There are a lot of things you can do on a golf course to get your playing partners or fellow competitors riled up.
You can play slowly. No one likes to be around that.
You can breach the rules of etiquette, such as hitting before it’s your turn or getting in someone’s line of sight while they’re hitting.
You can lose your temper or just be generally obnoxious. You soon might be doing that nonsense alone.
But there’s one thing that you never want to be accused of, under any circumstances.
In my view, it’s one of the biggest reasons why our great game is so great. Cheat in other sports and people might snicker as they admire your moxie; cheat in golf and they will sneer as they question your character.
Patrick Reed is getting a dose of that treatment this week at the Presidents Cup. The fans in Australia have been unrelenting in reminding Reed of his rules faux pas last week at the Hero World Challenge.
Reed insists he wasn’t trying to improve his lie when he brushed the sand with two practice swings, which brings to mind the only thing worse than being penalized for cheating – trying to talk your way out of it and make it seem less egregious.
It culminated Saturday in Reed’s caddy – actually his brother-in-law – getting into an altercation with a fan after Reed lost again. Oh great … another “ugly American” incident on foreign soil. Just what the American team needed.
Reed had to know he would hear jeers all over the golf course this weekend. Maybe the fans at a U.S. event would be more forgiving – although I wonder about that. But in Australia? Where they like to have a brewski or three? In a highly competitive team event? This was an incident waiting to happen.
Even Cameron Smith, a member of the International team, mocked Reed’s defense earlier this week. You can just imagine what’s being said about Reed in the International team room.
It’s fine for Reed to insist that he unknowingly violated the rules, but he should stop there. He would do himself a favor if he just admitted he made a mistake and vowed it won’t happen again.
Oh, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to avoid things like the shoveling motion he made on one green in response to the fans’ taunts.
There’s a lesson here for all of us.
First, it’s important to understand the rules of your own group. Some regular foursomes keep it pretty loose out there. They improve their lie. They don’t bother with stroke-and-distance on a ball that goes out of bounds. A 4-footer might be a gimme.
That’s fine if you’re not playing in a tournament. I’ve got to admit that every time I play in a scramble and see a team shooting something in the neighborhood of 18 under par, I wonder if they were a little loose with the rules or can’t count higher than four.
Second, if you do play in a tournament, LEARN THE RULES. Know how to proceed when your ball is lost or unplayable. Carry a rulebook in your bag. And, by all means, don’t hit the sand with a practice swing or ground your club behind the ball as you’re preparing to hit it out of a bunker.
Finally, if you violate the rules inadvertently when no one was watching, ’fess up. For example, if you accidentally nudge the ball forward in the rough as you address it, that’s a stroke. You need to tell your playing partners. It hurts, but it’s the rule.
People will respect you for your honesty, and honesty is central to the game we love. If you can’t be honest in golf, you’re not just cheating everyone else – you’re cheating yourself.