There are few sports where honor plays as prominent a role as it does in golf. The reason? There aren’t any rules officials – we’re on our own to call rules infractions on ourselves. Even if we accidentally move our golf ball 1/16 of an inch, in the woods, 100 yards from our nearest competitor, we assess ourselves a penalty stroke. And while officials are made available at some tournaments, golfers still call infractions on themselves when officials aren’t present. This is why golf is known as a game of honor.
Compare this to other sports:
- Football, where some say the mantra is “if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge NFL fan and love football for its athleticism, power and speed. But honor? Not its strong suit.
- Baseball, where even Derek Jeter (one of the classiest players ever and one of my all-time favorites – and I’m a Mets fan!) acted his way onto first base pretending he’d been hit by a pitch when a replay clearly showed he hadn’t. And where outfielders routinely trap fly balls between their glove and the ground but pretend they’d caught them cleanly.
- Basketball, where one form of stretching the rules is so common it even has a name: “flopping.” Players intentionally fall down pretending they’ve been hit by a competitor in an attempt to trick the referee into calling a foul where none was made.
So I wonder, does the fact that golfers are trusted to enforce their own rules make golfers more trustworthy? Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy? I shudder to think what an NBA or NFL game would look like without referees, and the thought of baseball players calling their own balls and strikes is downright comical. But I can’t help but think – without referees, would players in these other sports be forced to be more trustworthy and honorable?