Golf is a gentleman’s game that relies heavily on the honor system. Players are expected to call penalties on themselves and be honest about their scores. However, over the years there have been some notorious cheaters who have tried to game the system in crazy ways. Here are 9 of the biggest cheaters in golf history.
1. The Scorecard Scandal of Azalea Amateur Tournament
In one of the most brazen cheating attempts, John Wes Townsend IV and Blayne Thompson entered the Azalea Amateur Tournament in Charleston, South Carolina in 2010. They turned in scorecards with made-up scores, claiming they had shot 69 and 68 in their two rounds. However, other players got suspicious when the pair did not play like 10-handicappers. After an investigation, it turned out Townsend and Thompson had not even played in the tournament at all! They were caught and banned from other USGA amateur events.
2. Gary Player’s Moving Ball
The legendary Gary Player has 18 major titles but he too was caught cheating at one point. During the 1958 Masters, Player was frustrated after leaving a putt short. As he walked to tap it in, he “inadvertently” stopped his ball from moving back with his club. A photographer caught him in the act but Player was only given a warning since it was his first offense.
3. The Scorecard Switch at U.S. Amateur Public Links
In 2011, Phillip Finch and teammate Mitch Seavey were disqualified from the U.S. Amateur Public Links when they switched their scorecards and signed for the wrong scores. They had shot 73 but turned in scorecards showing a 66, perhaps hoping nobody would notice the discrepancy. Once the switch was discovered, the pair were DQ’d for their blatant attempts at cheating.
4. Fred Ridley’s USGA Ban
Future Masters chairman Fred Ridley was once banned by the USGA all the way back in 1977 for a scoring mishap. As an amateur, Ridley signed for a lower score than what he actually shot at the U.S. Amateur. Realizing his mistake the next day, Ridley immediately disqualified himself and notified the USGA. Still, he received a 1-year suspension for the scorecard error.
5. The Tallahassee Open Disqualification
In 2016, Clifton Hildebrand and Alex Brite were disqualified from a NGA Pro Golf Tour mini-tour event when officials realized they had never even played their final round! After a third round 78, Hildebrand conveniently signed for a 69 on his scorecard the next day without playing the course. Brite even verified the false score despite not being Hildebrand’s playing partner. Both golfers were suspended for a year for their cheating.
6. Tom Watson’s Free Relief
While paired together in the 1981 U.S. Open, Tom Watson and playing partner Ross Baumler ran into trouble on the 5th hole. Both players hit their drives into the rough but when Watson went to hit his second shot, he illegally took relief from a cart path before hitting. Baumler called a penalty on Watson, causing Watson to make bogey and lose his 1-shot lead. Watson would go on to lose in a playoff but praised Baumler for his honesty.
7. The Added Strokes of DQ’d Stanford Women’s Golf Team
At the 2017 NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship, Stanford’s team was disqualified after it was discovered that the team’s scorecards had been altered to add extra strokes. Head coach Anne Walker took responsibility, admitting to the changes in an attempt to ensure her players learned from their mistakes. While a misguided teaching attempt, it was still an ethical breach that got the entire Cardinal team DQ’d.
8. John Daly at the BMW International Open
The often controversial John Daly’s reputation took another hit at the 2013 BMW International Open. After shooting a 77, Daly signed for a first round score of 71 before later admitting he didn’t actually keep count of all his strokes. Saying he “just wanted to get out of there”, Daly was disqualified for the incorrect scorecard.
9. Sirak’s 59 at 2010 Paris International Amateur Championship
At first it seemed like an amazing feat – British amateur golfer Simon Sirak had shot a 59 at a European amateur event. But upon closer inspection, officials realized Sirak’s scorecard was totally fabricated. He claimed to have made 11 birdies and an eagle, despite others saying Sirak hadn’t even broken 80 that day. When confronted, Sirak withdrew from the event for the fake scorecard.
While most golfers play by the rules, these crazy stories prove some are willing to do anything to gain an edge, even if it means cheating. Fortunately, vigilant officials and honest players make sure those who break the rules don’t get away with it for long. Honor and ethics remain central to the spirit of golf, even if they occasionally get breached in spectacular fashion by some determined but misguided cheaters.