No matter which of the 156 golfers wins the U.S. Open this week in Pinehurst, North Carolina, he is unlikely to make as profound a statement as Jason Millard, who will not be there.
Millard, a struggling Web.com Tour player, enjoyed the thrill of a lifetime last Monday when he qualified for the Open. Then five days later, he called a penalty on himself that he knew would get him disqualified.
He still is not completely sure he committed the violation of grounding his club in a bunker -- touching the sand before his swing, a two-shot penalty -- and no one else saw it during the qualifier in Tennessee. But Millard could not convince himself that he was in the clear. So on his drive from his Tennessee home to Pinehurst on Saturday, he stopped, called the U.S. Golf Association, and turned himself in. He had signed for a 68 in the second round, but it should have been a 70, thus the disqualification.
"I didn't see anything for sure but I felt something and I saw a small indentation. It happened so fast, I really don't know 100 percent but deep down, I believe I did. I couldn't find peace about it. For five days, I practiced and I couldn't get it off my mind," the former two-time All-America golfer at Middle Tennessee State, 24, told the USGA. "It's heartbreaking, but what I was feeling in my heart wasn't right."
People who know Millard said the decision reflects the way he was raised. His father, Eddie, died of leukemia last year and his mother, Debbie, has multiple sclerosis. She has an aide, but primarily Jason is responsible for her care.
The USGA's chairman of the championship committee, Daniel B. Burton, said, "We commend Jason for bringing this matter to our attention," adding "we have no recourse but to disqualify him."
PGA Hall of Famer Michael Hebron, the director of golf at Smithtown Landing, said: "My thoughts go to the house he grew up in. I would say that he has insights into the game of golf that go beyond making a score."
Ten years ago, Hebron was the caddie for fellow pro Pat McGowan in the Champions Tour qualifying tournament in Pinehurst when McGowan saw that Hebron had inadvertently touched the inside of the cup. No one else noticed, including Hebron, and it provided no advantage. Still, McGowan called a two-stroke penalty on himself. He ultimately did earn his card that week.
Hebron never has met Millard, but he did hear his story. "In a world full of people in industries that cut corners, this man who is playing golf for a living showed how the spirit of the game includes not only playing golf, but having respect for the rules of golf," he said. "Perhaps other young people can learn from this."
Millard told Golfchannel.com that he went back home and shared his decision with his mother. He said he saw a tear fall down her cheek, adding, "Then she told me, 'You'll get 'em next year.' "