It's Only Funny If You Win

It's Only Funny If You Win

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For the Jacksonville University men's golf program, the NCAA Baton Rouge Regionals were either going to mark a memory of a lifetime or a haunting experience. Ironically, for David Wicks, it was both. Just ask anyone who saw the Englishman dive into a pond -- in his underwear -- on Tuesday.

Per USGA Rules 15 (1), 16 (1)(b), and related discussions in 15-2/1, if a ball must be substituted by a player in the middle of a hole for any reason besides a ball damaged beyond playability, it's a two-stroke penalty. The ruling includes a situation where a player picked up his ball to mark it, put it in his pocket, dropped the ball when he pulled it out of his pocket, and then the ball rolled into the water behind him.

In the JU Athletic Department, it is now affectionately called the "Wicks Effect", and for a team five strokes behind a fifth place spot and an automatic qualification to the NCAA Championship, Wicks' "deep sea dive" had major implications.

To put the day in perspective: only the top five teams from each of six regional sites advance to the NCAA Championship; Wicks' lost ball was an automatic two-stroke penalty; this happened in the final day of the three-day event.

Jacksonville trailed by as much as 10 strokes near the midpoint of the tournament, and trailed by seven when Wicks reached the fourth hole, his 13th of the day. He placed his putt about three feet from the hole and marked it, anticipating a putt for par on the next opportunity, and stepped back to allow the other golfers in his group to make their shots.

With his ball in his pocket, Wicks did what all golfers do. He bent down to read the slope of the green. The ball rolled out of his pocket and into the pond behind him, and unbeknownst to him, Rule 15 came into effect.

"I was pretty angry to be honest. It seemed like common sense to replace the ball but that wasn't the case," said Wicks. "When I realized I had to get in I thought I might have a chance to find it. When I didn't find it in the five minutes given I knew I just had to put it at the back of my mind. I couldn't let this shot distract me and keep the other four guys on my team from making it to a championship."

Wicks was given a five-minute time limit to find his ball, which left him with no choice but to strip down to his underwear and jump into the lake. He found several balls, but the one marked with the jumping JU logo evaded him. Eventually the senior from Bexhill, England, had to take a two-stroke penalty, dropping him from three-under-par on the day to just one-under-par, putting the Dolphins down nine with just five holes left. It also took Wicks from fourth place individually into a tie for seventh.

But Wicks and his teammates refused to give up, knowing what they'd been able to do in previous events this season. Wicks parred out the remaining five holes on the day and his teammates helped make up the nine strokes, combining for the lowest round of the day, 289, to shoot up into a tie for fifth place with Northwestern University, ranked 13 spots higher (29) than JU (42) before the tournament began. Per NCAA rules all ties at the NCAA Regionals must be broken, so a sudden death playoff was announced. The Dolphins took down the Wildcats in two contentious holes and won the final berth in the championship tournament. And Wicks was almost completely dry by the end of the day.

"At first it felt terrible," said Wicks. "With my two-shot penalty I thought we hadn't made it in. We were sitting on the balcony after turning in our scorecards. Northwestern led by one stroke with a couple of holes left, and all I could think about was being the guy who dropped his ball in the water and kept us from making the championship. Then we heard that Northwestern had actually stumbled down the stretch, opening the door for us. We played well in the playoff and the rest is history."

To make the story even more legendary, Head Coach Mike Blackburn was preparing to jump in with Wicks before time ran out.

We can all enjoy the story now, but, honestly, it's only funny because we won.