Roger Marolt: Roger This
July 8, 2010
I cheat at golf. Floyd Landis, let’s have coffee. If we want other athletes to come clean about their performance-enhancing methods, we’ve got to come clean about our own. The penitence starts here.
They say that there are a million ways to cheat at golf. I only use two. That’s all I need. The first is by taking my own gimmes. When my ball ends up relatively near the hole, I walk to where it lies and tap it, one-handed, toward the cup without bothering to mark it, line it up or take any practice strokes. Of course it’s not going to go in. But, had I taken the time, of course I could have drained it. I shortcut the process in the name of efficiency. Who is going to argue with that? It’s the good guy discount for conscientious golfers – speed up play, take one stroke free.
To my credit, I never improve my lie on the course. I don’t mind hitting from weeds, thickets, bogs, or from beneath the running boards of Escalades in the parking lot. If that’s where my ball comes to rest, I’ll take a hack. If I happen to come out spectacularly, wow! If not, oh well, what did you expect? Besides, I can make it up (literally) on the scorecard.
Which brings me to the other nefarious method I employ on the course. I call this the I-played-that-hole-so-badly-you-better-give-give-me-a-seven method of cheating. It doesn’t matter if you take 15 strokes on a hole, just act so disgusted with yourself that you couldn’t bear to keep track and that a seven ought to be plenty to cover the damage. It shaves more strokes than a summer’s worth of lessons.
Now, I know there are a lot of ladies and gentlemen of the sport getting worked up over this confession, but let me assure you that I don’t cheat when there is anything on the line. I am not a thief. Besides, I learned my lesson a long time ago about cheating in tournaments.
I was pursuing higher education in San Diego. We had spent the morning at the beach on a beautiful Sunday in March. On the way back to campus my friend informed me that old family friends from Chicago were hosting their annual golf tournament at a local country club and that he had to stop by to say “hello.” I reminded him that swim trunks and T-shirts were not proper attire to pay this type of visit. He said we would duck in and out.
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We arrived at lunchtime and, being college boys, lacked all willpower to decline the polite invitation to help ourselves to the pre-tournament buffet and beverages. We overstayed our welcome as the last flights headed for the first tee. The host, certainly praying that we would finally get the hint, threw down the last card in his hand of jokers. He made the obviously preposterous suggestion that we stay and play in their tournament.
Next thing, we were in the pro shop being fitted for clubs. Let me tell you, playing golf in flip-flops is hard. Playing in flip-flops on a truly divine course, not caring if you ever eat or drink again, with borrowed clubs that cost more than the sage-green Chevy Concours that you arrived in is impossible. We shanked. We hooked. We bounced a few balls across the tennis courts. And, trust me, it wasn’t like nobody noticed. Completely stuck in this most embarrassing situation, we dealt with it using all of the wisdom life had bestowed on us up to that early point in our maturation: We got the giggles and acted like jerks.
Afterwards we stayed for more food, making the age-old mistake of figuring that we had come this far. Despite my protest of “what difference would it make,” my buddy insisted on turning our scorecard in, “because they need to keep track of how many people played.” When the awards ceremony rolled around, imagine my surprise then when I was announced as the winner of that generations-old friends and family tournament and had to accept my case of Bailey’s on stage to tepid applause and scandalous whispers. Apparently, my good practical-joking friend, on his way to turning in our scorecard, had changed my 9s to 4s, 8s to 5s, and 5s to 3s. It is as funny now as it was then (Yes, I passed the bottles around, explained the whodunit as best I could, and by the end of the evening most of the crowd thought we were a couple of “OK” kids), but I learned a lesson, too.
I tasted the bitterness of ill-gotten gains from cheating in golf. Because of that experience, and because I am a God-fearing man with a good heart and sometimes use golf to cement business deals, I don’t cheat when there is anything on the line. My strict policy is to only cheat myself.
So, why bother? It comes down to Internet dating, I suppose. A study by Hitsch, Hortacsu, and Ariely revealed that 70 percent of participants claimed they were better looking than average. Twenty-nine percent said they were average. Only 1 percent admitted to being below average. The numbers are similar for self-evaluating intelligence. The point? It appears that the vast majority of us refuse to view ourselves as normal. This is confirmed by people in Aspen discussing their skiing prowess over beers.
It is why people gossip. It’s probably why I cheat at golf. We have to manufacture proof that we are not the ordinary people that, for all anyone else cares, we are.
So, when my calculations begin to project a score heading north of 100, the most valuable wood in my bag becomes the pencil. I know that the century mark is the threshold that separates decent golfers from duffers. So what if I shave a few strokes to come in with a 98 for the day? I won’t be bragging about it, it doesn’t hurt anyone, and I don’t feel like I completely wasted a hundred bucks on green fees plus five hours of a weekend.
Nonetheless, I recognize that we have the ability to change. Writing is about discovery and here I have learned a thing or two about myself. I can make myself a better person. From this day forward, I vow not to gossip.
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