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Goldfinger 1964Goldfinger 1964
Caddie Oddjob cheats at 17th.

The game of golf one would hope is free of evil of cheating.

This is despite a tongue-in-cheek quip that suggests that the only three ways to improve your game are:

  • to take lessons,
  • practise more, or
  • or start cheating.

In more than 60 years of playing golf I have not encountered a perpetrator. Anything to gain advantage has been a result of ignorance of the Rules rather than a deliberate attempt to get away with a wrong deed.

To illustrate the point, it seems that the Rule governing the three options available for an unplayable lie still eludes many golfers who have played the game for years. Their view of the nearest point of relief for a free drop defies belief.

Unplayable LieUnplayable Lie

Breaking the rules unknowingly must nevertheless be kept in perspective. The social golfer is not playing for large stakes or sheep stations in Australian parlance.

Decisions, some right, some wrong, are made off-the-cuff to keep play moving.

This is because every golfer who plays at a private club knows that the ultimate sin in golf (other than 'bending the rules' to suit themselves) is to be labelled a slow player. This is a social stigma that doesn’t apply much at public courses where all semblance of keeping up with the group in front is scrupulously ignored.

According to Dr. Gregg Steinberg, Sport Psychology consultant for the United States Golf Teachers Federation, "People who believe scores are a reflection of their self-worth are more likely to cheat."

He goes on to say that "People who look at golf as a challenge, something to do for fun or as a journey, are less likely to do so."

Golf, however, is unlike other sports where deception is a way of playing the game. Golfers call penalties on themselves when, for example, they accidentally catch the sand on their backswing in a bunker even though there are no witnesses.

The most famous and chronicled story about cheating, in this case not doing so, concerned the legendary Bobby Jones. At the 1925 U.S. Open at Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts he called a penalty on himself in the first round when his ball at the 11th moved as he addressed it, although nobody else saw it move.

That action cost him the championship as he lost by one shot toWillie MacFarlane in the second 18-hole playoff.

Appalled by those who honoured him for his gesture, Jones responded, "To applaud a player for not cheating is like applauding someone for not robbing a bank. There is a right way to do things. Any other way isn't worth it."

In other sporting codes you are encouraged to deceive the referees and umpires, and the attitude is to get away with what you can. In football (soccer), a player takes a dive feigning injury in order to have the other player booked and a free kick awarded.

In cricket close-in fielders appeal for a catch when they know the batsman has not made contact with the ball. In tennis it would be unusual for a player to indicate that an opponent's ball was in court when it was called out.

Disqualification in Tour de FranceDisqualification
Tour de France

Cyclists are involved in blood doping, field and track athletes use banned substances, and so on. It is the attitude of a corrupt shopkeeper who maintains that giving you the incorrect change is a test of your awareness rather than an act of deceit.

Golf may be for the most part beyond reproach, but it is not immune from gamesmanship. Some golfers seem to take pleasure in getting into the heads of other golfers, especially when they are in a match-play situation.

Whether gamesmanship borders on cheating is a moot point. It may not violate the rules, but it may violate another part of golf, namely sportsmanship.

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Image Source
1 = weddingvenues.com /Stoke Park
2 = cbc.ca

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