The Lowdown on Golf's Lowlifes

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Golf Cheating 101: Common Moves Cheaters Use to Win

golfer trying to blow ball into hole
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Recreational golfers don't have to be fanatical about playing by the rules so long as they aren't claiming they are playing by the rules — a friendly game of golf without worrying about the score is different than lying about the score a player makes, and ultimately, no one likes a cheater.

After all, the most important thing to remember when golfing, especially with friends out on the fairway alone, is to have fun and not take the game too seriously — except, of course, during a tournament (in which case players shouldn't be breaking the rules at all).

So, with these common decency points in mind, maybe you're out playing a game with friends and you suspect something foul is happening with your opponent's scorekeeping. Use the following list of commonly encountered cheats to help you identify if you're being cheated.

We've all encountered people in those situations who, well, cheat. And most golf cheaters break down into common types: The Eraser; the "I-Would-Have-Made-That-Anyway" line dropper; the Balldropper; the Bumpers, Foot-Wedgers and Hand-Wedgers; the Sandbagger; the Play-By-Their-Own-Rulesers; and the Doesn't-Know-the-Rules Guy. Continue reading to meet the cheats!

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The Eraser

Golfer signing his scorecard
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As Arnold Palmer once said, "I have a tip that can take five strokes off anyone's golf game. It's called an eraser." No, Arnie's not encouraging cheating, he's just making a joke, but there's another old saying in golf: Beware the man whose golf pencil has an eraser.

Sometimes The Erasers literally erase one score from the scorecard and write down a lower one, but more often The Eraser simply erases a stroke here, a stroke there from his memory and, subsequently, his scorecard.

You know the type: You watch the guy hit it into the woods, take three shots getting out of a bunker, and then he claims he made a bogey. He "erased" a couple of his strokes before his score ever reached the scorecard.

Failing to count penalty strokes is a common trick of The Eraser, too — "What'd you get on that hole?" you might ask The Eraser when you know he used 8 strokes, and he'll coyly reply, "Oh, put me down for a 5."

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The "I-Would-Have-Made-That-Anyway" Line Dropper

Golfer using his putter like a pool cue on the green
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The "I Would Have Made That Anyway" Line Dropper (IWHMTA) is a brother to The Eraser. This golf cheat just can't be bothered to hole his last putt. "Hey, I always make 'em from that distance!" he might say, "Why should I bother to actually putt out?"

The IWHMTA is secretly terrified he's going to miss that 3-footer for par, so he walks up with the putter in one hand and makes a casual swipe at the ball, sending it toward the hole. If it goes in? Great! If it doesn't? He wasn't even trying, don't you see — no need, it's good, he's counting it made because he always makes those!

"Hey, that's outside the leather, aren't you going to putt it?" you might ask him, but he'll just shrug it off and reply, "No need — you've seen me make this shot before, why bother showing off again?" Then he'll pick up the ball and move on to the next tee.

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The Balldropper

golfer dropping ball while opponent isn't watching
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The Balldropper always has an extra ball in his pocket, and can frequently be spotted wandering off by himself to search for wayward shots, casting furtive glances to see if any of his playing partners are watching. No? Nobody watching? "Hey everyone, I found my ball!" he'll say from behind the bushes.

Rookie balldroppers just retrieve a ball from a pocket and plop it down in the general vicinity (but usually in a better spot) of where their first ball went missing, but the experienced balldropper might use the old pant-leg trick: cut a hole in pocket, let ball fall through hole, down leg, out bottom of the pant leg. Oh, what a dirty cheater!

The Balldropper might hit one into the woods, or the water, or deep rough, yet miraculously he'll say, "Wow, I just found my ball! Must have taken a great kick or something!" And for added flair, the Balldropper might even add, "And such a great lie, too!"

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The Bumpers, Foot-Wedgers and Hand-Wedgers

woman using her foot to knock golf ball into hole
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These are the golf cheaters who use a golf club, a foot or a hand to improve their lie. Behind a tree? Is anybody looking? The Foot Wedger will give that ball a little boot and then express joy at his luck that he didn't wind up behind that tree!

The Bumper gives the ball a little bump with the club he's going to play the next shot with (after checking to make sure nobody is watching, of course), "teeing up" the ball on a nice tuft of grass or simply moving it slightly out from behind something.

The Hand Wedger is the worst since he has to actually reach down, pick up his ball and toss it a few feet in the direction of better circumstances, and another form of The Bumper is the golfer who uses his ballmarker to get the ball just a wee bit closer to the hole.

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The Sandbagger

goofy looking golfer
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A sandbagger is a golfer who intentionally inflates his score in order to raise his handicap index so that when tournament time comes around he'll get more strokes. In other words, the sandbagger cheats by pretending to be a worse golfer than he really is. 

Now, if you're just a recreational golfer out having fun with buddies and not too concerned about the rules, you're almost certainly not carrying a handicap index anyway. But if you do have a handicap, you must play by the rules and you must accurately and honestly report your scores. If you don't, you're a sandbagger and a cheater.

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The Play-By-Their-Own-Rulesers

golf rules and decisions book
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These golfers are distant cousins of the Don't-Know-the-Rulesers, but unlike golfers who simply don't realize they aren't following a rule, the Play-By-Their-Own-Rules golfers do — they just rationalize their cheating by refusing to call it cheating.

How? They say things like "man, that rule is so unfair! Nobody should have to follow that stupid rule!" then proceed to make up their own rules and expect you to either know them or just accept them even if they give that player an advantage.

A Play-By-His-Own-Ruleser whose ball comes to rest in a divot in the fairway will complain bitterly about having to play it as it lies — and then move his ball out of the divot. 

This golf cheater will claim he plays by the rules, might even brag about doing it, and then you catch him improving his lie when his ball winds up on hardpan or behind a clump of grass in the rough.

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The Doesn't-Know-the-Rules Guy

golfer shrugging
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This golfer doesn't mean to cheat, he's not trying to cheat — he just doesn't know the rules well enough to recognize it every time he breaks one. Is that really cheating? Or does cheating involve intent?

Even if you aren't a stickler for rules within your regular group of recreational golfers, you still need to know the rules, because if you wind up in a situation where you're expected to and required to follow the rules, and then break a rule out of ignorance — well, ignorance isn't an excuse for the law and it certainly isn't for tournament play either. "Hey, I just didn't realize I was breaking a rule" doesn't fly in by-the-book situations.

How can you get to know the rules better, even if you don't take them too seriously when you're out playing a friendly game of golf? Make sure you've fully read the United States Golfers' Association "The Rules of Golf," which details exactly what to do in almost every situation you'll find yourself on the golf course.