Although the penalties professional golfers routinely call on themselves are often made public because they shed a positive light on the game and its players, incidents of cheating seldom make it past the locker room door because they have the opposite effect.
The pro tours do not keep records on how often rules officials are called upon to resolve disputes between players, but such incidents occur every week. Borderline cases often go unreported for two reasons. First, calling an infraction on another player is inevitably unpleasant and probably disputable because the rules specify that the accused receives the benefit of the doubt if no one can corroborate the charge. Second, there is a prevalent attitude that if a player cheats, he is not good enough to win playing fair. Therefore such a player is not a threat. The logic is flawed when the accused is as good as Mark McCumber, a 10-time winner.
Traditionally cheaters have been stopped by peer pressure rather than through the actions of officials. In most cases a private confrontation between accuser and accused ends the funny stuff. Here's how tour justice works: The players know the situations in which it's easy to cheat. They watch when others are in those spots, and when someone crosses the line, word spreads. When the offending player is later observed by a second, corroborating player while committing an offense, the cheater is labeled as a player who must be watched. Subsequent violations are met with a response from the accused player's peers.
Rarely is that response as drastic as the action taken by Greg Norman against McCumber and never as public. The most publicized cheating incidents involved Bob Toski and Jane Blalock. Both were accused of improperly marking their ball on the green—the most common and easiest way to gain an advantage. Toski withdrew from the Senior tour for five months in 1986. Blalock had a case built against her by the LPGA in 1972 but fought the tour in the courts, which threw out the action on the grounds that her peers had a conflict of interest in banning a fellow competitor. In the next decade Blalock ranked among the top 10 players eight times.
There are many opportunities to bend the rules, if not cheat. The most common abuses occur when players bend tree branches to build a stance, take unnecessary relief from casual water, fix ball marks that are actually spike marks, play an unnecessary provisional ball, take advice from another player, make improper drops or alter their clubs.
And, of course, there's the old ploy of a player hitting a tee shot into the rough and then pressing his driver behind the ball before selecting another club with which to play the shot. A story often told on Tour involves a player who was in the rough addressing his ball with a four-wood for what seemed like forever. Finally, his caddie asked, "Is that a four-wood shot?" The player, tamping clown hard, answered under his breath, "Not yet."