Important QuestionsMay 7, 2016

Is calling a golfer a "cheater" the worst thing you can say about him?

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By now you likely have been made aware of the lingering discussion over whether Donald Trump cheats in golf. We have no hard evidence that he does, mind you, and Trump denies the charge vehemently. Understandably so. Calling someone a cheater is widely considered the most damning thing you can say about a golfer, because it speaks to all sorts of flaws in their character, if not their grasp of basic arithmetic.

As the thinking goes, if Trump were to cheat in golf, then there's the possibility he'd be dishonest in politics, which would be totally consistent with everyone else really disappointing.

But let's disregard Trump for a moment, and just talk about golf cheating. We can all agree that it's bad, and that it's an affront to everything we hold sacred in the game. Golfers are supposed to keep their own score, and govern themselves, and in the event they do call a penalty on themselves, we're supposed to just shrug our shoulders, because as Bobby Jones once said on such an occasion, "You might as well praise a man for not robbing a bank."

There's also the question of what constitutes cheating in golf, because the category extends beyond standards like the foot wedge out from under a tree, or the fluffing up of a lie, or the surreptitious dropping of a new ball when you can't find the first. There are all kinds of cheating that take place at the clerical level -- fibbing on the scorecard, inflating a handicap, conveniently forgetting to turn in a score. The discussion can quickly venture into the existential: is it cheating when you're by yourself and playing two balls, but deciding to keep score on one? What if a ball oscillates in the woods but returns to its normal position?

All of these episodes are opportunities to delve into a player's character, or lack thereof. Then again, to concede cheating is the worst thing you can say about a golfer is to disregard all the other awful things you can say about a golfer. Because there really are quite a few.

For instance, you can say:

He skips out on his bets.

He never wants to bet (much worse).

He is so slow moss grows on his ball in the fairway.

He never has tees.

He plays with a ball marker the size of a drink coaster.

His favorite golf announcer is Chris Berman.

He always drives to his ball first in the cart.

He has iron covers.

He wears plus fours in a non-ironic way.

He calls his caddie, "Caddie."

He thinks "The Legend of Bagger Vance" is better than "Caddyshack."

In other words, there are plenty of bad raps to go around in golf, and let's not assume that it's just a Republican like Trump who gets tagged with one. Bill Clinton is infamous for generously allowing himself a mulligan or 12 over the course of a round. And you can still say something even worse about Clinton's wife, who looks to be Trump's opponent this November:

Hillary Clinton doesn't play golf at all.