65: The Day I Cheated

65: The Day I Cheated

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tales of Golf and Sport

The Day I Cheated

Make yourself an honest man, and then you may be sure there is one less rascal in the world.

~Thomas Carlyle

Golf has always been the game I love. The physical challenge. The mental challenge. The ability to summon a shot from the depths of my being when double bogey is staring me down. Golf is pure, and that’s the way I play it. Except for that time a few years ago.

For the first time, for the only time, I cheated in a golf match. It haunts me to this day. It was against my best golfing buddy, Frank, and it changed me as a person and as a golfer. Forever.

Until that heated match one Sunday afternoon, I had never intentionally broken or even bent a single rule of golf. Never.

Like so many of our duels, our match that day was all square going into the eighteenth hole, a par-5 where anything worse than par meant losing the hole. At stake was the normal whopping three dollars. I hooked badly into the woods off the tee. Frank, aka Steady Eddie, split the middle of the fairway as usual.

After a short search alone amongst the trees, I found my ball wedged between two roots. It was quite unplayable.

Through the leaves, I could see Frank striding toward his tee shot. I dropped within two club lengths and smacked a 3-iron through an opening in the trees. Frank was applauding as I emerged from the woods, and for good reason. My ball laid 175 yards down the fairway in perfect position for my approach.

A few minutes later, Frank tapped in to match my “par.”

“Nice match,” he said, extending his hand. “No blood.”

I shook his hand and kept my mouth shut. I don’t know why. I have thought about that day often, and I have no answers.

I remember throwing cold water on my face in the clubhouse restroom after the round. I stared at myself in the mirror and let the water drip back into the sink.

Frank had obviously not seen me take the drop in the woods. He assumed my tap-in was for par, when I knew very well that it was for bogey. So I kept my three dollars that day.

The next morning I took a long hard look at myself. I wondered who this cheating person was and how long he would be around. It pained me to have cheated, and it pained me to have dishonored a game I consider so noble.

I can’t help but think about that afternoon as each new golf season begins. I remember how badly I felt, but mostly I remind myself how good it feels to walk off a green after having ground out a par, a real par, or maybe even a hard-fought bogey, from a situation that looked like a sure double. I tell myself that the shots that feel the best—the ones you remember in the nineteenth hole and in the car on the ride home—are those you pull off from horrendous lies with a clump of mud stuck to the ball. I remind myself that my playing partners—my friends—should never, ever, have to question my integrity on the course, no matter how miraculous my recovery shot.

A trip to Ireland last year emphasized to me the importance of the relationship between golf and integrity. “Lad,” said an Irishman I played a round with, “over here we touch the ball just twice each hole: when we tee it up and when we pluck it from the bottom of the cup.”

Perhaps more than anything, it is precisely such memories of the men and women whom I have had the honor of walking a round with over in Ireland and Scotland that compel me to be true to myself on the course. It seems every player over there has been somehow imbued with the spirit of Old Tom Morris. Just as they cannot comprehend why Americans would choose to ride around in a “buggy” when it is abundantly clear that golf is walking, neither can they understand why anyone would ever do something as foolish and demeaning as cheating on the course.

In the British Isles, golf is played by the rules, and never by “winter rules.”

The majority of players in this country break the rules—or choose to ignore them—every weekend, never understanding that they are diminishing themselves every time they roll it in the fairway. Is there a truer adage than the one that says we can tell everything we need to know about a person’s character by playing a round of golf with him or her? If your playing partners witness you bumping your ball in the fairway, do you think this doesn’t influence their opinion of you?

I only wonder what Frank thinks of me.

~John Meyers
Chicken Soup for the Golfer’s Soul

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