Golf is a great game. It's a game of strategy, skill, and, most importantly, sportsmanship. But what exactly is sportsmanship? According to Merriam-Webster, sportsmanship is "the conduct and attitude of a player toward the game, toward the other players, and toward the officials." In other words, it's how you conduct yourself on the golf course.

Being a good sport doesn't just mean being a good winner or a good loser. It means playing the game fairly and with respect for both yourself and your opponents. Unfortunately, not everyone understands this concept. Let's take a look at a few examples of poor sportsmanship in golf and see what we can learn from them.

One example of poor sportsmanship took place at the 2014 Ryder Cup. During one of the matches, one of the European team members hit his ball into a water hazard. His opponent, Jordan Spieth, generously offered to let him play his next shot from where Spieth's ball had landed—a much better position than where his own ball had ended up. The European player refused the offer, saying that he wanted to play by the rules. Spieth ended up winning the hole, but the European player won the respect of everyone watching for his display of sportsmanship.

This story highlights an important aspect of sportsmanship: playing fair. When you're on the golf course, it's important to remember that you're not just playing against your opponents—you're playing against the course itself. Sometimes, that means bending (or even breaking) the rules a little bit in order to level the playing field (pun intended). For example, if you hit your ball into a water hazard, you're allowed to take a drop—that is, play your next shot from a different location without penalty. This rule exists because hitting your ball into water is inherently unfair; it puts you at a disadvantage compared to the other players who have managed to keep their balls dry.

Of course, there are also times when bending the rules is definitely not okay. Spieth could have easily sugarcoated his offer and made it sound like he was just trying to be helpful rather than trying to get an advantage over his opponent. Fortunately, he didn't do that—he was honest about his intentions and, as a result, was able to earn his opponent's respect.

Another example of poor sportsmanship took place at last year's Presidents Cup. During one of the matches, Tiger Woods hit his tee shot into tree branches and ended up in an unplayable lie—that is, his ball was stuck in such a way that he couldn't make a normal swing at it without risk of hitting himself or breaking his clubs. Generally, in this situation, you're allowed to take what's called a "stroke-and-distance" relief—that is, you can re-tee your ball and add one stroke to your score for that hole.

However, instead of taking this relief, Woods decided to declare his ball unplayable and take an unusual alternative relief option which involved moving his ball closer to the hole (but not onto the green) and adding two strokes to his score for that hole. This decision put him at a clear advantage over his opponent; by taking this relief option instead of stroke-and-distance relief, he gained an extra shot while still maintaining control over where he wanted to place his next shot.

Needless to say, Woods' opponent was not happy about this turn of events. After consulting with officials, they determined that Woods had indeed used an allowed relief option—but that didn't make it any less unfair. As one golfer wrote later: "I'm all for creative thinking and Rules management… but sometimes common sense has got to prevail." In other words: just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do it—especially if it gives you an unfair advantage over your opponents.

So what have we learned from these stories? Sportsmanship in golf (and in any other sport) is all about playing fair and respecting both yourself and your opponents—even if that means bending (or breaking) the rules from time to time. When in doubt, always err on the side of caution; as they say, "it's not whether you win or lose but how you play the game." Thanks for reading! I hope this has been helpful in teaching you all about sportsmanship in golf!
October 28, 2022 — Simon Masters