2. Golf is founded on honesty. It’s the only professional sport in which players are expected to—and often actually do—call penalties on themselves. A football running back would be considered negligent if he didn’t try to steal a few extra inches by nudging the ball forward after being tackled. No baseball player has ever told an umpire, “I’m afraid I missed the bag when I slid into second.” A golfer, in contrast, is expected to penalize himself if, for example, his ball moves a fraction of an inch when he accidentally nudges a twig leaning against it while searching for it deep in the woods.
Nevertheless, there’s probably more routine cheating in golf than in any other sport. There’s an old joke about the golfer who is so accustomed to fudging his score that, when he one day makes a hole-in-one, he marks it on his card as a zero. Most amateurs play the game according to absurdly generous rules of their own devising—taking “a drop” for a ball hit out of bounds; pressing the head of their club into the turf behind their ball to clear a path for their swing; ignoring double hits, whiffs, and unputted putts. There have been well-known professionals with reputations for not calling penalties on themselves, and even for improving their lie they thought no one was looking. Still, intentions count for something, and golf intends to be a game of honor.