According to Rick Reilly, Cheating on the Course Extends to Everything
A surprising and not so surprising book has come out this week entitled Commander in Cheat, written by Rick Reilly. It is both humorous and not so humorous. Even though the subject matter involves the President of the United States, his magical math and other habits, I will skip the political discussion to ponder a larger point made by Reilly. His premise suggests that golf is structured on such a high level of integrity that violating it extends to all else that one does in life. In short, cheating in one thing means one will cheat in everything else. It’s related to the “How you do one thing is how you do everything” principle, one I disagree with. I don’t do everything with the same pursuit of perfection, because not everything is equally important to me, right or wrong. For example, I have been a maddening perfectionist professionally before going home and blissfully leaving socks on the floor and dishes in the sink. What am I, a health inspector?
Reilly cites Arnold Palmer as being hesitant to do business with anyone with whom he has not yet played at least one round of 18. Palmer’s contention is that nobody can play 18 without revealing at some point just who he or she is. If one is a cheater, a “jerk,” an optimist or pessimist, has an irrational need to win at all costs, or is timid, it will all come out by the back nine. Having crossed the continent from ocean to ocean 150 times on the ground, mostly in the old days, my counterpart to the Palmer theory is, “If you drive three thousand miles with someone, it’s all going to come out.” All that is to say that Palmer is absolutely correct. However, in terms of cheating, doesn’t the importance of score and whatever is at stake relevant to how firmly one upholds the games’ principles?
When most of us come to the tee box, we’re not going to win any real money, no matter what we do. We aren’t going to prison, no matter how badly we play. Some of us might not be the competitive type, and don’t care whether we beat so-and-so in the round. I am more the type who says “I want to beat myself, the one who played pretty well last week.” Such an approach lets the ego off the hook and promotes congratulations for others’ good shots. In short, for most of us there is nothing at stake. Sitting in the rough with grass up to the knees, or standing six inches behind a giant sequoia, the USGA rule book just doesn’t seem all that important. No one will be impacted if I move it, stroke or not, but I might knock myself out cold if I try to hit it from this spot. Is the ball sitting in a hole on the fairway? It was once tempting to nudge it around a bit, although now I enjoy the challenge of the harder shot. I would never do the equivalent of such a thing in my long-term career, but especially as a youth, I did it more than once on the course. My thinking at the time? I’m not going to score that well anyway, and have come here to enjoy the experience of the shot, one at a time. And, I don’t report rounds for a handicap any more.
Then, there are the super-religious. The rigidity and complexity of the rule book is drawn along the model of the Old Testament. We can’t sort of play golf. Play it the way it is governed. Last paragraph aside, I actually do believe in this, especially in any form of competition. It is important for the self as well. You can’t go home and say, “I shot a 78” if you really shot a 96 with self-offered perks. One does undermine the legitimacy of the round by giving into “Oh well, it’s not important. It’s not cheating – this is gentleman’s golf.” Most of us would rather go home and say “I really did shoot a 78, no no no…a real one, every stroke.”
In the end, I don’t swear by the claim that cheating at golf is being a cheater in all of life. However, in the really serious cases, such as claiming club championships no one else played in or knew existed, it might be an important indicator.