Ivan Morris Column - Cheating in golf is on the rise

Limerick Leader golf columnist Ivan Morris
ACCORDING to his book, The Honest Truth About Dishonesty, in which golf gets a whole chapter, Dan Ariely, a Professor of Behavior Science at Duke University, writes that almost everyone is dishonest to some degree if given the opportunity and there is a better than even chance of getting away with it.

ACCORDING to his book, The Honest Truth About Dishonesty, in which golf gets a whole chapter, Dan Ariely, a Professor of Behavior Science at Duke University, writes that almost everyone is dishonest to some degree if given the opportunity and there is a better than even chance of getting away with it.

If we remove consequences, nearly every golfer cheats at least a little but almost nobody cheats as much as they could.

Golfers, apparently, are well capable of performing bizarre mental gymnastics to rationalize small transgressions.

When we see people getting away with dishonesty, we are more likely to be dishonest ourselves. That is why there is a perception that the majority of golfers are cheating and they believe they cannot win without doing it too.

Ariely’s solution is simple: Make golfers swear a type of Olympic Oath. Remind them that they have a moral code. If golfers signed their scorecards prior to, rather than at the end of, a round they would cheat less.

It’s sad but true that for an individual to cheat consistently there has to be others involved as ‘facilitators.’ Nearly every club has its rump of handicap bandits that dominate the winner’s circle. Their friends play with them; sign their cards and pay up their losses to them without a murmur.

Officialdom gives the impression of sitting on its hands and letting them away with it but what can they do? Climb up trees armed with binoculars and watch every known suspect in the land?

If golfers want to abuse the system, there is always a way of doing so. It’s just the fact that they can get away with it that is so annoying.

For whatever reasons, cheating at golf appears to have grown in recent years and the perception is that it is now ‘out of control.’ It’s almost impossible to win a competition without playing ‘miles’ better than one’s handicap. It’s not unusual to see scores of 45-points (i.e. 9-under par!) and upwards in the winner’s enclosure.

The majority (in my opinion) of these ‘lucky winners’ immediately focus their efforts on recovering the excessive, spare, shots in hand that they have lost by commencing a handicap building regime, so they can repeat the exercise all over again as soon as possible.

The type of person who builds his handicap in order to gain an unfair edge doesn’t seem to care what others think or that he is only cheating himself in the long run. Apparently, these so-called sportsmen think winning unfairly is worth risking one’s good reputation.

Handicap cheating occurs at both ends of the spectrum. It’s just as sickening to see some so-called scratch men struggling to break 85 in national and provincial championships and keeping more genuine golfers on the sidelines.

Those with inflated handicaps are seen as a bigger problem than those with handicaps too low for their ability.

Golfers who shoot in the high 80’s and 90’s in scratch events are only making fools of themselves. The loosely handicapped golfer who walks away with the big prize is making fools of his club mates and letting himself down.

Checking handicap records would reveal nothing. The cheats know how to use the system to their advantage. The use of ‘average score’ instead of a player’s capability is the crux of the matter. That is what may need to change.

That a golfer can, if he wants to, maliciously control his own handicap is at the core of the problem. Prior to 1983, influencing one’s own handicap was impossible. Back then, getting cut was easy, getting shots back was hard; these days, it’s the opposite.

For me, the entire ethos of the game has changed; poisoned the atmosphere and made me think that golf is no longer a game worth playing, competitively at least.

I blame the advent of the golf classic, corporate outings and society golf, especially when played in the team format. The only good thing that came out of the recession was the decline in classics with their alluring arrays of prizes.

Classics played a huge part in creating the highwayman culture that is so prevalent in golf today.

The official GUI line is: “Golf is a game of honour. If people decide to cheat, there is no way of stopping them.” Of course there is, but it requires gumption, energy and leadership in quantities that appear to be lacking.

The CONGU handicap system is not perfect but it is also true to say that no matter what system is in place, some golfers will find ways to circumvent it.

I am glad to see a small tightening measure coming into force recently. It is now the responsibility of all golfers to report placings (1sts, 2nds, and 3rds) in Classic, Society, Fourball, Foursome, and Team Events to one’s home club.

New regulations regarding open singles for 2015 have been introduced; golfers must have played in 4 qualifying competitions in their home club to be eligible to play in open singles competitions in other clubs.

To mangle a quote by a famous politician known for his mastery of intrigue, this is an Irish handicap solution to an Irish golfing problem because as I said at the beginning, the CONGU system is not working as intended in this country whatever about anywhere else.