The Million Dollar Mistake

At the PGA golf championship earlier this month Dustin Johnson failed to read and heed the directions the PGA had posted.  That simple failure cost him between $640,000 and $1,080,000.  The “directions” were PGA instructions to all golfers that any sandy area on the course was considered a bunker or sand trap.  Letting a club touch the sand before making the shot is called grounding the club, and grounding results in a two stroke penalty.  Johnson grounded his club in a sandy area that didn’t “look like” a bunker, and the penalty took him from a tie for first to fifth place.  He might have been PGA champion, with all the extra endorsements and money that go with a win of a major championship.  Instead, he’s an also-ran.

While I’m certain Johnson regrets his failure to read and follow directions, there’s a bigger message here… and one that all too many people, students, in particular, fail to grasp.  Directions are there for a reason.  Students often ignore directions or deadlines because they “don’t see the point.”  While some directions are probably excessive and even unnecessary, the vast majority are issued for a reason, and, even if the reasons may seem stupid, often the penalty for violating the directions is severe, and certainly not worth saving a few moments by not reading those directions or ignoring them because you “know better.”

Sometimes, failure to read and heed results in significant financial loss – and Johnson’s example is just one of thousands, ranging from sports to finance, even to the terms of an ATM card, or credit card terms, or the instructions on a tax form. Or perhaps it might be students who illegally download music or copy copyrighted material.  Admittedly, many get away with it – but those who don’t face legal action and, often, financial burdens that will effectively destroy their future.  Others may get away with plagiarism through creative use of the internet – for a while – until it comes back to bite them, such as the case of former congressman Scott McInnis of Colorado who was discovered raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees for writing columns that he plagiarized.

At other times, the penalties are even more severe – such as death, if one fails to heed warnings about everything from trespassing to electrocution.  Earlier this month, I was in Boise, and all the news was about a couple who had drowned while tubing because they’d ignored the warning signs posted above a seemingly gentle river spillway.  Both had been caught in a circular undertow, and neither had been wearing a life jacket.  They’d looked at the apparently gentle current swirls and ignored the warnings and the directions to leave the river and walk around the low dam that “only” dropped a few feet.  They either ignored the warnings, or they “knew better.”  They’re dead.  So are the two men who attempted to float through the slot canyons of Zion National Park on a homemade log raft without any safety gear and against posted warnings. So are… but the list is truly endless.

Think about it… especially when you “know better.”

1 thought on “The Million Dollar Mistake”

  1. Robert Harris says:

    While I agree with everything you say, I think it might be apposite to consider the proliferation of ridiculous warnings and instructions that are due to the litigious nature of our current society. When I receive a 4 page “instruction manual” (in 8pt font) with a small alarm clock, is it surprising I am unwilling to wade through numerous warnings about the potential of small parts to harm a child under 3 years of age, to get to the important stuff?

    If instructions were clear, concise, and left inanities out (or put them somewhere else) I might be more inclined to read them.

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