Put me down as #1 in the Tim Clark fan club.
After yesterday's round at the World Golf Championship at Firestone Country Club was completed — scorecards were signed, accepted and tallied to set-up pairings for Sunday's final round, Tim Clark was in 3rd place and in plain view of a very big payday. He had at least a fighting shot at the $1 million+ first prize money and certainly figured to be in the thick of things for a check of $300,000-$600,000. However, after reflecting on his round, Clark remembered he made a placement mistake with his ball on the 16th green. He moved it legally but failed to replace - which is against the rules. Nobody else saw him do it or knew about it and no one but he could have reported it.
He did report it to tournament officials. He called in his own 2-shot penalty... after the fact... and now he begins today's final round in 14th place. No doubt now he will have to battle his way to earn anything near 6 figures. We'll never be able to say exactly how much this voluntary act of honesty will have cost him... but hundreds of thousands of dollars is easily in the balance.
And let's not forget — they call them professional golfers for a reason. They do play the game for money! The nonsense you so often hear from sportscasters about how they "play to win" is just that - nonsense. This is how these men make a living This is how they pay the mortgage, put their kids through school, eat! They don't hand out prize money at PGA events as an afterthought. And they pay a lot more for Third Place than they do for Fourteenth Place.
Following this demonstration of personal integrity, I started thinking about the new NFL season already beginning with all the fuss about training camps opening and the nerve wracking decisions among ownership about which just released felons and newly indicted criminals to put on their rosters and which of them to shun. Talk about personal integrity - the NFL wouldn't recognize integrity if it blindsided them, rolled over a league meeting like a bulldozer. One of the doctrines of pro football has always been "If you ain't cheating — you ain't trying!" How many wide receivers trap a ball and then jump up celebrating like they caught it - when they KNOW they didn't? How many great runs from scrimmage owe their gains to teammates' holding and illegal blocks? "If you ain't cheating..."
In baseball too there are many such examples - the phantom touch of a shortstop's toe on second base during a double play... the just as nonexistent tag on a steal of second base... the trapped ball on the outfield grass... the swing that's pulled back and the hitter's act which follows to show he didn't REALLY swing - when he knows he did... or the catcher who quickly pulls in an outside pitch to fool the umpire and get the called strike.
How about the NBA... if you counted the double-dribbles, palming the ball violations and the steps - Oh, my God .. THE STEPS! Walking is a regular play now in professional basketball. All the best players seem to get 3 steps to the basket before anyone even thinks to call a traveling violation.
Golf is the only sport played on a major level with big, big prize money at stake where total fidelity to the rules of play is honored by the players themselves, often at great personal cost. No real golfer WANTS to win by cheating. Just look at what Tim Clark did. His action isn't much different from someone who finds... say a quarter of million dollars lying on the ground somewhere and rather than take it home they bring it to a police station. How many people would really do that?
So, I'll be rooting for Tim Clark this afternoon. I hope he shoots 60 and wins, but of course that's not likely to happen. But I will remember his integrity and his strength of character a lot longer than I'll remember whoever does win and I'll be pulling for Tim Clark the next time I see him tee it up in a golf tournament.