"I have seen this happen many times during my career," says longtime Hope College men's golf coach Bob Ebels in relating a personal experience at the NCAA Division III national championships. "Our young golfer called a penalty on himself for hitting the wrong make of golf ball. This was done without his playing competitor knowing that he hit the wrong ball. It led to a DQ at the national tournament."
Nick Campbell of Saline, Mich. was the Hope golfer faced with the toughest decision of his career, but he didn't hesitate for one moment: "Golf is certainly a unique sport in that the players are expected to adhere to a certain code of etiquette that surrounds the game," he says. "Growing up as a young player, I was taught the rules and how to conduct myself on the course just as frequently as I was taught the fundamentals of the swing. I learned of players that enforced the rules upon themselves and were celebrated for their honesty, because the golf community is proud of its reputation as a game where maintaining one's honor is held equally as high as winning.
I don't think my parents or coaches were surprised when they heard what had happened, because they were the ones who always stressed the concept of playing with integrity. Integrity is worthless if it only shows up when people are watching.
"The NCAA Tournament incident, in my mind, was just a reflection of everyone who had influenced me growing up in and around competitive golf. I don't think my parents or coaches were surprised when they heard what had happened, because they were the ones who always stressed the concept of playing with integrity. Integrity is worthless if it only shows up when people are watching. I'll tell you what though, that doesn't make it any easier when you have to sit the rest of the day out and know that you might have hurt your team."
Nick Campbell's action at nationals left a lasting impression on his teammate, Andy Thomson of Beaver Dam, Wisc. who has himself been honored for sportsmanship. "I can’t think of any better example of honesty and integrity in our game than in Nick's decision to call a penalty on himself at the NCAA Championships," said Thomson, who was voted by his peers to receive the 2011 Sportsmanship Award of the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association. "If Nick hadn’t called the penalty on himself, no one would have ever known that he broke a rule...except Nick. For calling the penalty on himself, he was disqualified from the first round of play, but he successfully upheld the integrity of our game, and that is true sportsmanship."
Coach Ebels believes that such decisions follow naturally from a commitment to doing the "right things," a habit that coaches -- whatever the sport -- play a major role in developing.
"We coaches set the bar -- how we treat other coaches; how we talk and handle ourselves; how we respect the rules of golf; how we treat and respect golfers from other schools. Our student-athletes are watching and they will model the values we've demonstrated when it’s their turn to lead."