It’s something we’re asked on a weekly basis, in some iteration, fuelled by curiosity and a thirst for gossip: “Do these guys cheat?” Despite its frequency, the question can make even the biggest blabbermouths bashful, most clinging to the time-honoured, somewhat misguided omerta that surrounds the subject.
Which I don’t understand. I’m happy to answer, and do every time. In my eyes, is cheating a problem on the PGA Tour?
Yes, we all have stories. Hard not to after nearly a decade out here. But it’s not as prevalent or excessive as some might believe. Even the players who carry less-than-stellar reputations, or have been dinged before, are not as bad as they’re portrayed. In my estimation, and talking with other caddies, these guys often make unintentional mistakes that rarely happen twice.
Well, save for one international guy. Just an absolute nightmare when it comes to law-breaking.
Whatever trick you can imagine – fudging coins, liberal drops, patting behind the ball for a better lie – he does it, and does so without remorse. His big tell is carrying a driver or fairway wood from the tee to his position in the rough. Takes out more grass than a weed whacker. But, honestly, he’s the exception.
Now, there is one problem area, and that comes to hazards. It’s not an epidemic, but more and more, players are dropping incorrectly. It can be hard to be precise – how can you really be sure where a ball enters when you’re 300 yards away? Just recently at an early-season event, a number of players hit it into the water on one hole and dropped farther up than they should have, mostly because where the ball crossed would have left a third shot where you couldn’t reach the green. If you’re looking for a future controversy, this will be the subject.
I’ve been asked a lot lately, because of the LPGA Q-Series incident, about soliciting advice on club selection. One of the women involved said it happens all the time in professional golf. To which I say, “Eh?” In most instances, a caddie will walk over and look to see what’s missing in the bag. If we’re in a featured group, we’ll flash a number to a cameraman or reporter; for those seeking guidance, there’s your sign. I’ve seen caddies, occasionally, pass along this info. But after Christina Kim sounded the alarm, no chance you’ll see it happen again.
Other than that, it’s pretty clean out here. There’s a pride among players, and caddies, that we play a fair game. The other week, Russell Henley called a penalty on himself for accidentally violating the one-ball rule (using the same model), something no one would have possibly known but him. He’s the rule, not the exception.
That goes for the mini-tours as well. You would think the temptation is greater, given what’s at stake. The lack of cameras and media coverage make it easier, too. But in my experience, the conduct is the same. Cheating rarely happens.
What bugs me is when fans and media accuse players of cheating with “hot” drivers. Please. Manufacturers let players know the clubs are conforming; that’s the extent of the conversation. The CT machines are so fickle that it’s embarrassing we use them. At the Safeway Open, it was reported that five drivers failed the USGA’s test. It was actually closer to eight (trust me). One of those drivers that failed was put on another machine and passed. What a joke. By the way, the advantage of those non-conforming clubs is maybe an extra yard. No one is risking their reputation for that.
Same goes for performance-enhancing drugs. I understand the scepticism, especially when the few players who have been popped are not exactly household names. Yet, from what I gather, stricter drug testing would be welcome because there’s nothing to hide.
As for protocol, when I have seen funny business, I tell my man – and my man only – and let him decide what to do. I’m definitely not running to a rules official, but a heads-up from my player might invite more scrutiny down the road. After all, I’m just the guy carrying the bag.
– with Joel Beall