“Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.” — Proverbs 10:9
Tommy Kuhl walked off hole No. 18 at the Illini Golf Club in Springfield, Illinois, having just finished a potentially life-changing round. His 62 broke the course record and earned him a spot in sectional qualifying for the 2023 U.S. Open.
The University of Illinois senior waited around with teammates to watch a fellow Illini golfer, Adrian Dumont De Chassart, try to win a playoff and secure the final available spot for the sectional round. One of those teammates mentioned the aerated greens they had just played on — a revelation that changed everything for Kuhl.
“I felt sick to my stomach,” Kuhl told reporters. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I didn’t tell the rules official.”
As it turned out, Kuhl had been fixing aeration marks on the greens throughout his round. What might seem innocuous to the average golfer, what Kuhl did is grounds for disqualification according to a United States Golf Association rule. The rule explicitly prohibits repairing damage on the green that results from “normal practices for maintaining the overall condition of the putting green (such as aeration holes and grooves from vertical mowing).”
Sure enough, Kuhl alerted a rules official, and he was indeed disqualified. He probably could’ve kept it to himself and no one would’ve known the wiser, likely allowing him to continue trying to qualify for the U.S. Open, one of golf’s most prestigious tournaments. It’s also probably a fair response to feel that tournament officials should’ve reminded players of this rule or at least shown grace to those who broke it, especially if they owned up to it.
But Kuhl was undeterred: He had broken a rule, and he needed to own it.
“I should know better,” Kuhl told reporters. “It comes down to me. I should know that rule.”
His honesty opened up a spot in the sectional round, which De Chassart was able to claim by default without needing to win the playoff.
The character and integrity that Kuhl displayed in this scenario is remarkable, especially given the context of it happening not long after what was undoubtedly one of the highest moments of his golf career. To go from envisioning a quest to the U.S. Open to disqualifying yourself due to an obscure rule must have been jarring. But his conscience was clear, and he could rest assured knowing his teammate benefitted from his honesty.
As Christ-followers, we are called to carry that same integrity and character in everything we do. Proverbs is full of reminders for us: “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out,” Proverbs 10:9 tells us. Similarly, Proverbs 28:6 says, “Better the poor whose walk is blameless, than the rich whose ways are perverse.”
It’s very easy for many in a competitive setting to let their pride, ego and selfish desires take the wheel, while selflessness, honesty and integrity take a backseat. As a tennis coach, I and my coaches continuously drilled this into the minds of our players. Aside from the professional and college ranks, most tennis matches at the high school and amateur levels are officiated by the players themselves, making it easier than most sports for competitors to cheat or at least sway the outcome in their favor.
You can knowingly call a few shots out that are in and, for the most part, likely get away with it. You might win the match, but it won’t be legitimate. As silly as it may seem to outsiders, Kuhl knew his round was not legitimate according to the rules.
Proverbs 21:4 says, “Haughty eyes and a proud heart — the unplowed field of the wicked — produce sin.”
The world of athletics is full of people who are willing to lie, cheat and fudge their way to success, even if it means plowing over others who are doing it the right way. And unfortunately, plenty of people who have cheated have won championships or set records and largely not been held responsible. It can be tempting to give in and stoop to that level in order to win.
But two of the fruits of the spirit are forbearance and self-control. And as Christians, it’s essential that we remain above reproach, exhibit self-control and conduct ourselves with character and integrity.
“The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” — 1 Timothy 1:5
— Cole Claybourn
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