Golf spectators around the world watch as Tour players, men and women, notify their competitors (or opponents in match play) if they violate one of the 34 Rules of Golf. The player will even call over an official to announce a breach of the sacred rules. Will you see that in your local amateur golf competition? Not a chance. Well, maybe a chance but a small one at best.
Why is one of the world’s most respected games, golf, known for ethical players, course etiquette, and a game which can teach young kids about life in general, riddled with cheaters? I’ll tell you why. Unlike the old saying, “Cheaters never prosper”, they do prosper in amateur golf.
Let’s back up a bit. We have all played with and still play with golfers who roll the ball in the short grass with their club head to get the best lie: against the rules. The player who needs to identify his ball buried in the rough lifting it, “yep, this is my ball” and then placing it gently on top of the rough to get a perfect lie: against the rules. “Better hit a breakfast ball after that awful shot” sometimes known as a mulligan: against the rules. And one of my favorite, the player who goes into the woods to look for his yellow NXT and hits a white Nike out claiming he found his ball!
Every person who has played golf for more than an hour is aware of these basic rules. In fact, new players do their best to play it where it lies, count every stroke, and wait until the person across the fairway hits before getting ready to play. So what if it takes five and a half hours to play the front nine, they want to play by the rules. That is, until they begin to keep scores for a handicap.
Here in lies the problem: the handicap held by the golfer can mean the difference between finishing dead last or walking away with the club championship. Better yet, winning a World Amateur Golf Championship, like the one held in Myrtle Beach, S.C. every year. The player who cheats on a regular basis and then posts bogus scores to increase their handicap is a winner. We all know it and see it week in and week out, especially at the local club level.
I play all the time with players who will post their worst scores immediately and somehow forget to post the good scores. Or the guy who shoots eighty and posts an eighty-six for ‘handicap purposes.’
The handicapping system is designed for fair competition between players of differing skill levels. If I were to play against Hall of Famer Jack Nicklaus my handicap would give me a chance for a fair match. Of course I would be so nervous competing against one of the greatest to ever play the game my handicap would be worthless. But you get the picture.
When someone begins the journey down the road of golf, the original goal is to be the player who can brag about carrying a four handicap. Better yet, play to a scratch or plus handicap, breaking par on a regular basis. What a great feeling when someone at work or school asks what your handicap is and you get to tell them, ‘single digit.’
Interestingly, I play with people all the time, good players, who always want their handicap to go higher. After a bad round they can’t wait to post their score, “This will help my handicap. I should move from a twelve to thirteen this month.” What? Don’t you want to go the other direction? Oh that’s right. Cheaters prosper in golf.
What’s the big deal you might ask? “It only hurts them when they cheat.” Oh contraire my friend. Think about the player who shoots in the upper seventies on a regular basis but enters your club championship with a fifteen handicap. A handicap at this level is for a player who shoots close to or above ninety. This seventies player enters the tournament and shoots a net sixty-three (seventy-eight minus fifteen), playing in the third flight. Everyone else in this flight shoots a good round and finishes with a net seventy and loses by seven strokes. Shot the round of their life and lost by seven!
This happens all the time. A couple of years ago at the World Amateur Championship in Myrtle Beach, a player came into the tournament with a nineteen handicap. He then shoots two rounds of seventy five and claims, “I’ve never hit the ball this good!” Really? You reached all the par fives in two and had two eagles each day. Good shootin! The cheater prospered. Granted, the player was moved to a different flight but the damage was done.
Maybe it’s me but I want to reach the lowest handicap I possibly can. I asked a guy this past weekend that shoots in the upper seventies, low eighties, why he wanted his handicap to go higher. His answer, “I don’t play to a low handicap. I need the strokes.” But wait: your handicap is supposed to be an indication of your playing ability. If you shoot in the seventies your handicap should reflect it. Not reflect a player who shoots in the upper eighties. Ooops! I forgot. Cheaters do prosper in golf.
The perfect example was a three day tournament held this weekend at our local club. It was flighted by handicap and was a ‘net’ tournament, meaning your score minus your handicap was what counted. We all have seen the ten or twelve handicapper shoot seventy five one round and then eighty five the next. It happens all the time. What shouldn’t happen all the time is the nineteen handicapper shooting seventy-three and seventy-five the final two days…and winning!
This happens at every club in the country. It’s hard to stop. Cheaters are going to cheat and that’s all there is to it. After the tournament you comment to the winner about how well he played for a nineteen handicap. The response is always, ‘I shot the best golf of my life this weekend.’ I wonder why these guys every year always shoot ‘the best golf of their life’ at the club championship. Oh I keep forgetting. Cheaters do prosper in golf. They win!