Confession of a Golf Cheater

This is probably going to be the last for 2014 and possibly controversial post but I’m going ahead to do it since 2014 is now officially over for golf, and I probably won’t play another round until mid January 2015. There is a lot of time to reflect on the year playing and not improving in this stupid game.

Golf cheating – now, out of all the 21 readers of this site, how many of you actually ‘cheat’? I know it’s a little bit of a taboo in golf and we like to always judge ourselves as the paragon of honesty and that nobody cheats — but I’ll be the first one to raise my hand. I’ve done it. I’ve cheated.

Golf is a strange game. It allows you to call a penalty on yourself. In fact, it requires you to do so because nobody else can. It is the only sport where ‘conflict of interest’ is there – you audit your own work. You referee your own game.

Take football for example. How many times we see Ronaldo/Messi/suarez flop around like a rag doll to get a penalty or to get someone sent off? How many times we see people who did not break the offside trap, but scored and then celebrated, knowing that the referee did not spot the infringement? Can you imagine someone who scored with his arm from a corner kick and remonstrate to the ref to disallow the goal because it came off his arm?

So golf – it is truly unique, because when  you cheat no one knows.

Have I ever improved a lie? Yes. Have I ever taken a wrong drop? Yes. Have I ever capped my score at triple bogey? Yes. Have I ever accidentally skimmed the sand in the bunker on my back swing and then did not tell anyone about it? Yes. Have I ever grounded my club and then the ball moved a little and i did not tell people about it? Yes. Have I ever OB-ed the ball and knowing it’s OB, dropped and say it’s hazard? Not often – but yes. Have I ever moved my ball in the jungle away from the roots or rocks to a nicer spot (though still in the jungle) behind the original lie because I don’t want to crack my wrist or destroy my club? Yes. Yes. Yes.

I am probably not the most honest golfer around, and unfortunately, I’ll admit that, and probably have my playing partners crucify me. But tell it as it is.

Improving the lie is probably the biggest culprit. I did that a few times when my perfect drive was on the fairway on par 5s and it has landed into a damn divot. I put it out, and lie it for my 3 wood to go for 2. The reasoning is that, hell, I am going to risk it all and go for 2, so why not just put it at the best lie. If I am going for 3 on, then I won’t be too bothered about it.

Wrong drop – yup – a lot of times, especially after it goes off into OB and I am dropping for 4. Its usually at the middle of the fairway or a little longer than my greatest ever drive ever. Or a purposely wrong interpretation of ‘point of entry’, or two club lengths actually becoming 2 flag pole lengths etc. My reasoning is, that I am out of play already for the betting, so who cares (unless everyone else OBs). It is a rather dangerous assumption obviously as many times, my other flight members manage to sabotage themselves as well…this is probably a guilt justification.

The reason flows is that as long as I am not putting myself at a severe advantage, then it’s ok. Like moving the ball out of the roots – I won’t put it closer to the hole, I’ll put it deeper into the jungle but on a softer ground. The problem here is – in golf, it’s not ok. No matter how we view it, it’s cheating, and cheating in golf is cheating yourself.

The reason for this confession is this:

I played a final round of the year with a bunch of good friends, and also with someone whom I looked up to a lot, since he was a very good player. I don’t play often with him. But he is good. But throughout the round, something really gnawed me – it seems no matter how bad his shot is (there were only a few), he always would put it regulation on. I thought it was just because he was damn good. Until I found something – we were both in the jungle. I sprayed my shot into the trees and bounded off right. He hit an even worse shot…just a straight skull that went probably 10 meters. I was relieved, since I was betting with him. I walked out, hit my third and to my surprise, he was there at my ball, his ball perfectly positioned on the fairway. I thought he had hit his third as well, so we went on playing. When we finally finished the hole, he said he parred it, and I thought, yeah, if we are playing par six. But he said his second shot had got to where my third shot was. Which, was probably 150 – 160 meters away from our second shot…which wasn’t possible because I saw it skull a miserable 10 -20 meters. As in I actually saw his ball was still in the rough. With my own eyes.

When I started observing, then it became more telling – like near the green, he would walk up to his ball, pick it up with his towel, wipe the ball and then place it a lot nearer than before. The most obvious one came when we both saw his ball on a tough lie sideways greenside. I even said to him, “Damn,that is going to be a hell of a shot”. When we walked up to the green and I prepared my putting, I saw him pick up that ball, walk a few feet towards the green and place it nicely on the fringe to putt. There is cheating, and there is epic cheating. I wondered if I should go and talk to him about it, since we were technically betting, but I guess I didn’t want to wreck the day for everyone, and also, I do feel guilty, like a pot calling a kettle black.

I must say, it startled even me, and I don’t mean to be so self righteous, even if I am just a big sinner as he is, even if I do it less. Far less and probably when it doesn’t matter to anyone anymore. The one memorable time I ‘cheated’ and it mattered was some time back when I was partnering this same ‘good player’ guy and he had even with the other team’s best ball. How we play is, when the best ball of the team is even, then the second ball comes in play. He announced that I had tripled the hole, which made us square the hole. However, I knew (and I think he knew) I quadrupled it, because I didn’t really care anymore when I thought I was out of contention, I just sort of halfheartedly whacked my bunker shot twice. I didn’t know that he was going to four putt and even the first ball at double bogey, did I?  I am absolutely ashamed to say that I didn’t correct him, and I was troubled by it for weeks, to a point where I told myself I would never ever do that again (cheat when it mattered), and I would make up for it by taking the other guys out for lunch, which I did, although I didn’t tell them why. The wager for the hole? RM2. The guilt? Priceless.

So you see, I am a sort of a conflicted golfer. I know there is no excuse to cheat and many of you would be tsk-ing me. But if we are honest with ourselves, even a survey done on PGA tour caddies said that 54% of them has seen pros cheat. But I think my recent observation has got me thinking: my scores never improve anyway, so what’s the point? Usually it’s just frustration – that the round was so bad, that I need to make a break on my own since I am not getting any – or that my ball is in a divot or an unraked footprint in the bunker, and it is not my fault. The justifications are there. But it’s never a good reason. Now I can see how someone can really go overboard in cheating and I don’t think I want to go there. And the thing is, he is too good to resort to this. He only hits a few bad shots, unlike me, whose one game probably has 94 bad shots. But I suppose when the habit is there, it becomes so ingrained, that it just becomes natural…and I don’t want that to happen. I love this game, but a few bad habits have crept in. I rather be honestly awful, than dishonestly good.

So here is to 2015 – a year where even the slightest ‘cheat’ or ‘justification’ will no longer be part of my golf game and that I will play it as it should always be played – honestly, even if it doesn’t matter to anyone. And maybe…just maybe, I will finally play better.