News & Opinion

Shedding light on golf’s dirty little secret

While following the enhanced radar of Hurricane Florence bearing down on the Carolinas, the thought came to mind about how scary Mother Nature can be.

Scary is not a word often used in a golf context, and when it is, it never could equate to Florence’s wrath after the storm comes ashore.

Thursday, I walked out to the mailbox and received my copy of Golf Magazine and turned to a player poll that I had seen mentioned on Twitter.

This question, asked anonymously of PGA Tour players, got my attention: “Have you ever witnessed a fellow Tour player cheat during a tournament round?”

The answer: 44 percent said “yes.”

In golf, that answer is scary.

The PGA Tour, the USGA and other organizations involved in golf pontificate about the game’s inherent quality of honesty. It’s actually the pillar of the game. Without it, golf as we know it would fail to exist.

Virtually every other sport applauds the bending of rules, and those traits are part of many games.

Teaching how to hold an opponent without getting caught is fundamental in football. Adding a foreign substance on a 90-mph fastball is part of baseball.

Such shortcuts are not the norm in golf.

The word cheating is such a hated pejorative in golf that players and even the media shy away from it when discussing a questionable drop or awkward marking of a ball.

So, when 44 percent of touring pros claim to have witnessed cheating, the reality makes my head swim.

The immediate follow-up question should have been, What did you do when you witnessed the incident?

Remember, every tournament player has a responsibility to protect the field.

So, knowing that responsibility exists, why didn’t those players questioned do something about it?

The reason we know that no action was taken is because the number of players assessed penalty strokes for such acts are very low each year on the PGA Tour.

Of course, when a player does call out a fellow competitor – such as when Joel Dahmen questioned where Sung Kang’s ball crossed a hazard line in the final round of the Quicken Loans National – the accuser often sets himself up for scrutiny. Not only did Dahmen receive unfair criticism, but he got no help from the rules official, who decided to take Kang’s side, reasoning that Dahmen didn’t have enough evidence to support his claim.

One player in the magazine survey said he had seen cheating “multiple times,” adding: “The Tour is a joke when it comes to enforcing the rules.”

That’s not exactly an endorsement of commissioner Jay Monahan and his lieutenants.

Even when the LPGA’s Lexi Thompson violated the rules with a faulty mark, incurring a four-stroke penalty at the 2017 ANA Inspiration, many observers sympathized with her. TV commentators commiserated with her and never really addressed the fact that, with clear evidence via the video replay, she violated the rules and the ruling was justified.

In Thompson’s case, a viewer saw the incident and made a phone call. Golf’s leaders since have banned that ex post facto act, reasoning that it casts an unfavorable view of the game. Instead, we have to rely on players who clearly see violations but won’t bring it to the attention of the rules officials.

Is this a classic Catch-22? I’m sure Joseph Heller wasn’t thinking about golf when he wrote his acclaimed mid-century satirical novel, but if he were around to do a sequel, he just might.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email:; Twitter: @AlexMiceli