Golf is the last honest game

Contributing Columnist

Allow me to add a few little known facts about the great game of golf. Did you know that…

One of the greatest upsets in golf occurred in 1929 when Johnny Goodman, the son of a packinghouse worker and only 19 at the time, defeated Bobby Jones in their first round match at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Goodman went on to achieve greater notoriety, winning the U.S. Open in 1933 as an amateur. To this day he remains the only amateur to have won that national championship.

Several years ago the Better Business Bureau issued a national alert regarding ads for the “S” ball. The ads, presented in the form of a newspaper article, claimed the ball “outflies 15 major brands by up to 22 yards.” The ball did not conform to USGA specifications, a fact the manufacturer, National Golf Center, a.k.a. Best Enterprises of Yalesville, Conn., refused to mention in the advertisement.

Thanks to one of my readers for submitting this interesting piece of golf lore. Quoting Herbert Warren Wind, “There is only one way to play golf, and that is by the rules.” In an era when bending, shall we politely say, the rules is often actively encouraged in most sports, and almost always tacitly condoned, the rules of golf — and attitudes toward those who would break them — remain inflexible. Golf is the last honest game!

In football, the ability to hold without being detected is considered a necessity. In basketball these days, it seems that virtually every rule drawn up by Dr. Naismith is trashed every trip down court. Hockey players clutch, grab and far too often perpetuate worse crimes against their opponents, all the while seeing if they can curve their sticks a few extra millimeters. In baseball, hitters cork their bats while pitchers doctor the ball. Such things are not part of the game of golf.

We live in an era when stories of civic corruption appear daily on the front page, and even when our president engages in lowly behavior in the highest office in the land. Honesty and integrity are in short supply — except on the golf course, where they can be found in abundance. Players on all levels of the game strictly adhere to the rules, and routinely call violations on themselves. Failure to do so leaves a stigma, a stain on a player’s reputation that is all but impossible to shake, even if the accusation is shaky. In what sport is a player asked to keep his own score?

I remember clearly, Tom Watson standing in the deep rough at Oakmont, with hardly anyone near him, calling out to me as the official on the scene, that his ball moved when he addressed it and was taking a penalty stroke. Nobody saw it happen, but it was the only way to play the game, and he respected the integrity of the game and his own as well.

I also remember the furor caused when Jarmo Sandelin accused Mark O’Meara of replacing his ball a fraction of an inch ahead of where it had been marked at the Lancome Trophy in France. Following Vijay Singh’s victory in the Masters, it was brought up that he once was accused of changing a score in an event on the Asian Tour some 20 years ago.

Cheating is unthinkable! Quoting from a story by Herbert Warren Wind in the New Yorker and later reprinted in his book, “Following Through,” describing the honesty of the legendary Bobby Jones: “Almost invariably when the subject of Jones’s sportsmanship comes up, someone will mention how he twice called penalties on himself in our Open — once in the second round of the 1925 championship at the Worcester Country Club when, after he had addressed the ball, it moved slightly in high grass as he was preparing to play a recovery from the rough on the 11th hole, and once in the second round the next year, at Scioto in Columbus, Ohio, when his ball moved the tiniest fraction as he was addressing it with his putter on the 15th green. Both times, nobody else saw his ball move.

“In 1926, as it happened, Jones went on to win the Open, but in 1925 he finished in a tie for first with Willie MacFalane, to whom he subsequently lost in an extended playoff. It is often argued that the penalty strokes Jones called on himself cost him the championship.”

Those were examples, Wind wrote, of “Jones’s tenet that there is only one way to play golf, and that is by the rules.” Always bear in mind that you must play the ball as it lies, play the course as you find it, and leave it in better condition for the people playing behind you.

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