The old adage is to win a select shot golf tournament, you need: a good driver, a good iron player, a good putter, and a good cheater.
Select shot tournaments – you know the ones – where everyone hits a shot and then you pick the best shot and so on, until the ball is holed out. These tournaments are a great way to introduce new golfers to the game and a lot of fun for golfers who just love to play occasionally.
These tournaments are also an outstanding way for organizations and charities to quickly raise funds for important causes, such as the Annual Patriot Day Golf Tournament at my home course here in Michigan on Labor Day.
However, the outcomes of these tournaments have also earned the reputation as some of the most suspicious and skeptical in the game. In every one of these tournaments – and I mean every one – of the hundreds I’ve played in, there have always been whispers of cheating, the “no way” assertions when low scores come in, and sometimes (especially after alcohol is introduced) even outright accusations of cheating.
DO PEOPLE ACTUALLY CHEAT?
But, the real question is, do people actually cheat?
There will be a lot of “YES” answers to this question, but I’m thinking the answer, almost all the time, is a resounding “No”.
Believing everyone is honest in life (even golfers), I still have to admit I find myself having doubts at times when it comes to select shot tournaments. I wonder why myself and other golfers are so quickly pulled to the conclusion that everyone else does?
Is it because those golfers aren’t as good as us? Is it because no one can shoot that low, putt that good, or drive that far? In all these years, I haven’t found the real answer, but MOST importantly, I’ve also never found anyone who had actually cheated. The “everyone cheats” facts just aren’t there in my opinion, so maybe it’s simply the type of format itself that leads to all the suspicion.
Keeping in mind most select shot tournaments are for fund raising or charity, they are also very unique in trying to raise additional money through golf additions. We’ve all seen it … string, mulligans, foot wedges, throws, front tees, special clubs, long drives, closest to the pins, etc. These oddities are part of what makes these events special, but it also makes scoring hard to predict.
Because of this, select shot scores can vary widely, which is why I believe the acceptance of cheating has taken hold. Personally, I’ve seen 18-hole winning scores from the upper 40s all the way to the lower 60s. That’s quite a spread and is affected greatly by how the tournament is organized.
Select shot tournaments many times will also put the winners on the wrong side of the “you cheated” bandwagon. I’ve finished on winning teams where you can feel the burning hatred of the crowd when you post a low score. The unbelievable 51 on a par 72, the 58 without string. Anyone who’s played in a lot of these events knows exactly what I’m talking about and it’s tough on either side of that accusation.
You find yourself knowing you didn’t cheat, but it doesn’t matter. You know the real truth is your team’s putting got hot, or you stiffed a ton of irons, or chipped in for an eagle. You’re proud, but only for a minute, because you know your integrity and honesty are being questioned – even if silently.
Nonetheless, even after managing your way through all of that, the very next tournament, you’ll still find yourself overhearing the group who finished in the money (just ahead of you) talking about how this is only the second time they’ve played golf this season … and you walk away – disappointingly suspicious.
So, if the select shot format is so fraught with suspicion, why play? Well, it’s fun! It’s a different way to play golf … flat out, aggressive, and with little consequence to your game or your ego. In fact, it can be an ego boost if you’re the one hitting good shots or sinking that crucial putt.
So instead of carrying the burden of suspicion forward any longer, I decided to share some perspectives and a few stories of select shot tournaments to hopefully help in gaining back the trust and acceptance this format needs.
- Understand that because of the format, scores can and will be low. If string, mulligans, etc. are involved, scores will likely be low – REALLY low.
- Accept that teams can get hot. If a team putts well – maybe even gets en fuego with the putter – their final score will probably be lower than even they would have predicted.
- Three-person teams have a significant advantage if “cycling a shot” is allowed. It’s essentially like getting a mulligan every 4th shot. These three-person teams will win many tournaments and will absolutely draw the anger of many who don’t understand the extreme advantage of cycling a shot. *Many organizers no longer allow teams to cycle a shot because of the known advantage.
- Enjoy the tournament, congratulate the winners, and if suspicion arises, tamp it down. Remember, you didn’t cheat, so trust that they didn’t either – it was just their day.
- Don’t forget that most select shot tournaments are for charity or fund raising, so even if you’re not the winner, your money went towards a great cause.
- If you’re the winner … first, CONGRATULATIONS … second, try to enjoy the victory and don’t go silent. If anyone accuses you or questions your score, try not to get defensive and share with them how well you played. Most golfers want to believe you, but some will need to be convinced more than others.
No matter how much we’ll try not to, we’ll all probably still be guilty of being somewhat on guard and suspicious when we play in these events. They’ll always be “that team” in our minds that had no way to shoot the score they did without cheating. The world’s not perfect, but hopefully when we do have those thoughts, we can fall back on the fact that since we didn’t cheat, they didn’t either, and we can congratulate them on their success.
LESSON LEARNED: Living and playing golf in San Antonio – an awesome golf city by the way – I played in a number of select shot events. Playing in one event, my team got beat by a team sponsored by a local bar. To be fair, these guys didn’t look like they could do much of anything in golf and they would always come in with ridiculously low scores. After a particularly hot day and perhaps a few beverages, one of my teammates directly accused the other team of cheating. I knew one of the local guys and he didn’t take too kindly to the accusation (and maybe had had a few beverages himself). After breaking up their UFC press conference, we all parted ways.
The next day, I saw the local guy at the gym (he ran the gym) and he let me know he was still upset at being accused of cheating. I told him the other guy was a good guy, but we just didn’t get how their scores could be so low. So, he invited me to come out and play with them in their next outing since their normal fourth player was moving away.
The first tournament with them answered all my questions. Not overly awesome at anything, but they were great at everything – especially putting. We came in during our first tournament (string, mulligans, front tees) at 48 (yes, -24). The looks that came our way, the “no way”, “BS”, and other colorful whispers were there and quite honestly, bothered me.
I knew we didn’t cheat, but it didn’t matter and it soured the victory. I’ve done my best since then, to not sour anyone else’s.
HONESTY PAYS: Playing in a very recent select shot tournament, our team was absolutely on fire. We had some advantages with our two older guys getting to hit from the Gold Tees – well, because they’re old – and I mean old – like Moses old.
Anyway, we were taking advantage of their drives, sinking putts from off the green, knocking fairway shots to tap-in range; it was quite a display of golf. However, as we began to get lower and lower into the red numbers, one of the guys became concerned about all the crap we’d have to endure in the clubhouse with a score this low.
However, just as his remorse was overtaking him, he perked up and said, “I’m glad we’re playing with Larry today, because everyone will know if he’s on our team, we didn’t cheat.” It was such a matter of fact statement, that it took me off guard and was one of the highest compliments you could pay to anyone … and it also proved to be true. There were initial whispers and suspicions when we turned in our score, but after seeing Larry’s name on the board with ours, it was just congratulations.
We should all hope to live our lives in a way to have something like that said about us one day.
BIO: Keith Cook has been a writer/contributing editor at localgolfer.com since 2013. Follow Keith and Local Golfer on Twitter: @_KeithCook and @LocalGolfer.
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