The Most Important Golf Story of the Year (That You Likely Never Heard About): Brian Davis Lost a Championship, but Maintained His Integrity
Yaeger, Don, Success
Brian Davis had a tough call to make, much tougher than the one he had made an hour earlier on the golf course.
Davis, a 16-year veteran of professional golf, had been on the edge of his first-ever win on the PGA tour this spring, in a sudden-death playoff at the Verizon Heritage at Hilton Head, S.C. Then, while hitting onto the green, Davis felt his 7-iron brush a small reed in his backswing. Immediately, he called the tournament director over, explained what had happened, and insisted that he be penalized the standard two strokes under PGA Rule 13.4, which prohibits "moving a loose impediment."
The decision guaranteed him a second place finish--and a challenging phone call with his 6-year-old son, Oliver.
"Oliver knows that I'm out here playing to win every week, and he knows I've never finished first on the PGA Tour," Davis tells SUCCESS. "And every Monday he asks me, Daddy, when are you going to win?' He had been watching the Heritage with my wife at our home in Orlando, and she told me that when I tied the tournament to send it into a playoff, he was running around the house cheering. Now I was about to start my drive home, and as soon as I got in the car, I dialed the house."
Davis's call home on this Sunday night came with an extra challenge, he says. He recounts the story three weeks later with Oliver sitting on his lap during a break at the Tournament Players Championship. "Before this  tour season began, the kids had been asking for a dog and I told them that when daddy won a tournament, they'd get their puppy," Davis says. "Talk about pressure."
When Davis got the chance to talk to Oliver, he was trying, as he put it, "to explain that Daddy won, but he didn't win."
The victory he wanted to make sure his son saw? "You have to do the right thing, even if it looks like it costs you. I wanted him to know I finished second, but can hold my head high," the 36-year-old Brit says. "Now, he said he understood ... but he really wanted that dog!"
Davis has had the kind of quiet professional career that most would consider respectable, but not great. He turned pro in 1994, the same year he turned 20, and he is hailed at home as one of England's rising stars in the golf world. His career grew steadily but unremarkably as he played on the European Tour before finally qualifying for the PGA in 2004.
Then, in April, his luck seemed about to turn as an outstanding final round at the Heritage--including an amazing 40-foot putt on the final hole--landed him in the playoff with PGA great Jim Furyk. It was everything he had been working for and dreaming of most of his life. Until he saw the reed move during his swing.
The violation was barely discernible, even in slow-motion. But after reviewing video of Davis's play, officials were able to confirm that a tiny twig had, in fact, been disturbed by his backswing. Even though the movement gave him no competitive advantage, the rules clearly called for the penalty that assured Davis would finish second--and lose $411,000, which was the difference between the first and second place checks. But no one considers Davis to have been the loser that day--not even. Furyk, for whom this victory at the Heritage was his 15th on the PGA tour.
Tournament Director Slugger White praised Davis's honesty: "That will come back to him in spades, tenfold." And in some ways, it already has. Almost immediately, Davis started receiving voice mails, text messages and e-mails thanking him for his honesty, remarking on his integrity, and above all, congratulating him on being a solid role model.
The notes came from fans, from professors on ethics and even from his peers. …