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Arvia: Golf lessons in the game of life

Lemont golfer Shane Purtle called penalty stroke himself while tied for lead 2011 Class 2A state tournament. | File photo

Lemont golfer Shane Purtle called a penalty stroke on himself while tied for the lead of the 2011 Class 2A state tournament. | File photo

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Updated: October 21, 2012 2:09PM



“You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank as to praise him for playing by the rules.” — Bobby Jones

The above quote might have seemed an odd choice to employ in praise of Shane Purtle, but Lemont golf coach Mark Hollatz used the words, without irony, at a gathering to honor his player.

Jones’ philosophy moved Purtle, tied for the lead late in the final round of the 2011 Class 2A state tournament, to call a one-shot penalty on himself for an infraction witnessed by no one else.

“He’s on 13, a par-5, about 100 yards out,” Hollatz said Monday, ticking off the details as if they were moments, not 11 months, old. “He’s walking off his yardage. He inadvertently nudges his ball. It didn’t move more than an inch.

“I didn’t see it. His dad didn’t see it. The other players didn’t see it. All of a sudden, we see Shane waving a rules official over.”

Purtle re-placed the ball. He would finish third. Later, he explained simply the decision to penalize himself, saying, “I had to do it.”

His coach, and many others, see too many players who haven’t yet developed that conscience. Golf is a gentleman’s game. But high school golf is played by those who are not yet men.

“For him to do that at this stage of his life,” Hollatz said, “that means more to me than winning the state title.

“At this age, there’s a lot of pressure on the kids. At Shane’s age, that’s really not the norm. ... I wish I could say golf at the high school level (is clean), but I don’t know.”

I don’t, either. I do know that kids sometime make mistakes in the heat of the moment. I know that a mistake isn’t who you are, but what you did.

And I know that on Sept. 8, Lincoln-Way Central’s Bryant Bolden was disqualified from the Providence Invitational after dropping a ball during a search for his lost tee shot and allegedly attempting to pass that ball off as the errant drive.

Three days later, sidelined for a dual meet, Bryant conceded he’d dropped a ball, claimed no intent to deceive and chalked the disqualification up to a misunderstanding. His grandfather, Central assistant coach Ken Connor, further asserted Bolden’s benching was “not a punishment,” adding, “we feel the committee acted too quickly and acted unjust.”

Set aside the accusations and defenses of boys, hot and cold running creatures not yet still enough to allow their character to coalesce. Three men — three golf gentlemen — were on the rules committee. A fourth was the first coach on the scene and part of the conversations that led to the disqualification. All of them, and arguably Central’s athletic administration, have been impugned, if not intentionally, by efforts to defend Bolden.

Let’s take the last of those notions first. Lincoln-Way Central athletic director Hud Venerable made it clear Connor was not speaking for the school.

“From all the information that I’ve been able to gather, from talking to coaches, players and the members of the rules committee, I support the decision of the rules committee,” he said. “I feel the committee acted appropriately.”

As for that committee, its members were chosen by Providence coach John Platt, a nine-year PGA professional, for what he said was a demonstrated knowledge of the rules of golf.

“They took their time,” he said. “There was no intent to hurt the people involved. It was not unjust.”

Two members of the committee, Lincoln-Way East’s Ryan Pohlmann and Loyola’s Tim Kane, declined to comment. The third, Naperville Central’s Barry Baldwin, disputed Bolden’s version of events.

“The golfer admitted to having a ball in his hand while searching for his ball and he dropped it,” Baldwin said. “He said he panicked and he apologized — and we appreciated his honesty.”

Then there’s Neuqua Valley’s Spike Grosshuesch, a 36-year teacher, 31-year golf coach and 26-year guidance counselor.

He talked of details mirroring Baldwin’s. But he also talked of encountering many such incidents over his career, and that those incidents shouldn’t lead to instant, permanent judgments of a young golfer’s character.

“This is an instance when, if handled properly, it’s a good learning experience for the young man,” he said.

Bolden has won the SouthtownStar Challenge Junior Golf Championship four times. Over those wins, he has been, by all accounts of the staff on hand, a great kid.

His parents offered the following statement as the family’s final position on the matter:

“Our family accepted the decision of the committee. We know there have been many different things said regarding the events of this incident and we support Bryant. We understand and respect the rules of golf. We know golf teaches many life lessons and feel Bryant has and will continue to be a person who never stops learning, while continuing to move forward doing what he so passionately loves to do — Play Golf!” — Michael and Linda Bolden.

For now, Shane Purtle is not playing golf. He is at Indiana University on an Evans Scholarship, earned through the Western Golf Association for his academics and his work as a caddie.

His coach is working with another Lemont team, helping to impart those life lessons referenced by the Boldens.

Hollatz does so well aware of the pressures high schoolers face. He wishes the IHSA hadn’t done away with adult observers for each foursome at the state tournament prior to last season. He sees adults as necessary in ensuring kids don’t act on their worst instincts in the heat of the moment.

And every year, he gives a sermon.

“I’ve always preached calling penalties on yourself,” he said. “Play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”

This year, the sermon was a little more personal.

“I told Shane’s story,” he said. “From now on, I’ll tell it every year.”



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