"Golf, cheating and the fork in the road"

Golf And Cheating

This isn’t about Patrick Reed.

By now, enough has been written and said about the former Masters champion’s antics in the Hero World Challenge and, specifically, whether or not what he did amounts to cheating.

In lieu of the game’s ruling bodies taking further action – as is their wont but as they likely won’t – let’s move the conversation on to something which isfar more important than Reed’s actions, intentions or character.

Let’s talk about cheating in a more broad sense.

The ‘C’ word. The most damning thing that you can say about a golfer. The most heinous of crimes.  And, strangely, a term that is more ruinous in golf than in most other sports.

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Conning and conniving your way to victory has long since been normalised in football. The game’s authorities have even giving the act of diving a fancy new name – “simulation” – in what is presumably an attempt to legitimise the behaviour. “If you can’t beat them” and all that. That’s to say nothing of the rise of the peculiar praise for “a good foul to give away”.

Rugby union has even fallen victim to impropriety. Remember the disgrace of Harlequins’ ‘Bloodgate’ fiasco? In conversation with a former international prop, I also learned of the practice of what he called ‘Kit-Kats’. At critical stages in matches, players were encourage to feign injury so the rest of the team could, quite literally, ‘have a break’ and, among other things, derail the opposition’s momentum.


Cricket has endured ball-tampering and match-fixing scandals, and that’s to say nothing of the despicable lengths that the likes of Lance Armstrong, Justin Gatlin, Ben Johnson, Alberto Contador, Diego Maradona, Roy Jones Jnr and, apparently, large chunks of Russia have gone to in order to gain a competitive advantage.

Throughout it all, golf has sat back, watched and tutted disapprovingly. “We are a self-regulating sport,” we tell one another. “We hold ourselves to a higher standard. We wouldn’t do anything like that. We’re better than that.”

But are we? Are we really?


To return to the Reed incident for a moment, for no other reason than it offers the most recent example, we surely have a responsibility to ask ourselves if we are satisfied that the rules, as they stand, are robust enough and fit for purpose.

In the context of Reed’s misdemeanour, some say the appropriate sanction was levied because there is no way of proving what he did was intentional. That’s both 100% correct and 100% wrong. It’s a cop out that simply cannot be allowed to become a precedent, lest it become a pattern. Not everybody who breaks a rule is a cheat. That needs to be understood. Equally, are we prepared to accept that no rule is broken intentionally? To do so is to invite misconduct.


To that end, it’s important golfers avail themselves of a little-known thing called ‘The Human Element’. You’ll find it here on the USGA’s own website.

It states: “Golf is a game of honour. Players are expected to call penalties on themselves. The other competitors in a tournament "protect the field" by monitoring each other in a group and, at the end, place an attesting signature on a scorecard. In that vein, "peer review" is the method by which players attest to the ability of those in a club, through monitoring playing and posting of scores.

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“The game's code of honour means that even a hint of cheating or dishonesty can tarnish an individual. Every player has experienced the uncomfortable moment of asking, or being asked, whether a ruling was administered properly or the right score was reported for a hole… Such serious infractions cannot be ignored.”

“Game of honour.”

“Code of honour.”

“Cannot be ignored.”

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Fine words. However, actions, as ever, speak louder. Inaction even louder still. 

Golf’s ruling bodies must - must - establish means by which honour can, where appropriate, be challenged. Tricky, yes, but not something that the game should be afraid of. The alternative, after all, is much more scary.

Nobody should be above the game. The power of personality should not have a value greater than that of personal integrity.

One hundred years from now, there will be all new people. Golf won’t follow us into the dirt and dust. We are custodians of the sport, nothing more, and history will judge us on how we care for it.

What do we want our legacy to be?

As we swing through the present into the past at breakneck speed, we’d do well to think on that, and think on it quickly.

Your thoughts? 

Do you think golf needs to find a way to better handle allegations of cheating and other impropriety? Or are you happy with the current system? Leave your thoughts in our Comments section below.

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