Friday, 1 April 2016


Golf is a game of honour.  It is probably the only sport when a player will call a penalty on himself.  Bobby Jones lost a Major championship by a stroke after calling a penalty on himself for his ball moving.  No one else was in a position to see the infraction, and some thought this was something very honourable that Bobby had done.

Bobby's response was something to the the effect, "You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank."  To him there was no question of what he must do.  Many others have done the same sort of thing.  It really wasn't that unusual in championship golf.  Top level players, for the most part are scrupulously honest when it comes to following the rules of golf--I say "for the most part" because nothing is for certain other than death; you may even be able to evade taxes.

That is not, however, always the case.  We have a really good player in our area who has won numerous club championships and tournaments, and competed in our national amateur championship.  He has also become known as a cheater.  I had the occasion to play a match against him a few years ago and had a couple of players advise me to watch him "like a hawk."  I did, even following him to his ball when he hit one into the trees.  I managed to beat him that day.  But just imagine being one of the best players in your area and all the other players can say is, "Watch him."  His reputation as a fine player has been ruined by more than one instance when he was caught cheating.  What a shame.

I have a good friend who lives in Florida and plays with a regular group of guys.  When I spoke to him he told me how he had played in a scramble and his partners had cheated.  As it turned out, they actually won the tournament and my friend was horrified to have to be called up to accept the trophy with his buddies, knowing they had cheated.  He said he felt that everyone in the room were looking at them knowing they hadn't won fairly.  He is now determined to never play in another tournament with these guys.

My advice to him was to find new people to play with.  I played with him and one of his buddies a while ago and they had a match going.  My friend was so preoccupied with making sure his buddy didn't pull a fast one that he couldn't keep his mind on his own game.  It was ridiculous to watch.  But there you have it.  The fact is that the average golfer doesn't even know the rules; let alone follow them.  Harvey Penick maintained that the average golfer would never break 100 on his course if they played by the rules.  Yet he often heard stories about 85's being shot by guys who were in the woods half the day.  It's just the way it is.

Even in the pro ranks there have been accusations of cheating made against top players.  Vijay Singh has always had rumours follow him based on an incident long before he made the PGA tour.  Apparently, Ken Venturi claimed that Arnie stole a Masters from him by not following the rules.  It happens, but very rarely at that level.  I am not, of course, accusing the King, or Vijay, of anything.  I'm simply repeating what I've heard for what it's worth.

I would love to see the rules simplified, so that someone learning the game, or even those of us who have played the game for years, can easily figure out what the right thing is to do.  Bobby Jones felt the rules could be summed up by saying you never touch your ball between the teeing ground and the green without incurring a penalty, and you do nothing to interfere with your opponent's ability to play his game unhindered.  Obviously, that may be an over-simplification, but surely the rules need not be so esoteric that only the studious players can grasp them.

In the meantime, at the recreational level, the rules will be ignored or broken regularly.  Those who do it knowingly must answer to their conscience, or lack thereof, and, in the event they are playing for something significant, hopefully the golfing gods.  Those who do it unwittingly need not worry until someone sets them straight.  As for me, I'd rather not follow my opponent into the woods to make sure he doesn't cheat.  Winning just isn't that important.