick, S.C.

The difference in their paths is as tiny as a leaf in a bunker.

Quite literally.

“I’m here as a direct result of what (Barber) did,” said Hadley, a former Georgia Tech player now playing on the Web.com Tour.

The explanation of why Hadley is here and Barber is there serves to illustrate the rigidness of the rules of golf, the integrity of the game golfers hold so sacred and the brutal competitiveness of the profession.

Barber, a former Auburn player, advanced out of the first stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School in October when he finished fourth at Callaway Gardens. Hadley finished in a six-way tie for 19th, meaning he missed making the next stage by a single stroke.

Then Barber had a stroke of conscience.

In the second round of play on Callaway’s Mountain View course, Barber’s club struck a leaf in a bunker on his backswing. That’s a violation of rule 13-4 in the Rules of Golf. Barber’s caddie, his brother Shayne Barber, insisted he didn’t hit the leaf. But Barber was sure he did, so he informed his playing partners and called a one-stroke penalty on himself. Barber would shoot 70 that day and, after two more sub-par rounds, carded a score of 14 under to easily advance to the next stage.

It wasn’t until later, as Barber was explaining his bunker adventures to his roommate Michael Hebert, that he realized he had made a mistake. Hebert, a former Auburn teammate, informed Barber he thought it should have been a two-stroke penalty. Barber grabbed his Rules of Golf book off the shelf and, sure enough, his roommate was right.

Barber knew then what he had to do, but he didn’t do it right away. He still wasn’t 100 percent certain that he actually struck the leaf. And even if he did, he was six strokes above the cutline to advance. Who would know?

But Barber, a devout Christian, said it became clear to him after he prayed about it that night. Six days after the tournament ended, he called the PGA and told them he had signed an incorrect scoreboard. He was disqualified.

“The reason it took so long is I tried to convince myself that I didn’t hit it and I really knew that I did,” said Barber, a first-team All-American as a junior at Auburn in 2012. “It didn’t move or anything. I barely clipped it, and my brother was the only one standing there… . But I knew in my heart I really did, and I knew what I had to do.”

So as the Web.com Tour arrived in Athens this week, Hadley arrived with full status, meaning he had a place in the field of 157 competing for a $600,000 purse on the UGA Golf Course.

Barber, meanwhile, came to Jennings Mill Country Club on Monday hoping to earn one of 14 spots among 300 golfers through open qualifying. He shot a 1-under 71 and finished three shots out. So he hopped in his car and headed east to McCormick and the National Golf Association Tour.

Barber is 27th after two events on the NGA (formerly Hooters) tour. He Monday-qualified for the PGA Tour’s Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club in February, made the cut and finished in a tie for 42nd. He also played his way into the Puerto Rico Open and made the cut there.

Barber has played his way into two Web.com events, making the cut and finishing sixth in Louisiana, but not knowing where he’ll play next has made it a grind.

“It’s just part of the process, and it’s going to take a little more time to reach my goals,” Barber said after finishing his round at Jennings Mill. “Maybe I could have if that hadn’t occurred. But it was something I had to do and I don’t regret it at all.”

The happy ending to Barber’s story is that six other players — including Hadley — advanced to the second stage as a result of his actions. Robert-Jan Derksen, Jamie Arnold, Corbin Mills, Jonathan Moore and Maarten Lafeber all got a step closer to their dreams. Only Hadley made it all the way to the final stage and, ultimately, to the Web.com Tour.

“He changed my life,” said Hadley, who ranks 90th on the Web.com tour. “I was potentially going to hang it up. I was really thinking about it… . I was given a gift. And I’ve been fortunate enough to take advantage of that.”