That pro who cheated? Here’s how major winners feel about what he did
At a Tour event years ago, Bernhard Langer was staring down a three-footer. He positioned himself over the ball, looked at the hole one last time and drew back his putter. And then…
“The ball moved marginally,” Langer recalled Wednesday from the Senior Open, in Wales. “Nobody saw it, not even a TV camera could pick it up, but I knew the line wasn’t where I had put it.”
If this incident had happened today, there would be no penalty under newly revised Rule 13.1d, but at the time the rules provided no such lenience.
Langer called for an official, and because his ball had moved after he had addressed it, he was dinged with a one-shot penalty.
“That cost me $330,000, and I called it on myself,” Langer said. “You don’t see that in any other sport.”
Self-policing is indeed one of the unique elements of golf. Because golfers hit so many shots and encounter so many scenarios on such a sprawling playing field, in many cases only golfers themselves know if they’ve fully adhered to every tenet of the rules over the course of 18 holes. This is, of course, less true at the elite pro level, where every move of the top players is tracked by cameras, fans and roaming officials, but still, at all levels of the game there is room for rule-bending and -breaking. Or at least the temptation for players to take such actions.
We were reminded of this over the weekend when news broke of PGA Tour Canada pro Justin Doeden apparently fudging a score on his card, erasing a 7 and replacing it with a 5, a two-shot swing that pushed him a shot within the cut line. When Doeden’s playing partners noticed the edited score, they immediately reported it to tournament officials and Doeden subsequently withdrew.
On Monday, Doeden posted a mea culpa on Twitter, writing: “I am here to confess of the biggest mistake I have made in my life to date. I cheated in golf. This is not who I am. I let my sponsors down. I let my competitors down. I let my family down. I let myself down. I pray for your forgiveness. John 1:9.”
Purists might tell you that there are no “grades” of cheating in golf, that any one intentional rules violation is as bad as the next. But there’s something about knowingly reporting a false score that feels especially egregious. Langer called Doeden’s decision “foolish,” adding: “How can you think you’re going to get way with changing a scorecard? You’re not just breaking a rule. You’re actually stupid.”
But the two-time Masters winner also expressed a degree of empathy for players who so brazenly cheat. “I don’t know what circumstances this player is living under and what’s going on and whether that one stroke would improve his life dramatically, I have no idea. I can’t imagine it,” he said. “But there’s tremendous stress out there, a lot of pressure. Some of these people, they have family, they have young kids and they live from this paycheck to the next one, so it can be very tempting.”
When informed of the incident, three-time major winner Padraig Harrington also was incredulous. “It’s hard to believe that in the modern era, somebody could still think that they could — I honestly don’t know what’s a cry for help. I have no idea,” he said. “So, like, a fully-fledged organized tour event, and he thought he would get away with it?”
Presumably that answer is yes, or else why would Doeden have tried it?
“I suppose that’s why we have in real life, why we have a court system and a judge because, you know, I’m sitting here thinking, it makes no sense,” Harrington continued. “There must be a reason why this has happened, is this poor person under some outside pressure or something or why would they do this?”
Doeden, who is 28, hasn’t spoken publicly about the matter so we don’t know what motivated him. In his two other Canada Tour starts this summer, he missed the cut. In 2023, he largely has competed on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica, where in nine starts he had made seven cuts but only $32,000.
Harrington said he feels morally conflicted when situations like this arise, admitting that his feelings are influenced by whether the offender is a “nice person.”
“It’s a very, very hard thing but it’s not a clear-cut thing of throwing the book at him because I know — and this is the horrible truth of it — we know players who have broken the rules over the years, and I talk to players who have because I like the person, and then I don’t talk to other players who have because I don’t like the person.
“So even though both of them have broken the rules, my judgment falls more much based on what I think of the person, which is terrible, isn’t it? But that’s who we are as human beings. We all pile on somebody we don’t like and we all kind of, you know, forget about when it’s a nice person. So that’s why we have committees and judges and people who do this because, as I said, so much bias comes into all of these things, and I’m glad I’m not the one who has to throw the book at somebody. But if I was in that position, I would take responsibility and investigate and figure out what needs to be done as I expect the Tour should deal with.”
When asked by GOLF.com how the Canada Tour will deal with the Doedan affair, a spokesperson replied with a statement that said only: “A violation of the Rules of Golf is handled in accordance with the PGA Tour Canada Player Handbook and Tournament Regulations. Per Tour policy, the matter — and any related disciplinary action — will be handled internally.”
The Bible scripture — John 1:9 — that Doeden cited in his tweet reads: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
When alerted of the scripture’s message, Langer, who is a devout Christian, said: “We are imperfect human beings, because we are all sinners and make mistakes. A lot of people think, they are the holy ones and they gather amongst themselves because they are so special. No. We just acknowledge that we are not.”