Monday, 21 October 2013

The Golfing Etiquette Cheat Sheet

"Yeah," he says, sensing your mistrust, and feigning a mild indignation. "One off the tee, two in the woods, three out, four on, two putts: Six."

You say nothing. Your expression is as steel but your mind reels with doubt and aggrievement. By now you're certain the ball he has played wasn't the one that sliced into the conifers.

"Yeah," he adds, "I had a hell of a lie in the woods. Lucky to find my ball and even then could scarcely take a practice swing. Took three, in fact."

His elaboration gives the lie to his accounting. What was suspicion is now certainty. But what can you say or do?

Over time, the experienced golfer will have developed, through practice at the mirror, a range of expressions capable of conveying varying mixtures of doubt and disapproval, from mildish skepticism to the unspoken outrage felt on coming home to find that the family has been put to the sword by Mongol hordes.

Without having been forced to say so in plain words, you want the cheater in your midst to head for the next tee thinking, "He knows. He knows!" I think you'll find that his ensuing play will more than compensate for any advantage gained through earlier defalcations.

Appropriately enough, in Scotland, the land which gave us the immortal pastime, there is a verdict that is handed down in trials where the evidence falls just short.It is called "Not Proven." What it means is: "Not Guilty-But Don't Do It Again." What you want to have in your psychological kit bag is the physiognomic equivalent of that verdict.

Your other options

Beyond this, you have but three options. The first, totally unacceptable, is to start cheating yourself. The second is never to play with the other person again. But what if it's your boss-or your spouse? #

The third choice is to take a caddie.

Modern popular culture offers two famous scenes in which caddies, in a golf context, play the role reserved for the avenging Furies in Greek tragedy. One is the film of Ian Fleming's Goldfinger in which James Bond (Sean Connery) employs a wily caddie who substitutes balls on Auric Goldfinger (the late Gert Frobe) and foils the cheater at his own game to win the match. The second is an 18th-green confrontation between two millionaires that occurs in "High Stakes," a story by the incomparable P.G. Wodehouse. The stakes have indeed been high: a much-coveted English butler.

Here's how it goes:

"You don't suppose," said Gladstone Bott, "that I would play you an important match unless I had detectives watching you, do you? This gentleman is from the Quick Results Agency. What have you to report?" he said, turning to the caddie.

The caddie removed his bushy eye-brows, and with a quick gesture swept off his mustache. "At the 16th hole the man Fisher moved his ball into what-from his actions and furtive manner-I deduced to be a more favorable position. On the 17th, the man Fisher picked up his ball and threw it with a movement of the wrist onto the green. I took the precaution of snapshotting [him] in the act with my miniature wrist-watch camera, the detective's best friend."

It would be an irony if one of the game's most rapidly disappearing noble features, the caddie, should be rescued from oblivion by one of the game's most rapidly proliferating ignoble features, the cheat. The effect would be largely deterrent in nature. Is not prevention nine-tenths of cure? And better the caddie than I, because if I let my suspicions take over my time in Paradise, if I pay more attention to my opponent's situation than to mine, then it is Paradise no longer.

The sad conclusion is that every artificial step we take to protect golf against cheating is a pimple of suspicion that only disfigures this glorious pastime. We lose more than we gain. The only true, decent, long-range solution is to exclude from the game, at whatever level, those who are not prepared to put their full faith and credit behind its principles. Over time, as Tom Watson suggests, we will know who they are. If we do, we should not play with them. Or, for that matter, vote for them.

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