The Dilemma

Published: March 21, 2012

By Jim Lichtman
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Here is an ethical quandary submitted by a friend.

“You’re playing in the club championship finals and the match is halved at the end of 17 holes. You have the honor and hit your ball a modest two hundred fifty yards down the middle of the fairway, leaving a simple six iron to the pin.

“Your opponent then hits his ball, lofting it deep into the woods to the right of the fairway. Being the golfing gentleman that you are, you help your opponent look for his ball. Just before the allowable five minute search period ends, your opponent says, ‘Go ahead and hit your second shot and if I don’t find mine in time, I’ll concede the match.’

“You hit your ball, landing it on the green, stopping about ten feet from the pin. About the time your ball comes to rest, you hear your opponent exclaim, from deep in the woods, ‘I found it!’

“The next sound you hear is that of a club striking a ball. The ball comes sailing out of the woods and lands on the green, stopping six inches from the hole.

“Now here’s the dilemma:

“Do you pull the cheating bastard’s ball out of your pocket and confront him with it or do you keep your mouth shut?”

Funny enough, but I’ve heard more stories of integrity on the golf course than in any other sport. Here’s a good example.

Gordon Youngs has more than twenty-five years experience in employee relations and personnel management with both public agency and employee (labor union) perspectives. He has served on committees for the League of California Cities, the National League of Cities, as well as the National Public Employer Labor Relations Association. Gordon submitted this story for inclusion in my book, What Do You Stand For?

“I have to go back to when I was a teenager, and how someone else inspired me,” Gordon begins.

“I was just gaining some skills at golf, and I most enjoyed the days when friends and I just played for the love of the game. My father would drop us off at the course, and we would fashion a competition with each other, betting a nickel or dime a hole, just to make the game more fun. One day, my friends and I came to the seventh hole, a long par four which required a long second shot over a ravine.

“My friend Roger and I were about equal in ability. The other two guys, Bob and Don, were a little better and a little worse, respectively. Roger drove the ball well off the tee, toward some small trees on the right. I hit an okay drive to the left side. Bob banged his drive deep down the middle, and Don sliced one just in play to the right, twenty yards or so behind Roger.

“Don reached his ball first and got ready to hit. Roger moved down the fairway to his ball, and stepped back to the left to clear a path for Don. I watched from the left side of the fairway as Don tried to hit a hard three-wood to the green, and then as the ball ricocheted off a small tree and hit Roger hard in his ribcage.

“Roger went down clutching his side and grimacing in pain. He was in tears when I got there, but trying to joke about it. “Just help me up,” he told us. As he came to his feet, he looked at Don, who was obviously worried and apologized repeatedly.

“ ‘Did you try to bank one off me deliberately?’ Roger said. He laughed, and Don looked relieved. When Roger went to his ball and prepared to hit, his swing was not as fluid as earlier that day. His follow-through was abrupt and his shot tumbled down to the ravine. The pain was clearly affecting him, but he grimaced and kept going, ending up taking a double-bogey on the hole.

“When I finished my bogey, Roger came over and handed me a nickel. ‘What’s this?’ I asked.

“ ‘Your winnings,’ he said with a forced smile.

“ ‘I can’t take this; you were injured. The bet was off,’ I insisted.

“ ‘No,’ he said, ‘that was just rub of the green and you won the hole. I would have collected if you missed a putt or hit one out of bounds. That’s just the way the game is played.’

“No matter how much he hurt, he played by the rules. While I was intent on being courteous, as we are all taught to be, he was telling me it was consistent with the courtesy of the game to accept wins and losses gracefully, to acknowledge an opponent’s good luck and disregard your own bad fortune.

“But, you say, it was only a nickel wager. No, it was more than that. It was setting the stage for the times when he and I had more on the line, when we would expect, even depend on each other, to do the right thing. I knew then what it meant to be loyal to my commitments, even if I had a good excuse for begging out. It was a moment of character, and I was the recipient of much more than a nickel’s worth of insight.”


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