PINEVILLE, Ky. – The ball sat just off the green on the 15th hole.
Cam Claunch, a senior golfer for Somerset, Kentucky High School was one-under par with just a few more holes to play, and just needed to par out to qualify for the state tournament.
As the lanky golfer from central Kentucky leaned over to remove a clump of grass laying near his ball, he leaned on his Titliest wedge for support. The club slipped from underneath his weight and made contact with the ball. The ball moved ever so slightly, with no apparent advantage gained from the accidental contact.
Afterward, Claunch made his shot to save par, but when he reported his score to his fellow competitor – who was keeping his scorecard – he gave himself a one-stroke penalty for accidentally making contact with the ball.
“The ball moved maybe less than an inch, but according to the rules of golf, any contact with the ball is deemed a stroke, whether on purpose or accidental,” Claunch said. “None of the other golfers in my group saw that I had accidentally made contact with the ball, but I did and I knew I had to count it as a stroke.”
The extra stoke left Claunch finishing with a one-under-par score of 71 for the round.
And as it turned out, a score of 70 would have qualified him for the state tournament.
That one extra stroke he needed to make it to the state tournament — and end his high school career on a high note — had vanished on a self-imposed penalty on the 15th hole.
When Somerset High School head coach Davin Roberts heard that his star golfer had missed the state tourney cut after a self-imposed penalty, he became flooded with emotions on how well his senior golfer had carried himself in a critical moment.
“Cam has always been a great golfer and he deserved to be playing in the state tournament,” Roberts said as he fought back tears. “What Cam did on that 15th green meant a lot to me and it showed just what kind of kid he really is. This was not just a lesson in golf etiquette, it was a lesson in life.”
“I know Cam was disappointed he didn’t make the state tournament cut,” Roberts added, “But he knew what he did was the right thing to do.”
Word of Claunch’s self-imposed penalty spread around the Wasioto Golf Course among coaches, parents, and other players.
“We had several coaches, parents and fellow competitors come up to us and tell us how proud they were of Cam for doing what he did,” Roberts said. “That meant a lot to both of us.”
Later that night, Claunch even texted his coach to apologize for his play and thanking Roberts for his support by saying, “Sorry coach for today. Thank you for being a great coach. Love you coach. Glad I was part of the team.”
Roberts responded to Claunch’s text by saying, "You have no reason to be sorry and it was an honor to be your coach."
On a smaller scale and with less on the line, Claunch imposed a similar penalty on himself in a summer tournament earlier this year. While stepping into a ditch to retrieve his ball, Claunch accidently stepped on the ball and caused it to move. Not seen by anyone else, Claunch still added a penalty stroke to his score on that hole.
“I am disappointed by not making the state tournament cut my senior year, but I had no doubt in my mind that calling a penalty on myself was the right thing to do,” Claunch said. “My dad has always told me it was important to be honest in life and on the golf course.”
“The penalty stroke was not just about me," he added, "it was about the school I represent. The ‘SHS’ on my golf shirt means a lot to me. It represents honesty and character.”
After hearing what Claunch had done on the golf course, Somerset High School principal Wesley Cornett reached out to social media to give praise to his student-athlete.
“I posted on Twitter last night that character is something you do when no one else is looking, and that is probably the universal definition of character,” Cornett said. “Cam has truely epitomized that by his actions (Monday) on the golf course. As his principal, and someone who cares about him — as well as all of his other teachers and coaches – to hear about what he did is special and is really hard to put in words.”
Cornelius writes for the Somerset, Kentucky Commonwealth Journal.