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  • Alistair Tait

Doing the right thing isn't always easy

Gordon Brand Jnr wasn’t sure it was worth it. Even though he’d done the right thing.

Brand Jnr, who passed away last year at the young age of 60, found himself in a real predicament on the European Tour many moons ago. The eight-time European Tour winner caught a player cheating. Not just any player, but a local favourite.

Brand Jnr called said player out. Thankfully, the third member of the group witnessed the infraction and backed the two-time Ryder Cup player up. The guilty party was disqualified for a serious breach of the rules, and home fans jeered Brand Jnr for the rest of the tournament.

“It was an awful experience,” Brand Jnr told me. “I remember thinking I wish I either hadn’t seen the incident or had just ignored it.”

It’s not always easy doing the right thing in golf. Our game seems to be the only sport where knowledge of the rules can earn you a reputation for poor sportsmanship. The number of times I’ve been asked by another player how he should proceed, outlined the correct drop and said player complains are too numerous to mention. That’s when this phrase comes in handy:

“It’s the nearest point of relief, not the nicest point.”

I still remember the first time I caught someone cheating.

I just wish I’d acted differently.

I’d hit a shocker of a tee shot on a par 5. The pull to end all pulls. It was so far left it could have been heading for the offices of the Socialist Worker newspaper.

Another player in my fourball, a senior in the club of some standing, had also hit his ball left, albeit not as far left as mine. As I trudged to my ball I noticed his ball had come to rest right behind a tree. Shame, I thought, since a few feet either side and he would have had a nice gap to hit his ball back onto the fairway, and given himself a good chance of making par.

I heard him say something like “I think yours went in here” as he walked over to help me hunt for the ball. That’s when I saw him kick his ball a few feet to the side of the tree, giving himself a clear route back to the fairway.

Panic set in. Do I say something? Do I not?

I remember thinking that if I say something it’s going to ruin my round. My partner and I were four up on this person and his partner at the time, and there was no way we could lose. It was my word against his since the other two were on the right hand side of the fairway and hadn't seen the incident. I decided to stay schtum.

Guess what? It still ruined my round. Even though I think we won 6&5, I couldn’t get the thought of his deliberate action out of my head. And it was deliberate. I later learnt said individual had a reputation for the "leather mashie." Don’t be so shocked. There’s usually one in every club.

Rather than have to put myself in a similar situation in future, I did what most of us do: I decided to try to avoid playing with said individual.

Of course, I should have said something. It burned inside me for days afterwards. I actually came up with the form of words I should have used to broach the subject that wouldn't have sounded adversarial:

“I think you’ve accidentally kicked your ball,” is what I should've said.

I did play with said individual again. It was winter and preferred lies were in effect. He preferred his ball when it was clearly off the fairway. When I pulled him up on it he said he thought his ball WAS on the fairway. Nice try.

Of course, not everyone who breaks the rules does so on purpose. We’ve all made rules gaffes. Sometimes it’s just a genuine mistake. Other times it’s just ignorance. It’s just as important to pull someone up for the sake of education.

Even then you can get dirty looks and a negative reaction, as if knowledge of the rules is something of a stigma.

It’s not always easy doing the right thing in golf.

#JustSaying: "You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank as to praise him for playing by the rules." Bobby Jones

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