"Golf hates a cheater." — Anonymous
The early November elections’ final gasp also marked the finality of the golfing season here in Central New York. Golf clubs will be stored and soon forgotten as snow shovels replace one’s favorite driver. The tall tales of the previous season will lengthen along with the length of the drives off the tees.
While not a golfer, this simple country man's early interests never developed because he was a left-hander in a right-handed golf world. But I do have a rather unique golf connection, and it proudly sits in a prominent place in our off-the-grid home. It’s a very expensive silver tray given to Lois and me as a wedding present by the world’s greatest golf course architect, Robert Trent Jones, who married a young lady from Waterville. Early in his career, Jones designed many Central New York golf courses, including the beautiful first nine holes at Colgate University. Later Jones would design golf courses all around the world, including the first ever in the USSR.
My father and Jones were friends. On Dec. 7, 1941, they were in Washington, D.C., to obtain a license from the FCC to build a radio station in this area. Pearl Harbor intervened and the radio station idea forgotten.
Over the years I have known any number of Bobby Joneses, especially among those of Welsh ancestry. They were all honest and solid citizens, and as I recall none were in politics.
Few golfers today would remember the legendary golfer Bobby Jones and his incredible honesty. Unlike politics in 2018, serious golfers have a very strict code of honesty, ethics and behavior. At the 1925 US Open, amateur Bobby Jones accidentally touched his ball with his club as he addressed it in the rough. No one saw this insignificant nudge, not his playing partner nor his caddy, nor any of the spectators. Jones had felt the faintest impact of his club on his ball.
Jones called a foul on himself — a one stroke penalty which cost him outright victory and he eventually lost in a playoff. Later, when asked about this, he informed the press "you might as well praise me for not robbing a bank."
Sometimes the penalty for violating golf’s strict code of honesty often doesn’t fit the crime. Many examples come to mind. In 1940, Ed Oliver committed the unpardonable sin of beginning his round a few minutes early — disqualified. In 1966 Doug Sanders signed many autographs in a sea of admirers but forgot to sign his score card in time — disqualified. In 1983 Hale Irwin inadvertently whiffed at a 3-inch putt, striking only air. He decided that this counted as an attempted stroke, which kept him out of the playoffs. In 2001, Welsh golfer Ian Woosnam called a foul on himself when he discovered his caddy had put two drivers in his bag — exceeding the 14-club limit. He took a two-stroke penalty.
All these paragons of virtue were professionals, not weekend slicers and duffers. Most play for the sheer pleasure of it, with a touch of competitive juices added for flavor.
Honest George Washington and Bobby Jones set an amazingly high bar for honesty. A much lower bar is often set by, of all people, politicians. One name well known is particularly famous for his blatant cheating bordering on the hilarious and miraculous. Consider, for example, how his ball hit into the trees, always bounces out into the fairway. A ball hit into a pond, where his caddy miraculously finds the ball sitting high and dry. A man who has set a world record for "gimmies" where a ball on the edge of the green ends up in the cup without putting it. A man with a 4 handicap — but nobody has ever seen an officially endorsed score card. Another politician of legendary cheating had a wife who ran unsuccessfully for the presidency.
Does cheating and lying in golf follow the miscreants into politics? English writer P G Wodehouse once observed that in no other walk of life (golfing) "does the cloven hoof so quickly display itself." This simple country man is very confident that founding father Alexander Hamilton never picked up a golf club. But Hamilton had some words of wisdom for those who lead our country.
Hamilton wrote that "a man unprincipled in private life" may arrive to "flatter and fall in with the nonsense of the day" and "throw things into confusion that he may ride the storm and direct the whirlwind." (Abraham Lincoln once wrote "cold impassioned reason was always going to be needed to prevent the rise of despots.")
At all levels of society in 2018, especially in the political arena we desperately need the highest bar of honesty and ethics. Less than this behavior will only lead to continuing chaos and societal disintegration. But these are only the musings of a simple country man and his beautiful wife.
Hobie Morris is a retired teacher of American history and political science at Central Methodist College in Missouri. He and his wife Lois live in Brookfield.