by Dave Van Meter

The Dark Side

Remember the line? (talk slowly into a plastic cup) “You have no idea the POWER of the dark side”  Cheating in golf is very powerful and addictive.  We all want to lower our scores but lowering them by “bending” a little bit of the rule book only cheats you.  Unless you are competing in a tournament or gambling nobody else really cares about your score.

Hitting a second shot is fine as long as you aren’t holding anyone up and you don’t run around bragging about your score.  Go ahead, play around and have fun but don’t come back and tell everybody you finally broke 80 or 90 or whatever.  If you are playing to improve your game then don’t keep score and just concentrate on learning.  Trying to convince yourself you are better than you really are is a waste of time.  You have joined the dark side my friend.

Learn to Cope With Bad Situations

If you never practice difficult shots or lies how do you expect to get better?  Learn all you can about difficult lies (See Scott France’s post on this site ) and troublesome situations.  Practice hitting the ball out of deep grass or off hard bare dirt.

The rules have developed over the years to make the game a sport.  I’ve said many times the difficulty we face in sport is what makes our individual victories so enjoyable.  If your ball ends up in some deep grass you are going to feel like a hero if you can salvage it.  If you kick it out into a better lie you are just cheating yourself out of a triumph.  If you have a conscience you will feel worse about your good score than you would about a tough shot which didn’t work out so well.  That tough shot was an opportunity to learn and your brain uses all information to calculate how to do it better next time.


We need to set a good example.  My Son (Wyatt) plays on the varsity squad at his middle school.  Last season he was in a tournament and was playing in a foursome with two competitors and one of his team mates.  I always walk behind the group and therefore see pretty much everything that happens.  His team mate improves a lie on the left side of the fairway then shanks the ball across to the deep rough on the right.  The weeds were about a foot tall so the kid grabs a couple handfuls of grass and rips them out of the ground.  His Father was watching him from a golf cart and although he had been offering advice quietly along the way, he said nothing about these actions.

I really didn’t care because the kid was at least 7 strokes behind my son so I just shook my head and let it go.  When we finally got to the green my son was setting up for his putt and leaned over to move a leaf from his line.  He touched his golf ball with his putter, obviously adding a stroke but embarrassing nonetheless.  His team mate who had just improved his lie twice on the fairway flipped out and was loudly pointing out that Wyatt had touched the ball and should count an additional stroke.

My kids have all been grilled on the rules and etiquette of golf.  I wouldn’t let them on the course if they acted inappropriately.  They are kids so they make mistakes but they know shaving strokes is detrimental to them and their progress as players.

Wyatt’s team mate is the type of person I feel sorry for, the one who will shave points off their score merely for the sake of winning what has to be a hollow victory.  I do my best to get kids involved in golf.  Golf is a different sport, one which requires a high level of dignity and honor to play correctly.  You are often in a position where no one is looking and it is easy to cheat.  Kids and adults alike need to be taught the game of golf from the standpoint of enjoyment.  True enjoyment of the game can’t come from cutting corners.

Get a rule book and keep it with you.  They don’t cost much and you can refer to it while you play and encounter situations.  The USGA rules can be found at My kids and I all keep rule books in our bag.  We go through and highlight the important bits and even put tabs on the pages for quick reference.  As you can see this one has seen some use on the course.  This picture reminds me I need to get one for 2012.

Following the rules and hitting out of those tough situations will make you a better golfer.  Having fun and being relaxed while golfing will make you a better golfer.  Taking shortcuts will make your score card look better but in a real competitive situation you won’t be prepared for those tough shots.  May the force be with you.




  1. Well said.

    I spent the first 2-3 years of my career learning the game on my own, and I got quite accustomed to fluffing the ball into a nicer lie and became quite the foot-wedge artist. Then one day I played a nice round, somehow shooting low-80′s. I remember feeling great about it, and my friend that I was playing with was very impressed, congratulating me afterward.

    I think it was at that point, about 3 years after I first took up the game, that it struck me that I had potential to be a legitimately decent player. On that drive home from the course that afternoon after playing the best I’d ever played up until that point, my conscience quickly kicked in and I guess it was then and there that I decided that I’d progressed well enough in the game to start playing by the rules and elevate my seriousness in the game. It had to be a good 7-8 months after that before I’d ever shoot low-80′s again, and I realized that there’s an enormous difference between being a recreational player and being a serious player. But when I did finally shoot low-80′s that second time, by the rules, that accomplishment (to me) wasn’t hollow… no corners were cut, no putts raked back, hit it there, play it there. I still have that scorecard somewhere in a box in my basement, and that round taught me more about myself than all of the years of education I’d received.

    You can learn more about someone playing golf with them than you could ever learn in 20 years sitting at a desk across from them in an office…. not just as it pertains to playing by the rules, but their character and their ability to overcome adversity.

    Great topic!

  2. I think you use the term “cheating” in much too broad a sense.The Rules as written, complete with their complexity and lack of clarity, is one of the many reasons that the number of golfers continues to fall at an alarming rate.

    Whilst I do not approve of outright cheating, I do believe there is a difference between invoking the leaf rule, playing an OB ball where it went out or rolling the ball over in a casual round and altering one’s score in a competitive round.

    Mr. France is spot on when he says that you can learn a lot about a person on the golf course. But as with all judgements, the judge needs to analyze the situation, the facts and use some discretion before pasing final jufgement.

    • Dave Van Meter says:

      I think you may have missed the point. As I mentioned many times in this post, I am fine with any “rule bending” that goes on in the spirit of enjoying the game. But I don’t want to hear someone who is willing to kick a ball in bounds or roll it over for a better lie loudly telling everyone at the clubhouse about the 82 they just shot. I have experienced this many times. I think a person should play the game however they want too and enjoy it. Just don’t brag about the score to those of us who are really working to improve while playing the game by the rules.

  3. I tend to keep my mouth closed after a great round, and only those who play with me generally know about it.

    I learned long ago that the Gods don’t take too kindly to braggarts. LOL

    • Dave Van Meter says:

      Scott I’m always scared to death to say anything or even think anything when I’m doing well.

      • I hear ya loud and clear.

        Occasionally I’ll meander out to a different course every now and then as a single, and I most always get paired up with someone who wants to know what my index is before we play. Now between us, I generally fluctuate between a 2-3 handicap each season, but I don’t like professing that to strangers that I play with. For starters – they most always expect you to know how to fix their slice by the 4th hole, and for seconds – if you don’t shoot +1 or +2 at worst – they think you’re a liar.

        I remember this happening years ago, I’d just shot my first-ever round in the 60′s… I ventured out to a course that I’d never played before, nice place. The guy I got paired up with that day asked me what I normally shoot, and like a drunken idiot I blurted out that I missed a 4 footer to shoot 68 two days earlier.

        This old coot shoots 75, I shoot 82. And I know that as soon as he shook my hand and walked off the 18th green, his thought was “69 my ass…”

        • Dave Van Meter says:

          Now that I know what your handicap is I am officially retracting the invitation for you to come golf with me in Florida.

          • No worries. As soon as I get south of Maryland – my game mysteriously leaves me. It’s like golf’s version of the Bermuda Triangle for me.

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