I’ve been playing professional golf for just over two years now, spending most of my time playing the Asian Tour, PGA Tour China, PGA Tour of Australasia and the Asian Development Tour.
When I first turned professional I expected things to be a lot different to what I have realised they are. In Australia, I grew up in a small country town and learned to play golf with the older members of my home club, Mansfield Golf Club.
I used to think to myself, these guys were real sticklers for the rules and etiquette of golf. I now understand why and I’m very appreciative I was brought up to respect and play by the rules, and demonstrate correct etiquette.
It has certainly been a shock to my system during the past two years. As a rough estimate, I would say I have witnessed or heard from fellow players of over 50 incidents of cheating.
As a quick run down, I’ve decided to mention nine incidents I have seen personally.
- I have caught a player dropping an extra ball when he couldn’t find his original ball in the rough, then to only receive a two-shot penalty even though I had found his original ball. After the round while we were in the official’s office discussing it, I was against not only the player but his father, who was his caddie for the day. My character was questioned and both the player and his father stood firm that the player had not done a single thing wrong. This was let go by the rules officials.
- In a similar incident recently, a player found his ball very suspiciously when we had all stopped looking – he had gone to his bag for another ball.
- I have witnessed at least 12 players grounding their club in a hazard and not even blinking an eye or thinking of calling a penalty on themselves.
- I have played with golfers numerous times who, when it comes to the last few holes before the cut, were checking progressive scores on their phone to see what they needed to do. I’m aware that’s not completely incriminating, but it’s still suspicious.
- I’ve had several players who wanted check if their ball was embedded in the rough by marking it, picking up the ball, and replacing it in a better lie, knowing the ball was never embedded.
- I have seen relief being taken from water hazards at a 90-degree angle to where the ball landed in the water – not where it last crossed the hazard. This happens regularly; players never drop anywhere near where the ball last crossed the hazard line and rules officials allow this to happen.
- I caught a player on the green marking his ball on the side of the ball, only to replace it at least an inch directly in front of his marker.
- I have seen a player arrive eight minutes past his tee time, but still given the all clear to play.
- I have seen a golfer play an incorrect and then try to sign for an incorrect score, only to be found out for the rules violation and that his own ball had gone in a water hazard. This only occurred when players were escorted back out to the hole after the round and his original ball was found in the water.
These are only incidents I have personally seen. If I was to list every incident I had heard from other players, you would be reading a rather large article.
I can’t speak for tours I have never played on, and wouldn’t try to tarnish our great game without personal evidence. But cheating is commonly occurring in the professional game on the tours that I do compete on.
A lot of players can keep playing after witnessing incidents like this and not let it affect their own game. I, and many other tour pros, cannot let it go. We feel like banging our heads against the wall while out competing.
I take it upon myself to watch every move a player in my group makes and admittedly, it takes away from my own game. Each week, I’d guess there are at least two or three issues me and my group of mates on tour talk about. Most of the time it’s the cheating players themselves to blame. However, sometimes the rules officials are also the problem. There are many underqualified rules officials who are too lenient and allow free drops to be taken – a clear slap in the face to the rules of the game.
We are playing for a living as professional golfers and cheating on the course is stealing in the workplace. The integrity of the game is compromised and it’s extremely frustrating for the players who actually adhere to the rules.
Not only are we being stolen from, but other things such as world rankings and qualification for future tournaments (even the Olympics) is affected. The culture with respect to the rules needs to change. The players and officials need to be brought up to speed with the Rules of Golf, and told that respecting these laws is what makes our game so great.
The PGA of Australia leads the way in world golf as it has a great initiative where all new members must complete an online rules course before being able to enter new tournaments – something I believe all tours should copy. It’s neither tough nor time consuming, but is a great refresher for the players.
Cheating is such a silenced topic in golf and when somebody is questioned about a rules violation, it’s as if the person following the rules is committing the crime.It must start from the top with regards to enforcing these changes and needs to involve all players. I don’t believe it would be a hard thing to implement – just a few player meetings and discussions around the rules, and the obligation of players to complete rules courses. A roll-on effect is waiting for referees, and therefore slowing down play, is also eliminated.
This can affect more than just tour players. It affects the integrity of the sport and can filter down to things such as losing sponsors.
It is each individual’s responsibility to follow the rules and playing partners to enforce the rules of our magnificent game before golf’s reputation is tarnished beyond repair.