Last Sunday I watched the final round sudden death playoff at the Verizon Heritage golf tournament between veteran Jim Furyk and Brian Davis. Furyk who has more than a dozen PGA career wins under his belt, was tied after regulation play with Brian Davis, who has never won a PGA golf event. The difference in earnings of the winner and runner-up was $400,000, with more than a million dollars being awarded to the winner.
On the first playoff hole, Brian Davis playing in the rough, barely touched a reed with his backstroke, and then swung and hit the ball onto the green. It is an infraction if a loose object is touched by the club before it hits the ball. I was watching the swing on television, and did not notice any movement on the backstroke, and apparently neither did anyone else, with the exception of Davis himself. He immediately informed the judge of what he believed to be illegal contact with his club, which instant video replay confirmed. Davis was assessed a two-stroke penalty, which essentially assured that he would not take home the championship trophy.
Had Davis not been penalized, he would have been in contention to win the event, and had he not drawn attention to it, no one would have been the wiser… but he would have known. It would have been tempting for most golfers to have kept quiet about the stroke, considering its importance and the violation was nothing more than a trivial technicality that really did not place his opponent at an unfair disadvantage. Yes, it would be easy to rationalize away the violation, and it would have been easy for him to say that he did not notice the loose twig shimmy a bit when he brought his club back to begin his swing.
Yes, I have a new hero on the pro links circuit… and from now on, I will be pulling for a golfer named Brian Davis. I’ll be rooting for him not because of his athletic skills, but because of his personal qualities of honesty and integrity.
Another man for whom I have a tremendous amount of admiration and respect is Gregory Flint Taylor, a man of exceptional integrity. Although Davis’s honesty cost him a prestigious title and hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money, Greg Taylor’s honesty cost him a life sentence behind bars. Just as I believe that many golfers would not have made the fiduciary sacrifice Davis did with his honesty, many innocent people facing a life sentence would not pass up the opportunity for freedom in exchange for falsely implicating another person at the prosecutor’s request. Greg Taylor, however, refused to submit to Prosecutor Tom Ford’s repeated demands that he implicate a man Taylor knew to be innocent of the charge of murder. Had it not been for the Innocence Inquiry Commission project that was championed by former NC Supreme Court Justice I. Beverly Lake and Christine Mumma (director of the NC Center on Actual Innocence), Greg Taylor would still be languishing in jail… where he had been since 1993, and where he was sentenced to spend the remainder of his days.
When Jacquetta Thomas, a black prostitute, was murdered in 1991, Wake Prosecutor Tom Ford was more interested in closing the case than solving the crime because he didn’t care about the victim. So instead of using gumshoe detective work (as was done in the investigation into the murder of School Board member Kathy Taft), Tom Ford tried to build a case based on perjured testimony. Because Greg Taylor and his friend Johnny Beck, an African American, had been in the vicinity of the desolate area where Thomas’s body was found, Ford’s strategy was to first accuse Taylor of the crime and thereby pressure him to turn on Beck, the black man. Even without forensic evidence tying Beck to the crime, Ford believed that Taylor’s testimony – though perjured – would be enough to win a conviction against Beck. However, there is one thing that Tom Ford did not count on, and that was that Greg Taylor would possess integrity… in fact, much more than Ford himself. Ford made it plain to Taylor that he would be spending the rest of his life in jail unless he cooperated with the prosecution and lied to the court to implicate Johnny Beck in a murder he did not commit. Taylor was steadfast and never wavered in his refusal to falsely implicate Beck, so Ford set out to make Taylor pay by getting a jailhouse snitch and prostitute to provide false testimony implicating Taylor. Ford even withheld from Taylor’s defense team the fact that the prosecutors had struck a backroom deal with the snitch and prostitute with a promise for a reduced sentence in exchange for their perjured statements that implicated Taylor. So Ford, with perjured testimony and the withholding of important SBI lab notes, won a conviction against Greg Taylor in 1993.
Just as the jailhouse snitch and prostitute provided the necessary perjured testimony needed to convict Taylor, Prosecutor Ford assumed that Taylor would readily provide the false testimony necessary for him to gain his freedom. But Taylor refused to lie on an innocent man… an African American man… and a man who he knew almost solely as companion with whom he occasionally purchased or shared drugs. Gregory Taylor was prepared to spend the rest of his life behind bars rather than falsely implicate another innocent person. But fortunately, Taylor’s loss only equated to seventeen of his most productive years, which is itself truly a shame.
Yes, I am now a proud follower and fan of golf pro Brian Davis, whose integrity cost him a shot at his first PGA tour championship and hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money. Davis put honesty before financial and championship considerations. Likewise, Gregory Taylor displayed an inordinate amount of integrity with his commitment to remain in jail (likely for the remainder of his life) rather than obtaining freedom by working in cahoots with the Wake County prosecutor in his unseemly efforts to falsely convict Johnny Beck.
When it comes to a role model of honesty and integrity, it is hard to beat the wrongly convicted and exonerated Gregory F. Taylor, although Brian Davis came in close with his actions at the Heritage’s first playoff hole. I am sure that ol’ Honest Abe, himself, like I, would hold both Taylor and Davis in high esteem.