For Milbourn, conscience was easy call


May 16, 2007|By MILTON KENT

There were at least three other playing partners and an observer at the eighth hole at Long View last Wednesday during the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland golf championship, none of whom saw Hayley Milbourn strike the wrong ball.

Truth be told, Milbourn didn't even know what she had done until one hole later, when the round was done, when she could have claimed her third straight IAAM individual championship.

Milbourn could, and probably would, have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for one thing: her conscience.

"I could have [gotten away with it]," said Milbourn, a senior at Roland Park. "But I would have been disgusted with myself if I would have just put the ball back in my bag and taken the trophy.

"When I was on the green thinking about how I should tell everyone, I thought about if I put the ball back in my bag ... I thought about taking the trophy and I couldn't even see myself walking up to get it."

So, Milbourn reported her violation to tournament officials and took the automatic disqualification with no sympathy asked and without a trace of regret.

"Hayley certainly knows the rules of golf and she knew that this was going to have a consequence," said Tara Kramer, her Roland Park coach. "And in the back of her mind, I'm sure she had thought disqualification. That just makes it that much more incredible. She could have just stuck the ball in her pocket and walked away. And she didn't do that."

Milbourn, 18, who plays out of the Baltimore Country Club, was leading the field by five strokes after the first day of the two-day, 18-hole IAAM tournament, likely needing only to finish the nine holes to clinch her third straight league title.

On the eighth hole last Wednesday, Milbourn, an All-Metro golfer and All-City tennis player last year, who is nationally ranked in squash, fired her drive off the tee into the rough just to the right of the green on the par-4 hole. She chipped it out with a pitching wedge and went on to complete the round, apparently with a nine-stroke lead.

However, while putting her equipment away, Milbourn noticed that one of the balls in her bag was older and more scuffed than the new Nike balls that she had been playing. She didn't know where this ball had come from or who had played it, but she knew it wasn't hers.

"I thought, `Uh-oh. This is not my ball. What am I going to do?'" Milbourn said. "I wasn't being careful, which kind of proved why it took me until the ninth hole when I had time to look over my ball and I realized it was not my ball."

To outsiders, golf is a world of garish clothing, unnecessary walking on long, hot greens and roughs when riding in a cart will do, and mostly, byzantine rules and regulations.

It's a sport in which a golfer can get a mulligan for a bad tee shot or a putt gone funky, but also in which a guy sitting on his couch watching his television can wreak havoc on a tournament by calling in to snitch on even the slightest infraction.

To the weekend duffer and the Masters champion and everyone in between, golf is not only the proverbial test of man or woman against the course, but also a measure of how ethical you are, about what you do when no one is watching.

"Golf, in its truest nature, is a game of integrity. It always has been," said Kramer, who has coached the Roland Park program since it became a varsity sport three years ago.

"That's why they have a rule book that's really thick and full of details about certain rules. They try to play out all the certain scenarios. What other sport is there where you could be watching at home from your living room and call and say you saw somebody break a rule? It's crazy."

Milbourn's possible disqualification had ramifications beyond her own title hopes. The Reds won the first IAAM title in 2005 and finished as runners-up to McDonogh last year. With Milbourn, Roland Park had an excellent chance to regain the title.

But Milbourn realized that a trophy without honor really wasn't worth keeping, and the fact that she knew that she won comfortably had no bearing on doing what she felt was right.

So she informed tournament officials, who huddled for about an hour. After the caucus, the ruling was that Milbourn would be disqualified, but that her team could keep her scores for the previous 16 holes. Milbourn was given a double par on the eighth and ninth holes, and the Reds won the team title.

Because of the disqualification, Milbourn wasn't named to the IAAM All-Star list, and she won't be going to Amherst College in the fall as a three-time conference champion.

But Hayley Milbourn will live the rest of her life with a clear conscience, and that counts for a lot more than a golf trophy.

"I have a lot more golf to play," Milbourn said. "This is not my last tournament in my life. It was just one tournament. It doesn't define the rest of my life. I have a pretty heavy conscience, and that's what led me to make the decision I did. It's always good to do what your conscience tells you to do."

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