The topic de jure this month is one I have been railing about for years, so stop obsessing how Jordan Spieth pulled off the biggest choke ever in a major championship, and start paying attention to the single biggest problem in the game today – cheating.
Before venting, or in my case hyperventilating, about sandbaggers and other irregularities in the game, this ancient quip applies to all 10 million USGA handicap index players: the best wood in your bag is the pencil, preferably with an eraser on one end! Translation: you can have a better game with a wooden pencil because you can simply change scores with the pencil without needing to improve your game.
Psychologists should spend more time at golf courses examining the brains of players because there is something in the green grass, the sand traps and pond water that disrupts the mathematical function of golfers. Arithmetic is poor on the course, and especially tainted when it comes time to post the actual 18-hole score, to determine a fair handicap.
How many times have I seen people walking off greens who can’t seem to count past five? Calculating the number of strokes taken on a hole isn’t that hard. Many forget a stroke or two or three. This is called cheating and with more rules than any other sport, former PGA pro Dave Hill said, “golf is the hardest game in the world to play but the easiest to cheat at.”
In a recent online poll of more than 7000 golfers, 70 percent admitted they cheated on the course. An older survey of 400 top business executives reported that 82 percent cheated at golf. Around the same time, PGA Tour caddies were questioned about cheating, and 26 percent said they had seen players cheat on Tour.
There are many ways to cheat and some are funny. Even the way you ground your club behind the ball can be cheating. You’re not allowed to press down with your club to matt the grass behind the ball. I once said to Tim Geary as he prepared to hit a shot out of the rough, “You got a good lie there, Tim?” He replied “Not yet,” as he maneuvered his club behind the ball. Compared to other sports, cheating is not a word usually associated with golf. Isn’t the game supposed to be played by men and women of honor and integrity? In reality, the games dirty little secret is that there are cheaters among us, and, none as prevalent as when it comes to posting scores to determine handicaps.
There is no more damaging aspersion than to be labeled a cheat, yet every day someone is posting a higher score than what was shot, or worse, not posting a low round because it will bring their handicap down. This is especially true before big tournaments, when players are seen practicing and playing well, and then mysteriously their handicap goes up when handicaps are assigned.
This form of cheating is called sandbagging and it is the biggest stain on the sport today. By my estimate there are about a dozen blatant, hard-core sandbaggers in every club and slackers on handicap committees are terrified to discipline or suspend the cheaters. A sandbagger is a dishonest golfer who usually turns in his highest scores and manipulates his handicap so that it is above what he is capable of shooting during an average round.
Be careful when a playing partner hits a Nike from the rough, when he hit a Titleist from the tee. Remember also, nothing goes down slower than a golf handicap.”
(Tom Gorman, a Boston-based golf writer for 24 years, has never been called a sandbagger because you have to win something in order to be labeled a sandbagger. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)