Golf great's integrity doesn't handicap game

"It’s not wrong, if you don’t get caught.”

I did a double take. Did I just hear what I thought I heard?

The person was adamant, “No one will know. What’s it hurt?”

“You’ll know,” I retorted.

I’m not kidding myself. It seems to be a part of human nature to shy away from telling the truth. But as real as that may be, I’m not backing down on standing up and being truthful. Despite a propensity to tell lies, we can choose to tell the truth and live a life of integrity. We can be people of good character.

Golfing great Bobby Jones was born in 1902, and yet his life and his achievements remain legendary today. Robert Tyre Jones, Jr. picked up a golf club as a young child to help recover from debilitating health issues and developed quickly into a golf phenom winning his first tournament at age six. In his 14th year, he claimed the inaugural Georgia Amateur Championship. The Atlanta native soon garnered his first U.S. Golf Association’s amateur invitation. At the age of 18, Jones qualified for the U.S. Open.

Jones’s game morphed by the time he was 20 years old--he became a player with which to be reckoned. His stature skyrocketed over the next eight seasons and he became known as the greatest amateur golfer ever, winning 13 major championships from 1923 to 1930. Jones is the only player to have won the Grand Slam (all four major championships) in one year. He reached this 1930 Grand Slam title by winning: The Amateur Championship, The Open Championship, The U.S. Open, and the U.S. Amateur.

Jones succeeded in the classroom, too, attending Georgia Tech, Harvard College and Emory University School of Law. After passing the bar exam in 1928 at age 26, he entered his father’s law firm. It wasn’t until he retired from amateur golf at age 28 that he made money from the game as a much sought-after golf educator and golf club and course designer.

People remember Jones as a perfectionist for whom fair play was paramount. During the 1925 U.S. Open at the Worcester Country Club near Boston, Jones made “sportsmanship” history. His shot to the elevated 11th hole’s green fell short and landed in the rough of a steep embankment. Addressing the ball, he took his stance to pitch onto the green when the head of the club brushed the grass, moving the ball. He took his shot, but informed the officials that he was calling a penalty on himself sighting a Rule 18 violation. The self-imposed one-stroke penalty ultimately cost him the win. This wasn’t the only time doing the right thing was the measure of his play.

“No one will know.”
“It’s okay if you don’t get caught.”
“Who’s it gonna hurt?”

Being a true champion begins by having the integrity to say, “I’ll know.”

When we first meet Zacchaeus in the Gospel of Luke, he is not a person of integrity. In fact, he engaged in many dishonorable things to become very rich. It’s only after he meets Jesus that he becomes a person of character. First, he reprioritizes his life and follows Jesus. Next, he makes things right with those he had wronged. Finally, he restores his relationship with his family when he turns his back on his life as a Roman tax collector. Having the right relationship with God is the starting place for doing the right thing. Leaving his corrupt past behind, Zacchaeus helps spread Christianity; it is thought that he becomes the first bishop of the church of Caesarea.

In a time when many think that doing the right thing isn’t the right thing to do, it’s important that we make honesty a priority. It is essential in growing strong relationships with our families, teams and communities. From truth, trust becomes the glue that binds us to do good together. Everything worth anything springs from truth.

Bobby Jones greatly impacted the game of golf, but probably as much for his integrity as anything else. Since 1955, the U.S. Golf Association awards its highest honor by presenting the “Bob Jones Award” to individuals who demonstrate spirit, personal character and respect for the game of golf.

When the time comes and all has passed away, it is our character that remains. It will be how we have loved God and others that stands the test of time