Last Updated Sep 27, 2011 1:42 PM EDT
Yes, there are golfers who cheat. But generally, they are businessmen who confuse the laws of business with the laws of golf. When a professional golfer commits a rules infraction, he calls it on himself. Even if it means he will take a two-shot penalty. Even if it means, like Ian Woosnam in the 2001 British Open, that it might cost him a major championship. Now if only Bernie Madoff had stood up the minute he broke the law and said: "You know what? I seem to have created a Ponzi scheme." How different the world might be today. Especially the New York Mets.
It is a difficult fact of our modern world that money can turn reasonable people into venal ogres. Golf can too. But for different reasons. For too many business people, the lure of lucre enters their lifeblood to such an extent that everything revolves around the cash. The businessman's cash, that is. The golfer wants to do something great. Just once. It could be a five-wood that goes 220 yards over a ravine and finishes next to the pin. It could be a bunker shot that sprays him with sand but settles softly two feet from the hole. It could be to experience the feeling of making a 50-foot putt that breaks three times. Business doesn't often allow for that kind of glory. Which is why many business people wish they'd have been good enough to become professional golfers.
Talk to any golfer who has given up golf and very, very few will tell you: "Oh, I wasn't very good." Or, "I couldn't stand being outside all day." Instead, they'll talk about family, time, perhaps even money. In contrast, most of those in the business world come to a point where business means less and life means more. This doesn't mean that business stinks. It means that there comes a time when it's less fun to double-cross an adversary, less fun to outsmart a usurper, and a lot less fun to sit through quarterly numbers meetings. There never comes a time when it's less fun to hit a searing drive into a fairway narrower than a fundamentalist's mind, or a 4-iron 190 yards to a green surrounded by water.
It's no coincidence that most people are far happier out on the golf course than in the office. It isn't merely that golf is slightly more fun. It's that few architects have ever succeeded in making offices palatable places to breathe. Or even be. Many a conference room has no windows. Yes, it's cost effective. It's also numbing to the eyes, the lungs and the mind. When the sun is beating down on you on the ninth tee at Troon North, you are grateful just to be alive. When the sun is beating down outside and your sales figures are taking a beating from a consultant in a room the size of an NFL lineman's thumb, gratitude is not the first thing that comes to mind.
Business and golf share a common tradition: drinks. After you conclude a business deal, you often celebrate with your clients. But, as you celebrate, your mind is still racing around the issues: How are we going to staff this new venture? Can we complete it on time? Will their lawyers and our lawyers be able to agree before, say, another three months? This is a qualitatively different experience from drinks at the 19th hole. There, all have given of their best. Everyone wants to talk about their good shots, their bad shots, and their totally and utterly ridiculous shots. At some time during the drinks, one of your group will look at everyone else, sip his or her fine Honig Cabernet Sauvignon and offer: "Wasn't that a great day?" Everyone will raise their glasses and agree.