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Still be­lieve that golf is the pur­suit of hon­est in­di­vid­u­als? Huggy ques­tions your san­ity.

Golf, you may have heard once or twice over the years, is a re­cre­ation founded on in­tegrity. Played only by those pos­sessed of the high­est mo­ral stan­dards, ethics and hon­esty walk hand-in-hand down life’s fair­ways. In the great­est sport of all, “upright” doesn’t only re­fer to Jack Nick­laus’ backswing. Yeah, right. Even if such a utopian state ever ex­isted, it doesn’t any more. At least at the elite level, golf’s rep­u­ta­tion for de­cency and rec­ti­tude has been sorely dam­aged by some of the an­tics we have wit­nessed so far this year. A once no­ble pas­time now seems to be pop­u­lated by a grow­ing num­ber of lead­ing pro­fes­sion­als whose be­hav­iour tends to veer south of ad­mirable. Where once there was mod­esty, there now ex­ists an un­healthy level of en­ti­tle­ment.

Cer­tainly, at­ti­tudes to­wards the once sacro­sanct rule book are in steep de­cline. Over the last few months we have been sub­jected to a se­ries of un­savoury in­ci­dents that only be­tray a dis­ap­point­ing con­tempt for the very fab­ric of a game once uni­ver­sally ad­mired for its im­mutable hon­our code.

First we had JB Holmes car­ing not a jot for any pace of play reg­u­la­tions while tak­ing an age to hit his al­most ir­rel­e­vant ap­proach to the 72nd green at Tor­rey Pines dur­ing the Farm­ers in­sur­ance Open. On an ar­ro­gance scale of one-to-ten, this was an eleven.

Then we had for­mer US PGA cham­pion Jimmy Walker own­ing up to what is known as “back­stop­ping.”. Per­haps Walker’s only re­deem­ing qual­ity in this murky area was his “hon­esty” in re­veal­ing that he only “back­stopped” for his pals. Drawn along­side a fel­low pro for whom he feels noth­ing but an­i­mos­ity, he in­stead plays by the rules, “pro­tects” the rest of the field and marks his ball be­fore his play­ing part­ner hits. Truly, an ex­tra­or­di­nary ad­mis­sion.

Next up was Phil Mickelson and his now in­fa­mous dash across the 13th green at Shin­necock Hills dur­ing the third round of the US Open. “Lefty” was far from “righty” when he stopped his still-mov­ing ball from run­ning away down a steep slope by knock­ing it back to­wards the hole. It was hugely dis­ap­point­ing from such a dis­tin­guished fig­ure, one that ran con­trary to every­thing golf sup­pos­edly stands for.

Which brings us to Sung-Soon Kang, ex­hibit-A in this ever-length­en­ing litany of out­rage. Play­ing in the PGA Tour’s Quicken Loans Na­tional, the Korean-born pro­fes­sional pulled his ap­proach into a hazard left of the 10th green. Kang be­lieved his ball crossed the hazard, giv­ing him a drop on the side of the hazard closer to the hole. Un­for­tu­nately, play­ing part­ner Joel Dah­men dis­puted that ac­count, as­sert­ing Kang’s ball failed to cross.

De­spite Kang claim­ing to be only “95 per­cent cer­tain” and hear­ing con­flict­ing tes­ti­mony from eye-wit­nesses stand­ing nearby, the PGA Tour rules of­fi­cials sided with the “de­fen­dant.” Which didn’t go down too well with Dah­men. Not at all. His re­ac­tion was un­usu­ally prin­ci­pled in a PGA Tour world where in­tel­li­gence-in­sult­ing im­age preser­va­tion tends to su­per­sede any pre­tence of hon­esty.

“Kang cheated,” said Dah­men. “He took a bad drop from a hazard. I ar­gued un­til I was blue. I lost.” So, by the sound of things, has golf. All of the above speaks to a de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in stan­dards that is truly wor­ry­ing. Fu­elled, one sus­pects, by an ev­er­in­creas­ing and fi­nan­cially-in­duced de­tach­ment from re­al­ity, many of to­day’s lead­ing play­ers seem to be los­ing the plot. More and more, their ac­tions are golf’s equiv­a­lent of rolling around in the feigned agony we see so of­ten in foot­ball. Think Ney­mar at the World Cup. As role mod­els for the chil­dren who are the fu­ture of the game, Messrs Holmes, Walker, Mickelson and Kang have failed spec­tac­u­larly.

All in all, things just ain’t what they used to be, folks. I mean, can you imag­ine the likes of Bobby Jones, Ben Ho­gan, Arnold Palmer or Nick­laus in­dulging in any of this non­sense?

No, nei­ther can I.

John Hug­gan fol­lows the PGA and Eu­ro­pean Tours. He is the au­thor of seven books and has writ­ten for Golf World since 1992.

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