Ducks Golf: When Tragedy Collides with a Star
Attention to detail. It’s an important fundamental aspect of life we all grow up with. It’s one of the most crucial building blocks the armed forces teach, and it is something that athletes must take seriously or else the consequences can be utterly unforgiving.
Caroline Inglis. You don’t know her name yet, but over the next four years you’ll have the opportunity to become obsessed with it.
Ducks golfer Eugene Wong was quite possibly the best golfer the Pac-10/12 has had since Eldrick “Tiger” Woods. Wong just finished his senior season at Oregon and will now move on to greener fairways and attempt to qualify at venues so important that they’re named after saints, like Andrew. Now, the golf program has a question that requires immediate attention.
What does Oregon do now, and how do they find the next great golfer to fill Wong’s shoes?
Don’t hit the panic button, they’ve already found her. In case you’ve forgotten, the name’s Caroline Inglis. The 18-year old just graduated from Eugene’s Churchill High School. Long before graduation she committed to playing for the Ducks which, honestly, has been the best signing of any athlete of any sport Oregon has had in the past year.
Before the yelling and hasty disagreeing begins, please allow me to explain.
Since her freshman year, Inglis has not only thrived in tournament play, she has routinely dominated the field. When Woods plays in majors, ESPN’s Sportscenter does a segment titled “Tiger vs. The Field” where the panelists can choose who will win, but they only have two choices; Tiger, or somebody else. It’s simple, he transcends the game so much it is impossible to separate the game of golf from Tiger’s presence. With her talent, the same game can be played with Inglis; Inglis or The Field? If her efforts on the links to date continue on her current trajectory, the fair bet is on Inglis. She’s won the Oregon 5A Girls State Championship as a freshman, sophomore and junior.
Her heartbreaking senior season ended in as public a spotlight as possible, many national news circuits running with the story as the turn of events regarding Inglis went “viral” beyond belief. Unfortunately for me, I was actually in attendance at the state championships at Trysting Tree Golf Club in Corvallis following a Salem golfer, and I got to witness the unthinkable tragedy first-hand.
Tuesday, May 15th was the final day of the 2012 5A Golf State Championship, and as expected, Inglis was on her game atop the leaderboard. By the end of Tuesday she shot a 3-under 69, which put her nine shots ahead of her second place competitor.
It seemed assured that Caroline Inglis had just become the first Oregon golfer to win four straight high school titles. It was a big deal. The biggest deal in Oregon high school golf history. She signed her score card, walked away, and prepared for the media swarm that was about to pounce on her, and her story.
There was just one problem.
Inglis was informed by OSAA golf officials that she had been disqualified–she signed an incorrect scorecard. She had, by pure accident, signed a scorecard with a mistake that went unnoticed by her, her teammates, and coaches.
Caroline Inglis was disqualified for breaking Rule 6-6D in the United States Golf Associations Rules of Golf, under which tournaments at all levels in the United States are contested, after she herself noticed the mistake and reported it.
“The competitor is responsible for the correctness of the score recorded for each hole on their score card. If they return a score for any hole lower than actually taken, they are disqualified. If they return a score for any hole higher than actually taken, the score as returned stands.”
As a result, her three 3-under 69, nine shot lead, gone. A fourth consecutive state championship, gone. Her name in Oregon golf’s ‘first ever’ book, erased as if she never showed up to play.
Her reaction is one that is still very hard to forget. She was instantly hunched over and in hysterical, inconsolable tears. Media and those in attendance, stunned and in complete silence, some even in tears themselves. We had all just been witnesses to a first–not the first time that someone has been DQ’d for signing an incorrect scorecard, just the first time we’d seen it done to someone who just broke an Oregon record, then had been told it never happened.
It turns out that her scorecard, which was kept by one of the other players in her group, as dictated by the United States Golf Association rules, showed that she had shot par on the 18th hole when she had actually taken five strokes and not four. As a result, Inglis’ score was erased and the player that finished nine shots behind her won the state championship, a victory by default of the most undeserving order.
For Caroline Inglis, this was the second year in a row that she and her family had received heartbreaking news. Her father, Bill, was diagnosed with leukemia last July. Caroline credits Bill for introducing her to the game of golf and teaching her how to play.
She was actually a late bloomer to the game, as she did not start playing until the age of 12. As a result of her instant love of golf, the family made a unanimous decision to join Springfield Country Club. From there she started practicing every free moment she had, and improved faster than most.
With her disqualification at the state championship, she is now linked to her father in a way other than genetics–the two are now linked by statistics.
In 1971, as a senior at South Eugene High School, Bill Inglis and his South Eugene team were disqualified after round one of the Class AAA state tournament. His offense was just like his Caroline’s, Bill too signed the scorecard after his playing partner had written a 4 for Inglis’ 18th hole when he had actually made a 5. Identical tragic circumstance, 41 years apart.
Oh how things can come full circle. Inglis is in the record books as a 3-time state champion, but the fourth title she earned is forever vacated.
The Inglis family has put all the foreseeable negative behind them and look forward to two enormously positive events that will occur in September.
First, Caroline is set to begin classes at the University of Oregon soon, and she will begin fall practice with the Ducks golf program. Second, Bill Inglis will fight leukemia with chemotherapy treatments. One big reason Inglis chose to go to Oregon was so that she could be close enough to home to help Bill fight leukemia, just as he was there every day to help her fight on the golf course.
Recently, Inglis finished competing against the nation’s top players in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship on the Neshanic Valley Golf Course in New Jersey, where she was ranked 57th in the field. In the first round of match play, Inglis was edged by #8 seed Annie Park of Levittown, New York, by a 6 and 5 count.
After Inglis tied Park on holes 7 and 8 with par scores, Park won her sixth and final hole of the event with her par score on the ninth hole. On the final four holes of their match-up, the duo tied with four straight par scores (#10-13). Overall Inglis ended with nine par scores and four bogeys, while Park logged three birdies, 10 pars, and no bogeys on the par-72 course.
In the past year, Caroline Inglis has been through a lot. With a heavy heart she went out and won the 5A state championship, only to have it stripped because of an accidental scorecard mistake.
In taking the scorecard into account, and removing Rule 6-6D out of consideration, and even add the five shot bogey or even a 2-3 penalty for the mistake to that scorecard, Caroline Inglis still wins by 6-8 shots and her fourth consecutive state championship, the most ever by an Oregon golfer.
It was a small, minor attention to detail mistake that keeps Inglis just shy of Oregon golf’s all-time best list. It’s hard to accept that her name doesn’t appear on the state champion plaque. Chalk it up there with some of the biggest sports travesties on a technicalities–George Brett’s pine tar overturning a key home run, Roy Jones Jr. losing the gold medal boxing match in the 1988 Seoul Olympics by doing all but putting the South Korean boxer in a coma, the 1972 USA-Russia basketball gold medal game with three do-overs of the final seconds, Colorado’s 5th & goal in their 1990 national championship season–and now Caroline Inglis completely dominating the field and losing her rightful title because of a minor note-taking error.
And her tears after the DQ affirmed that it happened.
Caroline Inglis now prepares for her UO career as a student and collegiate golfer. Golf is all mental, and only time will tell if she has truly recovered and moved on from the events in May. Eugene Wong has moved on as well from the program and the Ducks need someone, specifically Caroline Inglis, to carry the torch for a young golf program that has achieved great success in recent years, but whose future is uncertain.
The record books don’t show it, but the Ducks are now led by a four-time Oregon state champion who stands tall with champion stature despite two years of gut-wrenching heartbreak.
Let your Caroline Inglis obsession begin.