Garner firefighter Whit Young came in second place at the North Carolina State Firemen’s Association’s golf tournament in July.
If he had forced his opponent to play by the rules, he would have won it.
“It was one of the craziest experiences I’ve ever been a part of. The way it ended was just crazy,” Young said.
In a show of sportsmanship, Young declined to take advantage of a fluke on a playoff hole, gave his opponent a free drop and paid for it.
But the price, for him, was worth it.
“When it was all said and done, I felt like I had won. People were telling me how good sportsmanship it was, how it was a class act,” Young said.
Young, participating in the tournament for the first time, shot 74 on the first day of the July 21-22 event at Pine Hallow Golf Course in Clayton, and 73 the next. That two-day score left the former Clayton High School golfer tied with Ron Smith, a firefighter from Charlotte, for low-score in the tournament, which Young estimated had about 80-100 golfers.
With a gallery of dozens gathered to watch, the two played five playoff holes. They tied each of them. But on the ninth hole, intense morphed into bizarre.
Smith hit a tee shot to the right side of the fairway toward some trees. Young hit one into a similar area. The pair went to look for the ball. But even with what Young called 30-40 people helping, they couldn’t find it, even though it wasn’t a fully-wooded area but just some trees between two holes. Smith prepared to head back toward the tee box and likely defeat to hit a second tee shot.
Then someone looked up.
“It was just sitting up in a fork of a tree, between two tree branches,” Young said.
By rule, that could have been a penalty stroke and a huge advantage for Young. But without Smith saying a word, Young said he took it upon himself to offer to have someone dislodge the ball. He said Smith could just play it where it landed.
“We had played so many playoff holes. It was just a tight battle, and just to know some freak thing happened out of his control,” Young said. “Yes, he hit it into the woods, but you thought worst-case scenario he’d have just had to punch it out.”
After a fortuitous bounce out of the tree, Smith was able to punch his next shot down the fairway. Young, also obstructed by some trees, had to play into the fairway as well – landing his ball basically right next to Smith’s.
Essentially all square, Smith then stuck his approach shot to within about a foot of the hole. It proved decisive; he would tap in for birdie after Young missed his 12-foot birdie putt.
Young, who grew up and still lives in Clayton, has been with Garner Volunteer Fire and Rescue for two years after five years as a volunteer at Archers Lodge starting at age 16 and another two working for Bay Leaf Fire Department. His great grandfather, a fire chief, had inspired his career choice.
He and Capt. Brad Mitchell had both competed in the tournament. Mitchell said of the ball perching in the tree “I would not have believed it if I did not see it myself.” He also predicted that Young would win that tournament again.
Young hadn’t known if he’d have a shot going into the tournament to win it, but felt good about his chances after the first day. He said he wanted to get Garner Fire some notoriety at an event that included a team component, one requiring more golfers than Garner entered and that generally turned into a Raleigh-Charlotte rivalry.
In the end, the Garner firefighter generated plenty of attention, saying that higher-ranking firefighters had approached him and told him they were impressed.
“It was a positive thing,” Young said.“If I had it all over again I wouldn’t have changed anything.”