Golfing integrity is in the bag
On the front nine, John Riley's golf bag didn't seem heavier than it should. One slim club doesn't make much difference in weight. But when the King Kekaulike sophomore realized he had 15 sticks rather than 14, he might as well have been lugging a bag full of lead around the Arnold Palmer course at Turtle Bay.
He knew he had to turn himself in, and that's what he did.
After completing his first round at the state high school championship tournament last week, Riley trudged up to the scorers' table.
"The first thing I have to do," Riley said, head down, "is tell you something."
Riley 'fessed up to his heinous crime, and was assessed a four-stroke penalty. He then made the long walk to his coach and teammates, who were wondering why he was taking so long and why a rules official had to be called.
When Riley told his coach, Kaipo Thomas, what had happened, Thomas didn't get angry. He embraced him and congratulated him.
The King Kekaulike team came into the tournament with high hopes, since it had done well in the Maui Interscholastic League (the same league in which state champion Baldwin plays). Thomas acknowledged that Riley going from an 82 to an 86 did not help the team's standing -- on paper, anyway.
"Without those four strokes, John would've been one of our counting scores, so it does affect us," Thomas said. "But our boys know character means more than winning or losing. They realize they're representing the school, the island and their families."
Did Riley consider keeping quiet? No one else noticed his mistake. Worse people have gotten away with worse sins.
"No. I never thought of that. I just wanted to be honest," he said. "I just wish I would have been smart enough to check everything. But I wasn't. I was trying to decide which club to take out the night before, the 3-iron or the 4-iron. I never did decide and forgot to do it."
It would be naive to believe there's no cheating in golf. But there is something to be said for a game with a code that encourages honesty and integrity -- especially in championship events -- and that it is actually adhered to.
Other sports are different. You find whatever edge you can; sometimes by bending, breaking or pretending you don't know the rules.
Thomas, a first-year coach who claims to "know nothing" about golf and whose background is in volleyball, said the sprawling nature of the game spawned its unique culture of honor.
"I think there's a lot of opportunity to cut corners in golf. You have 80 opportunities to not count a shot," he said.
And when you're in just another foursome on the first day of states, no one's paying attention to how many clubs are in your bag.
"You have to police yourself and your character is put to the test," Thomas added.
It's a test John Riley clearly passed last week at Turtle Bay.
is a Star-Bulletin sportswriter who covers University of Hawaii football and other topics. His column appears periodically.
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