The One-Stroke Difference


I had gotten myself into a trap, and the only way out was the fair way.

As I walked down the fairway, thoughts of what had happened earlier in the round began to press in on my mind.

On the seventh hole of the junior golf tournament, my third shot had come to rest in the middle of the narrow fairway. I hit the ball. It sailed onto the green, took two bounces, and fell into the hole. My partner was impressed.

“Great shot. Is that a three?”

“Yes,” I had replied confidently. But I hadn’t really made a three. It had taken me four strokes to get the ball in the hole. But I thought one stroke wasn’t going to mean anything.

By the time I finished, I realized I had played the round of my life.

I headed back toward the clubhouse, adding my partner Joe’s scorecard as I walked.

At the scorer’s table, I handed Joe his scorecard, and he gave me mine. “You’re in first place,” he said.

I looked up at the scoreboard and thought, This score would put me in first place. Looking down at my card, I noticed the “3” I had given myself on the seventh hole was standing out like a neon sign. I could change it to a “4.” But I’m in first place by two strokes. That one stroke won’t make any difference, I thought.

I signed my name at the bottom of the card and handed it to the scorer. I watched with fascination as my name was placed at the top of the list on the giant scoreboard. I made my way to the pop machine. I was actually in first place.

While sipping on my soda, I sauntered over to the base of an elm tree, sat down against it, and began to think about what I had done.

In church, Scouting, and at home, I had been taught to be honest in my dealings with others.

I glanced again at the scoreboard. More scores were being posted. Then I noticed Fred Baker was only one stroke behind me. Now that one stroke I hadn’t counted meant the difference between undisputed first place and a tie.

Everyone cheats, I kept thinking. I remembered when Joe moved his ball to a better position when it came to rest in a bare spot of grass. Besides, no one will ever know what I did, I reasoned.

I again walked slowly to the scorer’s table and past the gigantic first-place trophy. “That sure would look nice in our family’s trophy case,” I mumbled to myself. As I walked past the trophy, I decided what I had to do.

“Can I help you, son?” the scorekeeper asked.

“Sir, I seem to have made a mistake on my scorecard. On the seventh hole, I made a four, not a three.”

“Have you already signed your scorecard?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, knowing I would be disqualified for turning in an incorrect scorecard.

“I’m sorry, son, but you know the rule.”

“I guess I’m disqualified then,” I mumbled. Tears welled in my eyes.

“Yes, I’m afraid so. What’s your name? I’ll need to remove it from the scoreboard.”

“Jae Markham,” I said. I then stood by and watched as my name was scratched from the top spot.

That afternoon I slowly walked to the parking lot with my golf bag over my shoulder. The sun was bright and figures still dotted the course.

I looked back again at the first-place trophy, and somehow it didn’t seem so big anymore.

[photos] Photography by Jed Clark