Saturday, July 21, 2007

A Game of Integrity

It is not hogwash, my friends!
by Charlie Leck
Gary Player caused great consternation in the golf world this week – especially at the professional and higher amateur levels – by contending that he has evidence that steroid use among golfers is significant. For those of you who don’t know, Gary Player was a golfer of impeccable integrity and sportsmanship. Along with Bobby Jones before him, Player set the standard for proper behavior while playing the game.

The response to Player from many people is one of disbelief. “This wouldn’t happen in the game of golf,” they replied, “because golf is a game of such high integrity.”

Some in the news media responded to such claims of integrity with guffaws. I heard one sports talk radio personality call such an idea of special integrity nothing but plain old hogwash. “Too much money is at stake,” he said, “in both purses and endorsements.”

I felt as if someone had struck me full force in my solar plexus. Is it really being unrealistic to think that golfers carry a different concept about sportsmanship, ethics and adherence to the rules than competitors in other sports?

I want to loudly answer: “No!” Golfers are different. They understand that the survival of competitive golf depends on player integrity. The playing field in golf is too vast to expect every player at every moment to be monitored. Misbehavior is possible! Fudging on the rules is easy!

One needs to hope that the concept of honesty in golf has been so deeply embedded in the very spirit and tradition of the game that players just simply accept it as part of their responsibility to the game itself.

I volunteer as a Rules Official for the Minnesota Golf Association. I have enormous personal respect for the important rules of the game and what they mean to competitive play. I have never sensed in one single player, at any adult championship in which I have been involved, that any player would think of circumventing the rules. They, naturally, want to get every advantage that the rules of the game will give them, but they wouldn’t dream of playing outside the rules.

The golf world must hope that Gary Player is incorrect. Instituting a drug testing program would be enormously expensive at the professional level. It would be virtually impossible at the championship amateur level.

The United States Golf Association has done a wonderful job over the years of portraying the importance of integrity and sportsmanship in the game. Very few rule books within organized sports begin with a section on etiquette, sportsmanship and honesty. Golf’s rule book begins with just such a section.

Every golfer worth his salt knows the following story. For those of you who do not, it explains the very heart of the game. This is as Don Wade tells the story in his book, And Then Jack Said to Arnie.

In the 1925 U.S. Open at Worcester Country Club [Bobby] Jones called a penalty upon himself, stating that his ball had moved when he addressed it. Nobody but Jones had seen the ball move, and the ensuing one-stroke penalty put him into a playoff with Willie Macfarlane, who beat him the next day. Later, when Jones was praised for his sportsmanship, he bristled.

“There’s only one way to play the game,” he said. “You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank as to praise him for playing by the rules.”

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