Hayes turns himself in for using wrong ball, DQ'd from PGA qualifier

J.P. Hayes says anyone else on the PGA Tour in his situation "would have done the same thing."

During the second stage of the PGA Tour qualifying tournament last week in Texas, Hayes discovered that on two shots on one hole, he had unwittingly used a prototype golf ball not approved for competition by the United States Golf Association.

No one would have known. And a full-time spot on the PGA Tour in 2009 was on the line. But Hayes, honoring the tradition of a game where the players police themselves, turned himself in and was disqualified.

"It's extremely disappointing," Hayes said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I keep thinking I'm going to wake up and this is going to be a bad nightmare."

It happened a week ago, at Deerwood Country Club in Kingwood, Texas.

On his 12th hole of the first round, Hayes' caddie reached into his golf bag and tossed a ball to Hayes, who played two shots -- a tee and a chip onto the green -- and marked his ball. At that point he realized the ball he was playing was not the same model with which he started the round -- by rule, a two-stroke penalty.

"I realized there was a penalty and I called an official over," Hayes said, according to the newspaper. "He said the penalty was two shots and that I had to finish the hole with that ball and then change back to the original ball."

Hayes shot a 74 Wednesday and a 71 on Thursday, putting him in good shape to finish in the top 20 and advance to the final qualifying stage in December.

But on Thursday night in his hotel room, Hayes realized that the errant golf ball might not have been on the approved list.

"It was a Titleist prototype, and somehow it had gotten into my bag," he said, according to the Journal Sentinel. "It had been four weeks since Titleist gave me some prototype balls and I tested them. I have no idea how or why it was still in there."

Hayes had a choice: He could have said nothing and kept playing, with no one aware of his mistake. Or he could turn himself in and let his mistake cost him a 2009 PGA Tour card.

He chose the latter.

"I called an official in Houston that night and said, 'I think I may have a problem,'" Hayes said. "He said they'd call Titleist the next day. I pretty much knew at that point I was going to be disqualified."

As for his decision to turn himself in?

"I would say everybody out here [on the PGA Tour] would have done the same thing," Hayes said, according to the report.

Hayes, 43, is refusing to blame his caddie for the error, saying he should have spotted the errant ball because it did not have a model name on the seam.

"[The caddie] kind of wanted to take some of the blame, but he knows I'm anal about my equipment," Hayes said, according to the report. "I go through my bag every night. I want to know what's in there. It's almost therapeutic for me."

According to the report, Hayes said that if the hole had been a par-4 or a par-5, he would have known he had the wrong ball right away, because he uses the label to help him align his driver on tee shots.

"But it was a par-3 and I don't use the label to line up on par-3s," he said, according to the Journal Sentinel. "It was my mistake. I had no choice but to take my medicine."

Hayes has two career PGA Tour victories, his last coming in 2002. He was playing in the second stage of the tour's Q-school tourney because he finished outside of the top 150 on the money list in 2008.

He earned $312,152 this season, making just seven cuts in 26 events. He was 176th on the money list -- the worst showing of his career.

But Hayes has more than $7 million in career earnings. He expects he still will be able to play 10 to 12 lesser tournaments in 2009, thanks to his status as a veteran player and past tourney champion, as well as sponsors' exemptions, according to the report.

"I'm kind of at a point in my career where if I have a light year, it might be a good thing," he said, according to the Journal Sentinel. "I'm looking forward to playing less and spending more time with my family.

"It's not the end of the world. It will be fine. It is fine."