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Waterlogged

A dropped ball, a midtournament swim and a test of resolve for a Jacksonville golfer

by David Wicks as told to Brian Burnsed

I was on my 13th hole of the last round of our NCAA regional tournament and had just attempted a 25-foot putt over the hill for par, which I left about 2 or 3 feet behind the hole. After I marked my ball, I knelt to read the putt on the bank of the slope just above the bulkhead by the water. As I put my hand in my pocket and pulled my ball out, it dropped out of my pocket, kicked off the back of my heel and shot down into the hazard by the green. For three of four seconds, I thought I better replace it. Then it hit me that I might be in a bit of trouble.

I walked away from the spot to get the referee. He told me it was a penalty to substitute your ball. “You’ll be tapping in for six unless you find the ball and finish the hole with it,” he told me.

He didn’t think I would go in to find it. 

I was playing well at the time, and the team was doing quite well, too. We were in contention for our first trip to the national championship. So there was no doubt in my mind I was going to go in and have a little look. Imagine if I’d not gotten in and we’d missed it by one.

I got my clothes off, pulled myself down the bulkhead and had a rummage around. I had five minutes to find it. The rule’s not very clear, and I think people were quite amazed that I had to find the ball. People in the gallery found it funny. It was actually a quite nice temperature, the water. Quite cool. Refreshing.

I found about 30 balls. None of them were mine.

It was terrible. Hot. I’d just come out of the water. A woman brought me a tablecloth, which I managed to dry off with. I put my shorts back on, but of course had wet underwear on.

I had to go and get another ball and tap it in. I was OK with the putt, but angry at the game of golf more than anything else. It didn’t seem like I deserved a two-shot penalty there, especially because I had the ball marked on the green. It just seemed a little unfair at the time, but I had to get my head over it and crack on with the next five holes.

I knew there was something bigger than that moment about to happen. I had to put that in the back of my mind and just work for the bigger goal, which was to make nationals.

I think I was in one of those moods where I was self-determined and I didn’t really need to hear anything more about the situation. My coach simply gave me yardage on the next hole and let me do my own thing. He tried to stay calm. Deep down, I’m pretty sure he was angry at me.

I made par on the next four holes. Then, on my last hole of the round, I had to hit a 4-iron, a high cut to a back pin. I hit it straight down the flag to about 15 feet. It felt nice to hit it in the center of the green. Unfortunately, I missed the putt, but had a good effort and made par. We finished the tournament tied with Northwestern for fifth, forcing a playoff that would determine who earned the last spot in the national championship.

As soon as we got off the course before the playoff, I started hearing it from my teammates. It wasn’t long before the texts and messages and videos come flying in. “You love being center of attention,” one said, joking around. “Anything to get your top off in front of the ladies,” was another. I had to switch my phone off and try to separate myself from that moment before we started the playoff. Plus, I had to take a shower.

We ended up clinching a spot in the national championship after two playoff holes. Coach was happy with how I held myself. I managed to finish with seven pars despite my little swim. 

If we’d lost in the playoff or missed it by one stroke, it would have been one of the worst memories of my life. But because it turned out well, it’s one of the happiest, for sure. 

David Wicks and his Jacksonville teammates earned the program’s first trip to the Division I Men’s Golf Championships this spring. The next week, they missed the cut in that tournament. The native of England graduated this spring with a degree in communications.

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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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