PINEHURST, N.C. -- The most honorable man in sports is doing his damnedest to avoid the TV. Jason Millard is a golfer who does not want to watch the golf at Pinehurst, not yet, anyway. He thinks he might give in for the final round of the U.S. Open, right after a planned Father's Day visit to his father's grave.
Millard peeked at a few highlights and updates Thursday and Friday, and there was a price to pay.
"It definitely is painful to see it," he said by phone. "Playing in the U.S. Open has always been a dream of mine, so it definitely hurts some inside."
He was supposed to be in the field at Pinehurst, measuring himself against Martin Kaymer and Phil Mickelson and the rest as a 24-year-old prospect living out that dream. But about 75 minutes into a 500-mile drive from his Murfreesboro, Tennessee, home to the North Carolina Sandhills, Millard told his caddie and childhood friend, Ryan Pierson, that the haunting thoughts of the past five days had broken his will to play.
Millard wasn't sure that he grounded his sand wedge in a bunker on the 27th hole of the 36-hole qualifier in Memphis, or that he deserved the 2-shot penalty he didn't assess himself, the penalty that would've knocked him out of the Open. But the former two-time All-American at Middle Tennessee State thought it was possible he did make a slight indentation in the sand on approach, and did sign for a 68 that should've been a 70. That stood in violation of Rule 34-1b.
"We were in the car heading to Pinehurst, about 30 minutes in," said Pierson, "and it was really tearing Jason up inside. We discussed it for 45 minutes, and we agreed that it was weighing on his mind so much that no matter how he played, it wouldn't be the week he wanted it to be."
They were teammates at Riverdale High School and golfing buddies at the local course, Indian Hills, where Pierson gives lessons and harbors his own visions of someday playing on tour. He had to miss the sectional qualifier to attend a wedding in Jamaica, but he'd been on Millard's bag for six years.
Jason and Ryan would act as one. They were going to DQ from the U.S. Open together.
"Are you still going to be my friend if I do this?" Millard asked.
He already knew the answer. They pulled off I-40 and found what Pierson called "an old, run-down gas station. I'm not even sure anyone was there." They called number after number in search of the proper golfing authority, but it was a Saturday and they kept getting funneled into voice mail.
Finally, Millard reached a USGA official and confessed to a crime he might not have committed against a plugged ball in a trap.
"I'd played well enough to qualify for the U.S. Open, and I'd played a U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst [in 2003] and loved the course," Millard said. "But the image of that bunker shot kept coming back to me, and it made me sick to my stomach for five days. It just gnawed at me, and I've never felt anything like it."
Of course, Millard didn't have to make the decision he made. The possible infraction wasn't spotted by any official or competitor, and wasn't called in by some fan washing down nachos in front of his high-def TV.