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  • Alistair Tait

Why is golf so afraid of the C word?

Updated: Feb 20, 2020

Brooks Koepka’s appearance at the SiriusXM/Pandora studios in Oakland, California this week was refreshing. He was unambiguous when asked if he thought Patrick Reed “was cheating” during last year’s Hero World Championship. Three times he said “yes.”

I wish more were like Koepka, which begs the question: Why is golf so afraid of the C word?

Here’s the exchange between host Sway Calloway and the four-time major winner on Reed scraping sand behind his ball in a bunker not once, but twice, for which Reed received a two-shot penalty.

“Was he cheating?” Calloway asked.
“Yeah. I think, yeah, yeah,” Koepka said. “I mean, I don’t know what he was doing, building sand castles in the sand but, you know, you know where your club is. I mean, I took three months off and I can promise you I know if I touched sand. It’s one of those things where you know, if you look at the video obviously he grazes the sand twice and then he still chops down on it.
“If you play the game you understand the rules. You understand the integrity that goes on. I mean, there’s no room for it.”

Except there is room for it, that’s one of golf’s problems. Too often the authorities shoot the messenger instead taking proper action on players who break rules the majority of average golfers wouldn’t break.

Koepka may even face a fine for his words. The PGA Tour doesn’t take too kindly to players criticising fellow professionals. Think of the heat Cameron Smith took when he hammered Reed during the Presidents Cup.

They won’t be the first to feel the wrath of professional tours for calling out a fellow player.

England’s Gary Evans was shot down when he raised Colin Montgomerie’s actions during the 2005 Indonesian Open in Jakarta, when the Scot placed his ball in a better lie near the 14thgreen after an overnight suspension of play.

Montgomerie has always maintained he made a “genuine mistake.” He finished fourth in the tournament and later donated his prize money (€34,708) to charity.

Most European Tour pros believed Montgomerie should have been disqualified. Some even suggested he should have received a ban. The European Tour’s tournament committee criticised the Scot for his actions but did not take any concrete action.

Evans raised his concerns at a players’ meeting at Wentworth, and then spoke to the press. Evans was castigated for daring to speak out. Then European Tour CEO George O’Grady was livid, especially since he’d advised players during the meeting not to air the Tour’s dirty laundry in public.

Sandy Lyle was criticised four years later when he suggested the C word in relation to Montgomerie.

Three time European Ryder Cup captain and fellow Scot Bernard Gallacher said Lyle was “out of order.” O’Grady said Lyle’s comments were “wholly inappropriate and ill-timed.”

Is there cheating in golf? Absolutely. Is it widespread? Absolutely not! The vast majority of people who play this game do so honestly and fairly. However, there are instances of players who have been banned from the game for cheating. They are few and far between for one very simple reason: we don’t like to talk about the C word.

The last thing a professional tour wants is a cheating scandal because it does not gel with the game’s image. The pro tours sell themselves on the back of golf being the most honest of sports. The last thing they want is to tarnish that image.

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you is the message.

I’ll close by paraphrasing Immanuel Kant in “Critique of Pure Reason:”

“Whenever institutions seek to shelter themselves behind their integrity, they justly arouse distrust against themselves, forfeiting any claim to respect which logic dictates we give to organisations able to bear the test of free and open scrutiny.”

We need to talk openly about the C word rather than going to great lengths to shut down the discussion.

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