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Despicable You: 13 ways to cheat at golf and how guilty you should feel about them

October 9, 2017

“Golf is a game in which you yell ‘fore,’ shoot six and write down five,” the radio broadcaster Paul Harvey said. In other words, you cheat. But not all cheating is created equal. It ranges in its nature from benign to ghastly. Here’s a look at the many kinds of lies we golfers tell ourselves, and our playing partners, along with an honest take on just how despicable those transgressions are.

1. The Mulligan

Just because everyone’s doing it doesn’t make it right. But it makes it acceptable, as long as no one in your group objects in advance.

Despicability Rating: 1

As falsehoods go, this is no more harmful than encouraging a child to believe in Santa Claus.

2. The Traveling Mulligan

You’re joking, right? Anywhere other than the first tee, the do-over morphs from an innocent custom into a damning measure of your integrity. To say nothing of your man or womanhood.

Despicability Rating: 4

We’d try to make you feel worse about this, if we didn’t already feel so sorry for you.

3. Fluffing Up a Lie

Strictly speaking, fluffing should be reserved for hair salons and porn sets. But so long as you and your partners have agreed to allow it, we won’t give you too much grief about it.

Despicability Rating: 3

But if you break the course record, it doesn’t count.

4. The Foot Wedge

Here we must distinguish between the flagrant foot-wedge, employed out in the open with a dramatic flourish, and the clandestine foot-wedge, used under the shadowy cover of trees. The first is a kind of performance art that we find mildly entertaining. The second locates you on the evolutionary scale somewhere between the cockroach and pond scum.

Despicability Rating for a flagrant foot-wedge: 3

Just don’t do it on every hole.

Clandestine foot-wedge: 10

It’s straight from the 18th green to the 19th rung of hell for you.

5. Moving a Ball out of a Divot in the Fairway

On the one hand, in golf, as in life, bad breaks happen, and if you were mature, you would just accept them. On the other, this is dumb rule that the governing bodies should do away with, so violating it isn’t so bad.

Despicability Rating: 4

Next time, though, try playing it as it lies, with ball slightly back in your stance.

6. Making a Bogey but Writing Down Par

Cheating is a sign of your flawed moral character. Writing about it is proof that you’re a sociopath.

Despicability Rating: 8

Do you file bogus tax returns, too?

7. Sweeping Away Two-Footers

You’re not fooling us. We see what you did. You brushed at that short putt nonchalantly, even though we didn’t concede it. We know what you were up to. You were trying to give yourself a free-roll, absolved of consequences if you missed. Well, guess what? The ball didn’t drop and that stroke still counts, whether you acknowledge it or not.

Despicability Rating: 7

With added shame points for your passive-aggression.

8. Greasing the Club Face

This underhanded tactic, designed to reduce spin and produce less-wayward shots, would make Puggy Pearson proud. But since Pearson was a golf hustler of notorious repute, it only makes us shake our heads in disappointment.

Despicability Rating: 5

Though we will award you style points for the throwback move.

9. Too Many Clubs in the Bag

Commit this crime unknowingly, as Ian Woosnam did at the 2001 British Open, and we commiserate. But carry it out intentionally, and we rightly condemn you for your shoddy ethics and your poor planning. Did you really think that extra club was going to do you any good?

Despicability Rating: 5

Enjoy hauling that extra weight, you criminal mastermind.

10. Practicing in the Sand

When Anirban Lahiri did this at the 2017 Presidents Cup, he was disqualified from the next hole. When you do it in a match against your buddies, you are unlikely to be punished. But you’re still diminished in our eyes.

Despicability Rating: 2

There’s a place for this kind of behavior. It’s called the short game area.

11. Sandbagging

Willfully misleading others about your handicap is like embellishing your online dating profile. It’s pathetic, all the more so because the truth will come out soon enough.

Despicability Rating: 8.5

And for the record, you don’t look the slightest bit like George Clooney.

12. Playing Non-Conforming Clubs

Your driver clubhead is the size of a shovel with a face as springy as a trapeze safety net. In short, it’s illegal. But golf is a hard game, so as long you’re not playing in an official competition, we’re going to look the other way.

Despicability Rating: 2

But maybe you should take up an easier sport.

13. Dropping a Ball out of Your Pocket

Remember that scene in Goldfinger, where Oddjob, working as a caddie, helps his boss cheat against 007? Check it out below. That’s you. An evildoer on the level of a Bond villain.

Despicability Rating: 10

Go away. We’re not even talking to you anymore.