“Achievements on the golf course are not what matters. Decency and honesty are what matter” – Tiger Woods
My first love was baseball. I stayed home as a kid in April 1977 to watch the first Toronto Blue Jays game on TV; mom new I wasn’t sick but she understood. The history, the seeming simplicity, the inherent challenge of hitting a round ball with a round bat. It’s a storytellers’ game, a game of eras where the greats of each generation stand as icons and heroes. I could go on and on. But this year, a cheating scandal came to light which, in my opinion, rivaled the Chicago Black Sox scandal of 1919. Unlike then, punishment was calculated, almost muted. The crux of my issue is punishment in sport needs to both penalize and deter. The Houston Astros, as of today, still retain their 2017 World Championship. And that is simply wrong. I don’t see how a systematic approach to cheating is no longer seen as a threat to the game, instead the threat is making sure you don’t get caught. But if so, meh. End justifies the means. It’s absurd. But what about golf?
“If we are to preserve the integrity of golf as left to us by our forefathers, it is up to all of us to carry on the true spirit of the game” – Ben Crenshaw
Enter Patrick Reed. The 2018 Masters Champion was caught on camera improving his lie in a bunker at the 2019 Hero Challenge. This galvanized a reputation for many based-on allegations as a college student at Augusta State. Recently, on the No Laying Up podcast, former CBS analyst Peter Kostis threw gasoline on the smoldering fire with comments alleging he saw Reed improve his lie on four separate occasions. If we assume Kostis is correct, we’re seeing the emergence of patterned behavior. And again, like the Houston Astros situation, penalties for Reed amounted to a light slap on the wrist, nothing close to a punishment with sufficient deterrent. Ask Lexi Thompson about the impact of penalties (see ANA Inspiration 2017).
“If there is one thing golf demands above all else, it is honesty” – Jack Nicklaus
I understand the principles of golf being unique in that players govern themselves. I understand, too, that golf is imperfect in its assessment of rules/penalties. Using the Thompson example, it boggles my mind how retroactive penalties can be imposed mid-round in a tournament. So perhaps that is not an ideal solution either. The facts are, blatant cheating, like we witnessed with Patrick Reed, has been left relatively unchecked. There is no real deterrent, in fact, the game of golf markets Reed’s villain status. So much for integrity and self-regulation. The images of Patrick Reed mimicking shoveling are the kind of things that should embarrass golf leadership into action, and not from their marketing/communications departments.
Fiery personalities? No problem. Brash and confident? Excellent. But there is a responsibility for players in golf to play with integrity. If there were more like Jason Millard, Ray Floyd of Brian Davis, the game would be in a better place. I admire the skill which Patrick Reed has. I loathe his lack of integrity and respect for the game. I am ashamed and embarrassed at the leadership in professional golf, and baseball, for being so tone deaf and seemingly unwilling to make a stand and demonstrate with strong action that actions like those of the Houston Astros, and Patrick Reed, will not be tolerated. Penalize. Deter. Maybe, and I acknowledge I am just spitballing here, the real hope here is Augusta National may take action, refusing Patrick to don the green jacket moving forward. The leadership void in sports these days confuses me.
Absent any true leadership, I am going to seek out and celebrate stories of those who put the game before themselves. To me, it is one the defining assets in the game of golf.