This is probably one of the most common adversarial issues in Golf. Next to slow play, cheating on the scorecard can cause more angst among golfers than anything else. But is it okay to do? Is it okay to fudge your score and, if so, when?

The obvious answer is NO: It is not okay if you are playing in a tournament for prizes or money, but YES: it is okay if you are among friends and just playing for fun.

Why fudge if you’re really just out there for fun? I think the real answer is a bit more nuanced.

How many times have you played with someone, asked for their score upon leaving a green; and they tell you they got a 5 when you are pretty darn sure they got something more like a 7 or 8? Do you call them on it? It could be that they forgot about the first ball they hit off the tee that went out of bounds so when they hit into the green they were actually lying 3 instead of 1. That’s an innocent enough mistake; when you’re playing with a group of players and trying to keep track of what’s going on it’s easy to forget your own misfortunes (unless you overly-dwell on them which is even worse in my opinion.)

However, it is often more sinister and the offending party could be trying to get away with posting a lower score than they actually made and is hoping you don’t notice. That’s not really fair, but then again why should you care? Just because they are trying to look better and possibly even falsify their handicaps that shouldn’t really affect you unless you’re a tournament director or manager of your league.

Then there are the common “cheats.” You know, moving a ball out of some mud so you don’t get splattered, or off of some rocks so you don’t hurt yourself or your club, kicking a ball out from under a tree or out of the edge of the woods, playing by winter rules during the summer when it hasn’t rained for 3 weeks, that sort of thing. And, of course, there’s the guy that takes a mulligan on practically every hole.

I am in favor of some of these “sort of” cheats. For example, if you hit a ball but don’t find out until you get all the way to the fairway that it is out of bounds, is it really worthwhile to walk or drive all the way back to hit another one? By this time there could be another group on the tee waiting, and, worse yet, they could hit into you as you’re driving back. Add to that the embarrassment of hitting another ball in front of a group of people you don’t know, and who wish you would hurry along, BECAUSE YOU SCREWED UP makes you more likely to screw up again. (I can feel my ears getting hot just writing about it). In my husband’s golf league the offending party simply drops another ball into the fairway as far as they hit the first one and then takes a two-stroke penalty. Peter Kostis, coach to PGA tour professionals and CBS commentator says that Out-of-Bounds is one of the rules that needs to be done away with. I wholeheartedly agree. My solution is to hit a provisional ball on the spot just in case if the first ball happens to be questionable. That way I at least won’t have to walk all the way back to the tee after already being frustrated about screwing up. This is as good as it gets in such a situation because I know there is still a chance that I may find my first ball and I can therefore relax and make a better shot rather than being tense and nervous about screwing up again. And, since people are so uptight about speed of play, doesn’t that just make sense for the good of the game?

Once I saw Tiger hit a ball into the trees. This happens a lot, as it does to Phil, but I give both of them a huge amount of credit because they are so gifted they can often still hit the green following a wayward drive. In this particular case, Tiger had the option of either “taking his medicine” and hitting it sideways just to get back onto the fairway or hitting some heroic shot over the trees to make it onto the green. His ball had landed near a utility box. He called over a rules official and explained that, if he were to hit it back into the fairway, the utility box would impede his swing. He got relief and was able to move the ball. THEN he proceeded to aim directly at the green and swing how he wanted to without the distraction of the utility box. Was that cheating? Not at all. That was using the rules to his advantage. And that’s the beauty of having the rules. It doesn’t always work against the player. One can use them toward their advantage in certain situations. I have seen pros take FULL advantage of such tournament rules such as lift clean and place by taking a perfectly lying ball and moving it as much as a club length to give themselves a better shot. However, be careful not to get so caught up in what you can get away with, legally or otherwise, that you forget to simply play the game as straight up as possible and have fun.

My strategy is to play as straight up as possible all the time so that I won’t have to do things differently when I’m in a tournament. I try to behave AS THOUGH I WERE PLAYING IN A TOURNAMENT EVERYTIME I AM ON THE COURSE. That way, when I DO go and play in a tournament, I don’t have to think about what I am actually supposed to do. I want to keep things simple for myself. My goal is to always behave as I would like to in any situation so that when I am faced with a tough challenge I can just do what I would normally. Keep it simple. That’s my philosophy.

If other people want to fudge I just let them go right ahead.

What people should understand is that the handicap system in golf already accounts for people not always playing at their best. There is a reason that if one’s handicap is between 10 and 18 strokes they cannot take more than a 7 on any hole, even after hitting 14 shots! That’s part of the system. It’s designed to allow players of different skill levels to compete and, more importantly, it is meant to counteract the inherently penal nature of the game of golf. I say swing away!! If your handicap is less than 30 you can’t take higher than an 8 on any hole and if it’s less than 20 you can’t take higher than a 7. Go for it! Knowing there is an upper limit to just how badly you can do might enable you to relax and play your best.

However, I do believe that there are times to be accommodating during non-tournament play:

Social and fun aspects of the game: If people are generously granting putts perhaps make it agreed upon within one club length so you don’t have to wait for it to be granted. Or if your child cries out during the middle of your backswing causing you to shank it right into some trees, just drop another ball and try again. Golf is to have fun.

If you’re having one of those God-awful rounds where nothing is going right and writing down every single bad score is just putting you in a worse mood, stop keeping track for a while, or if you have to pick the ball up and put it in the pocket when you need to. It’s supposed to be fun! Save the day from yourself. The beauty of the handicap system is that it accounts for incomplete holes and rounds.You can still take a score even if you picked up on the hole. Just take the max you are allowed.

If you’re new or returning to the game counting every single whiff or lost ball is just going to make you more frustrated and less likely to come back. This is particularly the case for Mom’s who needed to take time off while pregnant or after childbirth. Even new players know what par is supposed to be and when you shoot twice that, or more, it is just discouraging. Be lenient with yourself (within reason) while you are still new to the game and struggling. People will understand, they have been there too. Your body has needed time and space to heal and you are still dealing with physical and hormonal changes such as widened hips or sore breasts. Now is the wrong time to expect yourself to play with your former glory.

Don’t forget to have fun! That’s what it’s all about and the rules are there to provide structure and guidance, not to damper the game or make you feel bad. Use them when you can and abide by them appropriately.

Read more:

Compound Interest in Golf

Lessons? Yes or No

I want it too badly

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