Accusations of cheating are tossed around as casually as wedding confetti in most sports, whether it’s Tom Brady’s flaccid ball or Neymar’s roll playing. Not in golf, though. The PGA Tour markets itself as a roving Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, in which upright citizens conduct themselves with probity while helping bestow charitable riches in towns across America.
That image isn’t entirely contrived. The overwhelming majority of Tour pros are honest competitors, and public claims of unscrupulous on-course behavior are rare. Sure, not everyone meets the loftiest standards of conduct, but you can appreciate why the Tour’s old motto sacrificed awkward accuracy — “99 Percent of These Guys Are Good” – for comforting sentiment.
When the Rules of Golf make news, it’s almost always due to unwitting infractions or witless enforcement. Seldom because of an alleged deliberate violation. That’s what made the recent episode between Joel Dahmen and Sung Kang at the Quicken Loans National so extraordinary.
Dahmen objected to a drop Kang proposed to take, a dispute that hinged on whether Kang’s ball had crossed a hazard. The disagreement lasted so long that slowpoke Ben Crane played through. Witnesses backed Dahmen but a rules official sided with Kang.
What made the quarrel noteworthy wasn’t that it happened, but that it became public. “Kang cheated,” Dahmen tweeted unambiguously.
Kang’s defense of himself was tepid, so the Tour did it for him.
“With no clear evidence to prove otherwise, it was determined by the official that Kang could proceed,” a statement read. “The PGA Tour will have no additional comment on this matter.”
That’s in keeping with the Tour’s apparent practice when it comes to allegations of cheating: see, hear and speak no evil. Almost every rules dispute involves one player’s word against another, but in adopting a generous benefit of the doubt approach the Tour effectively buries any suggestion of impropriety. The standard of proof required by the Tour is considerably more onerous than that accepted by the players themselves.
“Bottom line is there are just guys who are going to cheat the rules, no matter what their livelihood,” says one multiple winner on Tour, who requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the topic. “Golf is supposed to be a game of integrity, yet obvious offenders aren’t held accountable.”
Only a tiny number of professionals have earned the suspicion of their peers, leaving playing partners to watch warily and wonder, ‘Will he play fair?’ Yet not everyone among the honorable majority would be willing to call out the dishonest few.
“They don’t want to bother because it takes you out of your game,” said former PGA Championship winner Rich Beem. “It’s an uncomfortable situation for some players. Is it really your job to enforce the rules? Or do you rely on your fellow players to abide by the unwritten gentlemen’s game rule?”
Nor are they encouraged to act when the Tour routinely grants generous latitude to the accused.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan took a positive step in making public drug test violations. He ought to put in place a similarly transparent process to address credible accusations of cheating. The number of deceitful players is small, but there is no deterrent if a player knows his (or her) Tour lacks either the process or stomach to expose them.
It’s inevitable the Tour’s standing will be impacted if a player is found to have cheated. What is avoidable, however, is tarnishing the hard-earned reputation of the 99 percent with a perception that rogues are shielded from the reckoning they deserve.
Golfweek, July 8, 2018.