Golf Integrity That Costs $400,000 Is a Bargain: Scott Soshnick

Every now and then something happens to renew your faith in sports and sportsmen. You hope that some of it rubs off.

The latest cause for celebration is golfer Brian Davis, a Brit who -- pay attention Wall Street -- values rules more than riches. He placed dignity over dollars. He tattled. On himself.

The best part is that Davis, 35, didn’t even hesitate. After all, as he said, rules are rules, no matter how silly or inconsequential they might seem. There’s no morality exception for a golfer oh-so-close to his first PGA Tour victory, which, by the way, means an automatic berth in the Masters Tournament.

“I’ve never had such a positive come out of losing,” Davis said over the telephone.

You can make the argument that golf has too many silly rules. Like, say, the gaffe committed by Robert De Vicenzo, who might have cost himself the 1968 Masters Tournament when he signed an incorrect scorecard.

Gee whiz, the man shot what he shot no matter what the scorecard says, no? To value the score on the card more than the score on the course seems like picking microscopic nits.

But that’s golf, which, considering what’s going on these days, just might have it right.

I can’t help but wonder what some of the guys at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which is facing a fraud lawsuit from U.S. regulators, would have done had it been them instead of Davis that day.

What’s most surprising is the amount of surprise out there regarding the whistle-blowing Davis, who violated rule 13.4 against moving a loose impediment during a takeaway.

Flawed Backswing

Davis’s club nicked a reed during his backswing on the first hole of a playoff with Jim Furyk. The violation was imperceptible, except to Davis, who wasn’t even sure the reed moved. He thought it moved. It might have moved. Couldn’t swear it, though. Rather than silence he summoned Slugger White, a tournament official who reviewed the stroke in slow motion. The club did, indeed, come in contact with the reed, resulting in a two-stroke penalty.

Davis conceded the tournament to Furyk, who took home more than $1 million in prize money. Davis got $615,000. Some would say Davis lost. I wouldn’t. And neither would White.

“He’s class,” the tournament official said. “First class.”

The headlines these days are more about crass than class, whether you’re reading the business page or the sports section.

Suspect Behavior

If it isn’t Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was suspended for violating the National Football League’s conduct policy, then it’s Goldman Sachs, which the Securities and Exchange Commission has accused of failing to tell investors in a 2007 collateralized debt obligation that hedge fund Paulson & Co., which planned to bet against the CDO, helped select the underlying assets. In other words, Goldman misled investors, an allegation the firm denies.

“With what has been going on around the world, people are looking for a positive story and for somebody to do the right thing,” Davis said.

Sad that we have to look so hard.

Maybe a friendly game of golf is the best litmus test for anyone seeking an investment bank with which to do business. Think about it. Before entrusting your money to someone, wouldn’t you like to know whether he’s the kind of player who kicks the ball into the fairway or neglects to count a whiff as a stroke?

Beliefs of Youth

According to a 2008 survey conducted by the Los Angeles-based Josephson Institute, a national character development and ethics organization, more than 60 percent of the 30,000 high- school students surveyed felt that they needed to lie or cheat to get ahead. The percentage didn’t fall in a more recent survey, the results of which haven’t been released, said Rich Jarc, the organization’s executive director.

“A lot of our youth believe you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Jarc said. “These are our future doctors, lawyers, bankers. We already had a lot of financial people doing what they had to do to make a buck.”

I used to think that golf’s rules were senseless. Not anymore.

Davis has been inundated with e-mails and text messages, many of them thanking him for offering a counterbalance to steroids and scandals.

“When times are bad,” Davis said, “people look for good.”

This one didn’t go his way. But there’s more golf to play.

(Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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