Hayes, 43, a middle-of-the-road pro-golfer, realized that he had mistakenly used a non-regulation ball for just two strokes in a PGA Tour qualifying tournament last week in Texas. Since the ball was unapproved for competition, Hayes admitted his mistake -- and was disqualified.
"I violated a rule and I had to take my medicine," Hayes said. But Hayes didn't really have to turn himself in. No one filmed it. No one else saw it and no one would ever have known about the two shots with a prototype golf ball.
"No one would have known, but I knew," he said. "And I have some people looking down on me that would have known, so that was the decision I had to make."
Character, they say, is what you do when no one is watching. While that's a powerful mantra, it's easier to say than to live by. And for a player who was working hard to earn a PGA Tour card, admitting his mistake put a full-time spot on the line.
Hayes's decision to turn himself in is a discussion dominating the world of sports. In a world where NASCAR drivers say, "If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying," baseball players take illegal steroids to enhance their performance and coaches make illegal films of their opponents, Hayes could have kept quiet.
"The lessons kids are being taught today, when you talk about sports, is how to get away with things in general," said Damon Hack, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated. "Often young players are taught it's not cheating if you don't get caught."
Hayes Honors Golf's Self-Policing Tradition
Cheating permeates all sectors, not just sports. Politics is dominated by scandal and lying. Take former President Bill Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky and subsequent impeachment trial in the Senate.
But golf has always been a little different.
"Golf has a tradition of honor and self-policing," Hack said about the sport's longstanding policy.
The great golf legend Bobby Jones once said about the honor code: "You may as well praise a man for not robbing a bank."
Hayes also refuses to place blame on his caddy, who mistakenly gave him the prototype ball from his golf bag. He considers it a personal oversight.
J.P. Hayes paid a price for turning himself in; he lost a chance to qualify for the 2009 PGA Pro-Tour. But even though he no longer can compete, he has no regrets.
"I am proud in that situation that I reacted how I should of," he said.
J.P. Hayes's decision to turn himself in is a small setback for the golfer and an unusual victory for virtues like honesty and integrity.