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FIRST-PERSON: Kudos to Grant Whybark

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–“To find a man’s true character,” P.G. Wodehouse wrote, “play golf with him.” Because of the very nature of the game, I believe the English writer’s observation is spot on.

Golf is a game whereby the golfer primarily competes against an inanimate object — the golf course. The golfer must apply his or her skill level to the situation or shot at hand, while at the same time trying to manage emotions and maintain composure.

Distance, terrain, trees, water hazards, sand traps and green speed present the golfer with his greatest competition, not his playing partners. Add weather conditions to the mix and the golfer is faced with a most unforgiving foe.

“Golf put’s a man’s character on the anvil and his richest qualities — patience, poise and restraint — to the flame,” golfing professional Billy Casper once observed. Golf does not build character, it only reveals it.

The game of golf is built on integrity and sportsmanship. It is up to each individual golfer to not only keep his or her score, but to also enforce any and all penalties. “Golf is like solitaire,” professional golfer Tony Lema once said. “When you cheat, you only cheat yourself.”

In all of my years of playing golf I have learned that no one ever fully masters the swing or a course. The only hope a golfer really has of mastering anything in relation to golf is himself.

A golfer who masters himself is indeed an accomplished golfer — a great golfer. In my book, Grant Whybark is one such golfer.

Until recently, I had never heard of Whybark. Though he is no doubt a better than average golfer, he is not on the professional tour. In fact, he may never achieve that elite status. But make no mistake, he is an accomplished golfer.

Whybark, is a sophomore at the University of St. Francis located in Joliet, Ill. He is a member of the school’s golf team that competes in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference which is affiliated with the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

Whybark and his team recently competed in the conference championship, and his team won the tournament. However, Whybark was tied with Seth Doran, a senior from Olivet Nazarene, for low individual score for the conference tournament.

The team that wins the conference tournament as well as the golfer that wins the conference’s individual title both move on to compete for the NAIA National Championship.

Since Whybark’s team had already won the conference title, he was assured of a trip to the national tournament. However, Doran — who had never been to the national finals — would have to defeat Whybark in a playoff in order secure a spot.

On the first hole of the playoff to determine the conference individual champion, Whybark teed his ball. He studied the fairway, addressed the ball, took his club back and drove the ball long — 40 yards right of the fairway and out-of-bounds. Intentionally.

Whybark incurred one of the most disheartening penalties in golf. He not only lost a stroke but also distance, meaning he would be hitting his third shot from the exact spot from where he hit his tee shot. The result? He made double bogey.

Doran won the playoff hole with a birdie and not only earned the title of conference individual champ but also gained a berth in the NAIA national tournament.

Losing a playoff with a double bogey would not normally place someone in a position of being viewed as a great golfer. Not normally. However, Whybark’s six on the par-four hole was not normal, because he deliberately hit the ball out of bounds.

“We all know Seth [Doran] very well. He not only is a very good player, but a great person as well,” Whybark told Yahoo Sports. “He’s a senior and had never been to nationals…. It just wasn’t in my heart to try and knock him out.”

Some have criticized Whybark for “throwing” the hole and being so obvious about it. Some have insinuated he hit the ball out of bounds as a way of drawing attention to himself.

I would agree there might have been a more subtle way to go about ensuring his friend won the hole. He could have blown a putt or shanked a shot. Whybark appeared on “The Waddle & Silvy Show” on ESPN 1000 in Chicago and explained it was just a spur-of-the-moment decision.

Of course, Doran might well have beaten Whybark had they both played the hole straight up. After all, they were tied for first place. But Whybark wanted to make sure that his friend, a senior, would play in the national tournament, so he hit the ball out-of-bounds.

Say whatever you will about Grant Whybark, but hearing how he plays golf tells me he is a young man of sterling character. He is a great golfer in my book and great in the game of life.

The last line of the poem “Alumnus Football” by Grantland Rice speaks volumes, “For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He marks not that you won or lost — but how you played the Game.”
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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  • Kelly Boggs