Phil once said, "The object of golf is not just to win. It is to play like a gentleman, and win." Now, who is this Phil, and what does he mean "play like a gentleman?" It's Phil Mickelson, if you don't know by now. He is a 6' 3", 200 lb. 45 year old left handed professional golfer from San Diego. He is married with three children, attended Arizona State University who became a pro in 1992 and has since won 42 PGA tournaments. He has won The Masters, British Open and PGA Championship, and is a member of the PGA Hall of Fame. Maybe he knows something about golf, and winning. And by the way, he is one of the most popular, friendliest, and most frequent signature-signing players in golf. Maybe he knows something about being a gentleman too.
In golf, "to play like a gentleman" translates into golf etiquette, that is, how you behave on the golf course that "preserves the dignity of golf at all levels." And how can you do that, in the competitive arena of professional sports today? In pro football nowadays, they want to "punish" the ball carrier, and sometimes do maim them. In pro basketball, there's no room for the timid when the ball is under the basket and 7-footers are scrambling for the ball, some even making intentional fouls. In pro baseball, when they slide into second base, even with the new rule that asks the runner to go for the bag, not the man, you still see cleats up in the air testing the limits of the baseline. Soccer is no different. Trip up the ball dribbler if you can get away with it. And it goes without saying, in boxing and cage fighting, the idea is to beat your opponent into submission. So, how can golfers hope to be successful in a tournament if they play in a gentlemanly manner for four long days?
The Rules of Golf book is full of not only how to play the game, but how to do it with courtesy and sportsmanship. There are too many rules on how to play the game to list here, but they are "clear, comprehensive and relevant to today's game", and there are appropriate penalties if violated. But we can name a few of the requirements of golf etiquette, the likes of which are seldom seen in any competitive sport. Here are a few of them:
- Since there is no referee in a group of four players in a tournament, by and large it is up to the player or his playing partners to determine if a violation of etiquette, or of rules, has occurred. So, if you can imagine, players call violations on themselves. (On TV, the Professional golf Association even takes calls from the general public where a viewer has seen a violation that game officials or players have missed. And penalties are assessed. In golf, a rule is a rule. Can you imagine a viewer of a pro basketball game calling the station and saying so and so just committed a foul, and what the reaction of the station would be?)
- Players should keep up with the group ahead of them, and invite any faster-playing group behind them to play on through them while they wait.
- Take care of the course. Fill any divots made in the fairway with the sand and/or seed provided, rake the sand traps after hitting out of them, and repair any ball or cleat marks made on the green.
- Mark your ball with an identifying logo so as not to confuse it with another player's ball.
- Do not ask for, or give advice on a shot, except for rule clarification.
- Do not talk, or make noises while a player prepares to take a shot.
- Wait until the group ahead of you is out of range to hit a ball.
- Yell "fore" if there is any chance that a struck ball might hit someone.
- Maybe the #1 rule in all of golf could be DO NOT HIT ANYONE WITH YOUR BALL OR YOUR GOLF CLUB!
- On the green, wait until all players have made their putts before leaving the putting area.
- Make sure none of your electronic devices disturb a player.
- Players should not stand directly behind another player when that player is hitting the ball.
- Players should be ready to play when it is their turn.
- Players should not lean on their putters while on the green.
These are some of the rules of etiquette I believe Phil is talking about when he says "... play like a gentleman, and win." I think Phil feels golfers should do their best and try to win, on each shot, on each hole, every round they play. I know no game where the object is not to win the game. You have to care if you make a good shot or not, care if you win or not, but you are not ashamed or belittled if you have tried your best yet lost. Yes, enjoy the scenery surrounding most golf courses, enjoy the camaraderie between you and your playing partners, have fun in the sun. A cool drink with the boys tastes good after the round. Follow the rules of the game and follow proper etiquette, and you will be contributing to behavior that instills and promotes "the spirit of the game." The game of golf. The only game I know of where so many professional athletes would like to be able to play competitively. Where the game is called golf because all the other four-letter words are taken. In golf, there is no such thing as "win at any cost." It's a gentleman's game.