On the surface, golf can be described simply: fun, challenging, exhilarating, but a deeper look exposes the real essence of the game, one that can uncover a competitor’s true character as a person.
In his book, “The Honest Truth About Dishonesty,” author and Duke University Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics Dan Ariely devotes an entire chapter to the morality of golf. Ariely paints golf as an outward demonstration of man versus himself, requiring skill, self-dependence, self-monitoring, and lofty moral standards.
He also relates that because golf is such a frustrating and difficult game, there are impulses and temptations to cheat, even slightly. We have all seen golfers, perhaps even ourselves, succumb to the temptation of moving the ball a few inches left, right, forward, or back in order to gain an advantage. Maybe we nudge the ball with the club, a shoe, or by stealing a moment to actually pick the ball up and move it.
For Ariely, the question comes down to being caught. How likely is a golfer to illegally move the ball if it can be done without being noticed by other players? Golfers are often unwilling to admit their own irrational or unethical behavior. There are gray areas and rules in golf that are open to interpretation. These, according to the author, can be traps for dishonesty.
Ariely writes, “Unlike other sports, golf has no referee, umpire, or panel of judges to make sure rules are followed or to make calls in questionable situations. The golfer has to decide for him or herself what is and is not acceptable.” The link between golf and personal character is not lost on some well-known Boston sports media duffers.
Red Sox Hall of Famer and popular multimedia personality Rico Petrocelli, a devout Christian, has taken the moral side of the game to an even higher level. He explains, “I learned about Links Players International from a friend. It’s a Christian ministry, where people come from all different churches and play golf. There were prayer groups all over the country, but none here in this area.
“We started one up about four years ago. We meet at a course, have lunch, do a short Bible study with some discussion, and then we go play golf. It’s non-denominational and everybody is welcome. Basically we use golf to promote our faith and lead to a stronger church life.” WCVB-TV sportscasting icon Mike Lynch also sees the ethical side of golf, but more from the perspective of a caddy than catechism. “I was a caddy at Tedesco and I learned how to handle adversity,” explains the multiple Massachusetts Sportscaster of the Year award winner. “Caddying taught me how to behave on the course, and I think the game teaches you to be a real man.”
The man they call Lynchie believes in a moral code of golf. “What is said on the course stays on the course,” he asserts. “I think golf can also help fix relationships. Prior to playing, you may have certain perceptions of each other. You feel entirely different about a person after playing for four hours.” True lovers of the game see golf as more than just a physical and mental challenge, and more than just some enjoyable pastime. Strangely enough, it might just be a rough and tumble hockey player from Melrose, MA who most effectively describes the spiritual side of the game.
“You can see a person’s level of integrity on the course,” says former Boston Bruin and current NESN Bruins’ analyst Andy Brickley. “You can see honesty and a sense of gentlemanship. Golf gives you a peek into what people are really like.”
John Molori is the co-author of “The Cracker Jack Collection: Baseball’s Prized Players.” Like him on Facebook at John Molori, Twitter @MoloriMedia. Email email@example.com.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?