Skip to main content
Original Issue

You Make the Call The great thing about golf is that even the fans help keep the game honest

Now that we've been Bubbacued, trust might seem like an
old-fashioned concept. That's why it's worth remembering that
there are still places where people do the right thing even when
no one is watching. Consider tournament golf.

Linda Tripp could become commissioner of the PGA Tour and the
public would still trust pro golfers to play fair. While rules,
like records, are made to be broken in other sports--as long as
you're not caught by an official, anything goes--golf clings to an
old-world honor system.

The most recent example of the game's rectitude occurred at last
month's World Series of Golf, during which Lee Janzen's ball,
teetering on the lip of the cup, took more than 10 seconds to
fall. Janzen didn't tap in, he said, because he thought the ball
was still turning slightly as it hung on the edge of the hole,
and it's illegal to hit a moving ball. After about 20 seconds, 10
more than the Rules of Golf allow, the ball did drop. Later, a
television viewer called in to say that Janzen should have been
assessed, or assessed himself, a stroke penalty. Even though no
weekend golfer would dare enforce that rule, it was the correct
call, and Janzen was DQ'd for signing a scorecard with a lower
total than what he had shot.

At first Janzen was peeved by the decision, just as Craig Stadler
was irked in 1987 when a viewer busted him for "building a
stance" when he knelt on a towel to play a shot and as Paul
Azinger was put out in '91 when TV showed him reflexively kicking
away a rock in a water hazard, thereby "improving his stance."
But they came to accept that nothing could be more just. A rule
was broken. End of story. It didn't matter if anyone saw the
infraction. That's a standard rarely met in our society, and
these instances point up one of the remarkable aspects of the
game: Only golf is a truly interactive sport, its fans empowered
to the extent that they can influence the outcome of a

In fact, most recreational golfers, whether they know it or not,
don't play by the rules--as Tour veteran Dave Hill once said,
"Golf is the hardest game to play well, and the easiest to cheat
at"--yet those who play for money or glory hold the rules sacred.
There's more than idealism at work. A Tour pro who was caught
cheating is forever tainted and his accomplishments diminished.
Even a player suspected of cheating faces silent hostility from
his peers.

I have another theory why tournament golfers take such pains to
follow the rules. Self-esteem is paramount to the psychology of a
winning player, and cheating betrays a weakness of character. In
the most telling moments of competition, the knowledge of that
weakness undermines the self-confidence needed to win.
Instinctively and intellectually, a tournament golfer knows a
cheater is a loser.

No wonder tournament golfers try so hard to go the other way. In
the third round of this year's Western Open, Joe Durant, a
journeyman, was near the lead as he stood over a short putt.
After taking a last look at the hole, Durant glanced down and
thought his ball was in a minutely different position than it had
been a second before. Fearing that the ball had moved, he
replaced it and penalized himself a stroke. The next day, his
resolve pure, he earned his first Tour victory.

This is powerful medicine, the stuff Andrew Carnegie had in mind
when he bequeathed $200,000 to Yale to build a golf course,
explaining, "Golf is an indispensable adjunct to high
civilization." Bing Crosby was also onto something when he noted,
"Gentlemen play golf. And if you aren't a gentleman when you
start, after the crushing events of the game, you surely become

Golf is one of President Clinton's favorite pastimes, and he
surely would have benefited from living by the code of the game.
He took a big step in that direction last week when he said, "I
have no one to blame but myself for my self-inflicted wounds."

Every bona fide golfer knows that to be true.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ZOHAR LAZAR [Drawing of man dressed as referee talking on telephone while pointing at golfer on television]

A rule was broken. End of story.... That's a standard rarely
met in our society.