This month I am tasked with defending the undefendable, so I am opening this column with a white flag. Has honor left the game of golf? Duh!
As soon as golf instituted the handicap system it was admitting that the game could not survive on its merits. It needed an artificial system in place to attract people and keep them. Human beings are by nature both flawed and competitive. We like to compete, but more than that, we love to WIN! And in golf the good players are almost always going to beat the bad or lesser players. It’s not an absolute but it’s pretty darn close.
So to make it feasible for the less talented among us to compete with those more gifted, the gods of golf (the USGA and the Royal & Ancient) instituted the handicap system. And with the handicap system (the GHIN in the USA) another unofficial term was born – “Sandbagging”, which is a less vulgar term than “cheating”. People have been cheating in golf since the first shilling was wagered.
The USGA understands this so well that it’s GHIN system only takes the 10 best scores of the previous 20 to determine a person’s handicap. They also have in place rules where players of a certain handicap can only take a score up to a certain amount on a hole. So if you were to get a seven on a par 3, like Jordan Spieth, you could only record it as a 5 on your card.
This year the USGA has ruled that nobody who plays as a single can turn in a score. That is a frank admission that the governing body in this country doesn’t trust its members. And for years most clubs would not accept a score from somebody who played alone.
But despite all this there still is plenty of honor left in golf. Yes there are sandbaggers and they are usually well known, but still the majority of those who play the game, both for a living and on weekends, do so with a sense of fair play. After all, we are in reality competing more against ourselves than other people, and it’s difficult to cheat oneself. We KNOW!
Tom Gorman is arguing that there is no honor left in the game, yet I have never once played golf with him where he ever violated a rule or gave himself a score that he did not actually make. Genuine golfers love the challenge and the difficulties of the game. We may question the rules and grumble that some seem stupid, but we abide by them.
We know there are those among us who think golf is nothing more than another form of gambling and the object of gambling is to win. But the real golfer has honor and there are still plenty of us left around. Honor is one of the few things you can actually take with you.
(Tim Geary is a R.I. based freelance writer)